Few L.A. clubs have a past as notorious as The Viper Room. An infamous death (River Phoenix), the departure of its famous owner (Johnny Depp), the more mysterious exits of Depp’s business partner Anthony Fox nearly a decade ago, and later, manager Sal Jenco, not to mention the loss of acts like Metal Shop, now Metal Skool, and the debut of an early incarnation of The Pussycat Dolls: A lesser club might have shut down years ago. But in spite of it all, Viper’s not only still got bite, it’s got an intimate charm unlike any other club in Hollywood, much less the strip. We’ve been there a zillion times (including a couple of stints behind the DJ booth), but last Wednesday we were reminded of the small space’s specialness when U.K. spitfire Dirty Harry rocked out with a sassy set from her new online release, Songs From the Edge (with awesome guitar riffs onstage courtesy of Motorcycle Boy’s Eden “Knievel”), and Nightranger faves Bloodcat Love literally oozed throughout the room (singer Myles Hendrick performed much of his set slithering around female fans in the crowd). If you’ve been to Indie 103.1’s Check One, Two . . . on Mondays or the newish monthly called Girl School, you probably already know that the Viper is still vivacious, but you might not know that lately the tiny downstairs bar has been a raging snake pit in its own right.
He runs a very tight — some might say treacherous — door, but the club’s gatekeeper Casper definitely knows how to let loose on the turntables. His weekly hump-night party in the lounge, called Bitch, packs in a bevy of sexy rock babes, local band dudes (The Vacation, Warner Drive and Kings of Leon are regulars) and Sunset Strip freaks (a leopard-chapeau’d older gentleman handed out gold medallions and gyrated gregariously for anyone who glanced his way when we were there; apparently, he’s there all the time). “Everyone usually ends up dancing on the furniture and one another,” Casper told us, of his li’l basement bashes, and he was right. The leopard-print miniskirts were starting to ride high as we left. We hear Friday nights — when Fireball Ministry’s Johnny Chow hosts Dirty Lounge — is pretty hot too, attracting the likes of Kat Von D, Bam Margera, and lots of lewd and tattooed metalheads.
Wanna see more V-Room staff show off their skills? Lady Sinatra (featuring the club’s other door dude, Joseph) plays Friday, November 30, and Friday, December 7, while Golden State (with bar manager Tommy Black) takes the stage on December 21, and Girl School (resident booker Melissa Hernandez’s personal party) offers Young Americans, now called Classixx, due to “legal issues” (with Bowie, we wonder?), plus Boom Bip and Junkie XL on the decks, Thursday, December 6. (See this week’s Dance Club Pick for more info.)
Come On Down
Speaking of club spaces with a past, after attending a tasting soiree at Lift, the new healthy bistro from Spider Club’s Steve Adelman and chef Keith Silverton, at Hudson and Hollywood boulevard a few weeks ago, we also got an exclusive tour of the basement, now the speakeasy-style joint called 86. Though the underground room was still all bare wood planks and unpainted plaster when manager Barney Holm (son of legendary British actor Sir Ian Holm!) did the walk-through, we hear the place is now open for private parties and is set to open to the public in mid-January. With a center stage for live jazz and the like, plus ample seating and private rooms, this one looks like it will be the perfect place for inconspicuous consumption, not to mention a romantic rendezvous or two. It’s definitely got some history to live up to in that regard. It was, after all, a Prohibition-era speakeasy run by silent-film star Rudolph Valentino, while the building itself (called The Hillview) was built by Hollywood mogul Sam Goldwyn and served as residence for actors such as Charlie Chaplin and Mae West. As for Adelman’s other venues, he tells us Spider Club will be closing for about a month in early ’08, when it undergoes a re(mod)el — they’re leaning toward a retro-’60s décor do-over. Should be groovy, baby.
The holidaze are here, and since Nightranger’s been a really good girl this year, we’re hoping Santa will stretch out our stocking with lots of big punk-rock books: Brendan Mullen’s pic-packed Masque manuscript, Amy Wallace and The Dictators’ “Handsome” Dick Manitoba’s The Official Punk Rock Book of Lists, and Punk 365, a fat ’n’ fittingly ferocious photo flipper. The latter shared its release party at La Luz de Jesus last week with that of Robert Matheu’s amazing new Creem book (we couldn’t wait for Xmas and already bought that one), which chronicles the self-proclaimed “America’s Only Rock ’n’ Roll Magazine” in all its snarky, beer-drenched splendor. We’ve talked with Matheu before — when he was working on bringing the iconic/ironic mag back (he says it’s still a possibility) — but we never knew just how many ties the Detroit-born photographer had to L.A. (he lives here, his work is all over Slim Jim Phantom’s Cat Club, and at the party, he told us he and La Luz’s Billy Shire were old comrades). “I helped a lot with the old Melrose gallery,” he said as the X-like trio Los Trendy rocked out in the background. Also seen reminiscing about the bad ol’ days at the party: 365 photogs Jenny Lens, Chuck Krall, Ann Suma and Theresa K (punkturns30.com), Rhino Records’ Steve Gorman, Flipside mag’s Pooch, and two ghosts from the rock gutter — Haunted Garage’s Dukey Flyswatter and former Mau Mau Rock Wilder. Books are one thing, but with these two still roaming the city, we know punk really isn’t dead.