The 20 Best L.A. Music Venues That Are Gone But Not Forgotten

The exterior of the Starwood, shortly after it "closed for remodeling" but remained closed for good
The exterior of the Starwood, shortly after it "closed for remodeling" but remained closed for good
Chris Gulker/Los Angeles Public Library

Running a nightclub or concert venue is a tough business, and even the best ones seldom survive as one generation of fans grows old and gives way to the next. So in a city the size of Los Angeles, it should come as no surprise that our past is littered with hundreds of onetime hot spots turned distant memories. Some still stand in one form or another; others ended their run with a wrecking ball. But along the way, a great many of them played host to legendary nights and legendary bands.

Narrowing so many hallowed spaces down to just 20 is no easy task. But we never let that stop us before. So join us as we wax nostalgic about some of our favorite dives, dumps, clubs and concert halls from days of yore (and a few that closed, like, last year — but that feels like a long time ago, too, doesn't it?).

20. Coconut Teaszer
8117 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood (map)
The rambling purple house at the corner of Sunset and Crescent Heights never felt quite like a proper rock club. The layout was too cramped and funky; for any band larger than a trio, the stage felt like a postage stamp (though compared to the Teaszer's basement space, 8121 — later the Crooked Bar — it was vast). But it was precisely that ramshackle quality that, for nearly two decades and especially throughout the ’90s, made the Coconut Teaszer such an appealing alternative to its more famous, touristy neighbors further down the Strip for then up-and-coming bands like Green Day, Weezer and Rage Against the Machine. Until 2003, the Teaszer also hosted one of L.A.'s last great after-hours, Does Your Mama Know?, where you might find Marques Wyatt or Louis Vega on the decks and Grace Jones dancing in the crowd. —Andy Hermann

The Hollywood Athletic Club still stands, but its days as a dance club are long behind it.EXPAND
The Hollywood Athletic Club still stands, but its days as a dance club are long behind it.

19. Hollywood Athletic Club
6525 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood (map)
Since its construction in the 1920s, the Hollywood Athletic Club has had many guises: awards hall, record company, recording studio, billiards club, restaurant. Nearing its centennial, the incredibly unique, labyrinthlike space is arguably best remembered for its run as the venue for Frequency. Taking place in the late ’90s, and helmed in part by Los Angeles tastemaker Philip Blaine, Frequency served as the connector between Blaine’s unforgettable Organic Festival in 1996 and the advent of Coachella in 1999. Held every Friday, the forward-thinking night hosted international DJs and top live electronic music acts of the time such as Death in Vegas, Dub Pistols and Lionrock. —Lily Moayeri

18. Billy Berg’s
1356 N. Vine St., Hollywood (map)
Billy Berg’s was a critically important jazz room in post-WWII Los Angeles. Sure, it featured the top names in music but, more importantly, it was an integrated club — a rarity in 1946. Black artists couldn’t perform anywhere on the Sunset Strip, but Berg routinely booked Coleman Hawkins, Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. Berg’s was home to jive geniuses Slim Gaillard and Harry "The Hipster" Gibson, and was where Frankie Laine, the first explicitly black-influenced white pop star, made his bones. The place could get rough; lyricist Don George recalled the night he and Duke Ellington went to there to hear Ella Fitzgerald, who was interrupted when a man suddenly lurched onstage with a knife protruding from his chest. Employees removed the body and Fitzgerald finished her set. —Jonny Whiteside

A postcard from the late '30s or early '40s, showing the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium
A postcard from the late '30s or early '40s, showing the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium

17. Long Beach Municipal Auditorium
Near the site of today's Rainbow Lagoon Park, Long Beach (map)
Built on landfill in 1931, the Long Beach Municipal Auditorium was a 10-story Italian Renaissance colossus with a huge Roman arch on its front facade, set in an 8-acre park and 32-acre lagoon. At first it was mainly used for trade conventions, dog shows and tennis matches, but the Auditorium kicked into concert gear in the ’40s with appearances by stars of the day including Liberace and Judy Garland, with Elvis the Pelvis thrilling the teenbeaters in 1956 (a year before his more heralded show at Pan Pacific Auditorium). Through the mid-’70s, the Auditorium (and adjacent Long Beach Arena) was the local rock & roll parking-lot hangout. Kiss made their L.A.-area debut there in 1974, and prog-heads still speak in hushed tones about the legendary ’73 King Crimson performance. It was demolished in 1975 to make way for the Long Beach Convention Center. —John Payne

