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

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

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

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

The grand staircase at the Park Plaza, home of the '80s club Scream
The grand staircase at the Park Plaza, home of the '80s club Scream
Jared Cowan

10. Scream at Park Plaza
607 S. Park View St., Westlake/MacArthur Park (map)
Scream had several incarnations at different locations, but the most iconic version of the 1980s hard-rock oasis was when the club was housed in the elegant Park Plaza Hotel, which rose like a marbled art-deco phoenix above the squalor of its then-perilous and crime-ridden neighbor, MacArthur Park. Co-owners Dayle Gloria, Michael Stewart and Mark Hundahl presented such crucial underground and metal performers as Ministry, Jane’s Addiction, X and Iggy Pop in the contrastingly lavish setting. Scream was bold enough to book bands like Soundgarden before they were widely known, and Björk graced the majestic hotel’s upstairs stage with her early group, The Sugarcubes — who required multiple electric fans onstage during their first exposure to SoCal’s high temperatures. —Falling James

Mr. T's Bowl
Mr. T's Bowl
Art Tavana

9. Mr. T’s Bowl
5621 N Figueroa St., Highland Park (map)
Mr. T's Bowl operated under the premise that anywhere fucked-up or decrepit could be the setting for great punk shows. And they were right. Starting in the early ’90s, the "seen better days" bowling alley in Highland Park hosted the likes of Go Betty Go, Los Abandoned, The Breeders and The Orphans. Owner Joe T. sang Sinatra on karaoke night and there was boxed wine on tap. Alas, Mr. T's closed in January 2014, and the space has since been renovated, gussied up and reopened as Highland Park Bowl, a "hip, antique-filled spot" to attract the consumer power of the latest wave of HLP and Mount Washington gentrifiers. They even restored the old bowling lanes, but a game will set you back as much as $70 while you sip on Instagram-worthy cocktails. Which is to say: There won't be any DIY shows here anytime soon. At least the neighborhood still has All-Star Lanes and Café NELA. —Jonny Coleman

Fans wait in line outside Raji's.
Fans wait in line outside Raji's.
Gary Leonard/Los Angeles Public Library

8. Raji’s
6160 Hollywood Blvd., Hollywood (map)
Located beneath the Hastings Hotel (now a parking lot), Raji's was a marvelous, grimy, ramshackle hang — essentially a large beer bar with a subterranean stage. The staff were great, shady proprietor Dobbs was a local legend, and during its 1985-to-1990 heyday, the bands were always nutsy good — Tiny Tim, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, Nirvana, Arthur Lee and Love, Redd Kross, The Hangmen, Guns N’ Roses, Jane’s Addiction. It was always a fun, relaxed, dysfunctional family atmosphere, but it could also get really weird, even downright ugly when The Mentors or Tex & the Horseheads were having a bad night. For a brief time, everybody in town hung out in that glorious hellhole, and after hours, Dobbs (God rest his soul) was always good for an illegal 12-pack and some crappy Mexican dirtweed. —Jonny Whiteside

7. Al’s Bar
303 S. Hewitt St., Downtown Arts District (map)
Al’s Bar was one of the earliest victims of downtown L.A.’s gentrification when the longtime Arts District fixture closed in 2001, as a new corporate owner began to renovate the old, brick-walled American Hotel, which housed the bar on its ground floor. After the former trucker bar began hosting live performances in the late 1970s — attracting a bizarre mix of punks, art-school students, intellectuals, poets, Bukowskian barflies and stragglers from nearby Skid Row — Al’s became one of L.A.’s hottest clubs, both literally and figuratively; the graffiti- and art-encrusted dive bar never had air conditioning, and the bookers preferred adventurous, arty experimentalists in favor of pop and metal careerists. The Replacements, Christian Death, L7, Girl George, Beck, Popdefect, Betty Blowtorch, The Flesh Eaters and Imperial Butt Wizards were among the hundreds of disparate musicians who crowded the bar’s tiny stage. —Falling James

Buzz Osborne of the Melvins at Spaceland
Buzz Osborne of the Melvins at Spaceland
Timothy Norris

6. Spaceland
1717 Silver Lake Blvd., Silver Lake (map)
This nondescript building has had a number of personas, but none has been more lasting or beloved than Spaceland. Starting in 1993 as a weekly event at the venue's former incarnation, Dreams of L.A., Spaceland kicked off properly in 1995 with Foo Fighters on its first night; they also played the iconic venue’s last night in 2011. In between, the indie rock bastion was a springboard for everyone from local superstars Beck and Elliott Smith to Arcade Fire and My Morning Jacket. After Spaceland moved out (carrying on as Spaceland Productions, which books the Echo, Echoplex and Regent Theater among others), the space changed its identity to the Satellite, which looks the same (and, unfortunately, smells the same) but doesn’t feel the same. —Lily Moayeri

