The Best Clubs in L.A., 2012
Our Best Of issue just hit stands! We found our fairy tale, and now we present it to you: 435 of the most fabulous things in all of Los Angeles. From the city's most amazing restaurants to its tawdriest dive bars, from its edgiest art exhibits to the top spots for live music, we've got it all covered. It truly is the Best of L.A. -- and, in a city this awesome, that's really saying something.
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Below, peep our choices from the issue for best after-hours spot, best blues club, best all-ages venue, best all-ages venue (East L.A. edition), best country venue, best club changeover, and best folk club.
Best Club Changeover
We're delightfully surprised to report that El Cid has been rocking harder than ever lately under new ownership. Much credit goes to booking manager Kelly Spencer, who has filled the room with everything from garage favorites to cabaret to metal. While some of the acts can be seen at other local venues, there's something about this Silver Lake spot that lends itself to particularly visceral music. Sure, due to capacity issues El Cid doesn't pack 'em in the way it used to, but that can make for a more pleasant experience: You can be sure that everyone else who got in is serious about music. As always, it's still putting on those famed dinner shows, and the sound and sight lines are first-rate. Further, the outdoor patio provides a welcome respite when the music gets too loud. 4212 W. Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 668-0318, elcidla.com.
Best All-Ages Venue, East L.A. Edition
Self Help Graphics
Part contemporary art gallery, part historic punk venue, part Chicano community center, Self Help Graphics has been integral to the East L.A. Latino cultural movement since 1970. (Although it's zero parts graphic arts store, in case you're wondering.) No longer located in the building plastered with colorful ceramic shards along Cesar Chavez Avenue, its new location is across the street from the Pico/Aliso Metro Gold Line station in Boyle Heights, and it's accented by pretty mosaic murals. In front of all-ages crowds, the venue hosts music festivals with names like Ska Wars and Skacore Invasion, as well as international ska-punk bands like Wisecräcker (from Germany) and Sekta Core (from Mexico City). 1300 E. First St., Boyle Heights. (323) 881-6444, selfhelpgraphics.com.
Best After-Hours Spot
This is a little embarrassing. Friends are in from London, Tokyo and Mexico City ... and there's nothing to do after the 2 a.m. last call. L.A.'s after-hours scene often feels elusive, but in the last year or so a sure thing has established itself as a beacon in the darkness: Los Globos. Red banquettes and matching walls, complemented by a general lack of illumination, give it that underground feel, while bowing to its past as L.A.'s original American Legion Hall and, more recently, a Salvadoran club. A new, Funktion-One sound system, Korean-American nights on weekends, Chinese-American events Mondays and monthly parties by A Club Called Rhonda give it authenticity. The best part? The parties can go well past 6 a.m. (The drinks stop at 2 but start up again at 6.) Mitch Edelson, the venue's music curator, says, "We think it's ridiculous that most clubs have to force everyone out at 2 a.m. We offer a service to people where they can hang out, dance off their drinks, sober up and leave once they're ready. No one wants to go home at 2 a.m." Amen. 3040 Sunset Blvd., Silver Lake. (323) 666-6669, clublosglobos.com.
Best Blues Club
Harvelle's Santa Monica
"Every day I have the blues," Memphis Slim famously sang back in 1949. The nightclub Harvelle's Santa Monica, however, has had the blues almost every night since 1931, when it opened during the Great Depression. Such veritable legends as Guitar Shorty and modern-day blues traditionalists like Dennis Jones, Jimmy Z., Arthur Adams, Rod Piazza and John Lee Hooker Jr. continue to break their hearts, stab at their guitar strings and blow out their harmonicas right before your eyes on the club's low stage. Located at the end of a long, narrow full bar and framed by a luridly red velvet curtain, the small stage also hosts regular R&B, soul, jazz and pop visitations from Magnolia Memoir, Tasha Taylor, the Delgado Brothers and Cafeacute; R&B. What makes the room really heat up, though, are weekly performances by soul-jazz revue the Toledo Show, whose eponymous singer-leader is eternally tempted and teased by a sexy crew of lingerie-clad dancers, and burlesque troupe Harlow Gold, whose lascivious acrobatics often are quite cleverly site-specific. 1432 Fourth St., Santa Monica. (310) 395-1676, santamonica.harvelles.com.