Safari Sam's
Safari Sam's

16. Safari Sam’s
5214 Sunset Blvd., East Hollywood (map)
Safari Sam's short life marked the end of underground-friendly nightlife in Hollywood. Located in the Little Armenia section of East Hollywood, it was a comfortable, no-frills venue in a shopping center with ample parking. The club crossed genres but stayed on the cutting edge of live music and DJ culture. Franki Chan threw Check Yo Ponytail here and mashup party Bootie L.A. spent its early days at Sam's. It hosted touring and local bands and even a small music festival, the deathrock-oriented Wake the Dead. Though clearly a labor of love, the club was also a struggle for owner Sam Lanni, and it ultimately closed a little more than two years after it opened. —Liz Ohanesian

15. Juvee
4475 Santa Monica Blvd., East Hollywood (map)
Before the landlord ran out of goodwill in the late summer of 2003, Juvee was the definition of punk-rock hole-in-the-wall — a skate shop and all-ages home for independent bands who didn’t sound "indie," something sorely needed in that undefined time between the closing of Al’s Bar and the unexpected semi-mainstreaming of loud and weird garage-punk, especially as amplified worldwide by the Juvee alums at Burger Records. Generous operator/booker Calixto Hernandez kept his parking lot at Virgil and Santa Monica packed full of punks, skaters and assorted local freaks, who’d cram inside to watch The Stitches or The Starvations while kids whipped around the intimidating halfpipe in the back. Now it's a strip mall, of course — but like so many things in L.A. music, it was fun while it lasted. —Chris Ziegler

The entrance to Circus Disco
The entrance to Circus Disco
Levan TK

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14. Circus Disco
6655 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood (map)
From 1974 to 2015, patrons of all races and orientations walked through the giant clown mouth at Circus Disco and into a cavernous warehouse where the judgments and inhibitions of the outside world got left behind. Opened by Gene La Pietra and Ermilio "Ed" Lemos as a primarily Latino alternative to the then-exclusionary nightclubs of West Hollywood, Circus quickly developed a reputation (along with Jewel's Catch One and, later, its next-door neighbor Arena) as one of the city's few gay clubs with no dress code and no racist door policy. The club expanded its clientele in 2000 when it became home to Giant, the city's first house and techno mega-club. Historic preservation efforts proved anticlimactic: The new owners have promised to keep the clown entrance and stick a disco ball in the lobby when they turn the site into a 786-unit housing complex. —Andy Hermann

13. The Trip
8572 Sunset Blvd., West Hollywood (map)
The ’60s, says the Peter Fonda character in Steven Soderbergh’s underrated The Limey, “was just ’66 and early ’67 — that’s all there was.” And the coolest venue in 1966 Los Angeles was definitely the Trip, which existed for only about a year during the most legendary era of the Sunset Strip. Started in mid-1965 by the owner of the Whisky, the Trip (which took over the site of jazz and comedy mecca the Crescendo) had fewer go-go dancers and more Velvet Underground, Zappa and the best of Motown. The building is long gone, but ghostly echoes of Tim Buckley, Bo Diddley and The Temptations might be heard around the H&M mega-store that now occupies the site. —Gustavo Turner

Vivian Girls perform at Church on York on Valentine's Day 2014
Vivian Girls perform at Church on York on Valentine's Day 2014
Leonard Drorian

12. The Church on York
4904 York Blvd., Highland Park (map)
In the fall of 2013, 22-year-old publicist Graeme Flegenheimer turned a church on the corner of York Boulevard and Avenue 49 into the most talked-about art space in the city. The wunderkind maxed out his credit and brought European hardcore bands like Denmark's Iceage to L.A. He booked Vivian Girls’ goodbye show, nurtured the city’s growing noise scene, and booked comedy nights with the likes of Marc Maron. He did it all without the proper permits and finally had to pull the plug on his dream in May 2014. The Church has since been renovated into “the York Manor,” an event space for weddings and much more sanitized experiences. —Art Tavana

11. Good Life Cafe
3631 Crenshaw Blvd., Crenshaw/Leimert Park (map)
Not long after gangsta rap put L.A. hip-hop on the international map, a less infamous but no less influential scene formed in the unlikeliest of places — a cafe and health food store on Crenshaw Boulevard called the Good Life. There, from 1989 to 1997, a weekly open-mic night became a proving ground for more poetic, experimental rappers. A no-cursing policy was strictly enforced (Fat Joe was once booed out of the venue for violating it) and if the audience began chanting "pass the mic," MCs were expected to peacefully bow out. Freestyle Fellowship, The Pharcyde, Abstract Rude and future members of Jurassic 5 were among the many who help lay the foundations of ’90s and 2000s alternative hip-hop (and its equally influential successor, Project Blowed) in the Good Life's intimate confines. —Andy Hermann



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