5. The Probe
836 N. Highland Ave., Hollywood (map)
Former Hollywood haunt the Probe began as a private club for gay men and, like a lot of other LGBT venues, became a home for all sorts of alternative-minded young people. By the 1990s, the Highland Avenue spot hosted flashback party Club 1970 and live band night Club With No Name. But for a lot of ’90s youth, the Probe will be best remembered as home to the trifecta of spooky kid parties with industrial club Kontrol Faktory, now-legendary goth hangout Helter Skelter and dark-alternative dance night Stigmata. The space was bare-bones but inviting. At Helter Skelter, you could look over the balcony and see the crowd dance like Haunted Mansion ghosts to the waltz-y songs. At Stigmata, you could take a break from dancing to "Sex Dwarf" and "Tesla Girls" in the spacious bar area. By 1999, though, the Probe was no more. It was sold and rechristened the Playroom, then later A.D. Now, the space is an antiques showroom. —Liz Ohanesian

4. Madame Wong’s
949 Sun Mun Way, Chinatown (map)
For a brief but crucial period in L.A. music history, from 1978 to 1985, a Polynesian-themed Chinese restaurant doubled as one of the hottest rock clubs in town, playing host to a who's who of punk, new wave and power-pop bands: X, The Go-Go’s, The Motels, Oingo Boingo, The Knack, The Police. Even the classic Guns N’ Roses lineup played a sparsely attended gig there on July 4, 1985, shortly before then–69-year-old owner Esther Wong shut the place down, complaining of high rent and "spoiled brat" bands and clientele covering the venue in graffiti. (A less celebrated satellite venue in Santa Monica, Madame Wong's West, lasted until 1991.) Upon Wong's death in 2005, the Los Angeles Times hailed her as L.A.'s "godmother of punk," which isn't quite accurate — although Madame Wong's did book many punk and hardcore acts, especially in its early days, the owner's own taste ran toward power-pop and Paisley Underground bands such as The Plimsouls and The Three O'Clock. But though Wong herself could be a polarizing figure (and remains so to this day), without her Chinatown club, L.A.'s early-’80s music scene would have been a whole lot less interesting. —Andy Hermann

3. The Masque
1655 N. Cherokee Ave., Hollywood (map)
There were no places for bands in L.A.’s new punk scene to play in the late 1970s, so Scottish immigrant Brendan Mullen began putting on shows in August 1977 in a run-down, bare-bones basement underneath the Pussycat Theater, which was reached through an alley entrance just off Cherokee Avenue. The graffiti-slathered room was the equivalent of Manhattan’s CBGB, and numerous crucial early punk performers grew up in public there, including The Weirdos, The Controllers, The Eyes, The Bags, X, The Germs, F-Word, The Skulls and The Avengers. The basement also was used as a rehearsal room by various groups before the ubiquitous fire marshals shut down the Masque in 1978. For decades, the room was shuttered intact like a punk-rock time capsule before it was finally renovated. The alley entrance remains there today. —Falling James

The Palomino circa 1989EXPAND
The Palomino circa 1989

2. The Palomino
6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood (map)
The fabled mother church of L.A. country music (now Le Monge Banquet Hall) was opened in 1949 by acclaimed Western swing bandleader Hank Penny and quickly became a world-famous hot spot that featured every major midcentury country star. The site of more insane drunk George Jones and stoned Waylon Jennings shenanigans than any mere mortal could imagine, the Pal had an indefinable appeal — the artists themselves, for no good reason, held it in almost mystic regard. It was, at best, a modest honky-tonk, with a tiny stage, low ceiling and walls lined with fluorescent, hand-painted placards announcing coming attractions (Cliffie Stone once joked, “The staples are the only thing holding the place together”). Long after the Nashville cats forsook it, Jerry Lee Lewis still came through at least once a year, and when he did, it was honky-tonk paradise all over again. The music finally ended in 1995. —Jonny Whiteside

The Circle Jerks perform at the Starwood in 1981.
The Circle Jerks perform at the Starwood in 1981.
Gary Leonard/Los Angeles Public Library

1. The Starwood
8151 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood (map)
In the mid-1970s, there were few live music clubs in Hollywood apart from the Troubadour and the Whisky a Go-Go, and even those venues booked a lot of cover bands. But the Starwood soon became home base for musicians from the parallel heavy metal and punk-rock scenes. Such hard-rock groups as Van Halen, The Runaways, Quiet Riot, Cheap Trick, Ratt and, later on, Mötley Crüe began mixing original songs into their sets of classic-rock and glam-rock covers. Before long, numerous punk and new-wave bands, including The Damned, Blondie, Devo, The Alley Cats, The Gun Club, X and The Go-Go’s took over the large room. Just four days before his infamous rock & roll suicide in 1980, Darby Crash played his final show with The Germs there, when he memorably cried, “Dump the whole balcony!” in reference to the hipsters and record-industry execs who hung out on the club’s second level. In 1981, club owner and underworld figure Eddie Nash was forced to close the wildly unsupervised Starwood under pressure from L.A. County’s sheriffs and fire department. Today, it’s a nondescript mini-mall with a Russian deli and restaurant. —Falling James


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