Best All-Ages Venue
Earnest rock stars, cynical politicians, self-absorbed athletes and maudlin telethon hosts alike often claim that they're doing it "for the kids," but the kids usually are much better off when they do it themselves. Case in point: Kota Wade, who didn't want to wait until she was old enough to drink to see bands play live, so she opened her own club, AmplyFi. Granted, the precociously talented, then-19-year-old rock singer had some help from her mom and dad (who pitched in mainly by selling tickets and running the sound board, respectively) last year when she made over her Melrose Avenue rehearsal room into a legitimate, live-music venue. It looks like a pop art '60s crash pad, decorated with lava lamps, gold records, mirrors and illuminated mannequins. Since AmplyFi is all ages, the club can't serve alcohol, but Wade makes up for it by booking an impressive variety of tunefully intelligent, rising new bands, most of whom have been overlooked by the other indie-rock clubs in town. It's easy to miss AmplyFi's barely marked entrance -- a nondescript green door in the alley behind Astroburger -- but the intimate room (with a capacity of 70 people) is worth the search. 5600 block of Melrose Avenue, Hlywd. amplyfi.com.
Best Country Venue
There aren't many clubs in the L.A. area where you can ride your horse up to the back entrance, mosey on inside and catch country-music legends like Red Simpson and Riders of the Purple Sage -- for free. The Mexican restaurant Viva Cantina is uniquely situated next door to the L.A. Equestrian Center and across the street from the Pickwick Gardens ice rink and bowling alley, in that semi-mystical place where the concrete jungle of Burbank gives way to the pastoral wonderland of northeastern Griffith Park. Much like the Old West, there's plenty of elbow room, but if the frantically coiffed rockabilly revivalists in the front room disturb you, wander into the Riverside Rancho Room, where the experienced country ministrations of house fixture Cody Bryant await. Although the Cantina is best known for presenting stubbornly authentic, anti-Nashville holdouts, the booking policy also encompasses garage, Chicano soul, punk, roots, folk and surf. It's not unusual to see a raving mob of punk maniacs like the Bloody Brains back to back with iconic lounge-pop stylist Troy Walker and former '50s teen rock idol Jimmy Angel. At most restaurants, you're lucky if there's even a good jukebox. 900 Riverside Drive, Burbank. (818) 845-2425, vivacantina.com.
Best Folk Club
McCabe's Guitar Shop
McCabe's Guitar Shop is just as much a thriving music store as it is the ongoing site of historic folk-pop concerts. Every so often during shows in its back room, a spontaneous yet sacred ritual occurs, typically midway or near the end of a set. Then, the most madly virtuosic member of whichever band is onstage at the moment takes a wide-eyed look around the room and gets a wicked gleam in his or her eye. Next thing you know, he or she is dashing 'round the space, plucking a gorgeous silver steel guitar off this wall and unhooking a vintage mandolin or banjo from its spot on the opposite wall, until everybody in the band is trying out a different rare instrument on each song. It's a special place. How many guitar shops have been the site of concerts by both John Cale and J.J. Cale? For that matter, how many larger-size nightclubs can match McCabe's stellar roster of past performers, which includes John Lee Hooker, Linda Ronstadt, Jackie DeShannon, Gil Scott-Heron, Odetta, Jim Carroll, Tom Waits, Bert Jansch, Neil Innes, Cat Power, Les Paul, Rickie Lee Jones, Jeff Buckley, Clifton Chenier and hundreds of others? 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica. (310) 828-4497, mccabes.com.
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