Rockstars – And You! – Stay with Us and Play at Viper Room
The Viper Room. You know it, whether you realize it or not. Arguably the most famous nightclub in Hollywood, The Viper Room has hosted some of rock and roll’s most notorious icons. But things didn’t start out doused in fame, glamour, and mystique – no. And the story of how the Viper Room got to be The Viper Room is a pretty spectacular one, which we will tell momentarily….
However first, we have immense news: our hotel is offering unprecedented and unlimited access to the Viper Room for all of our guests – and our guests only! – for free and with drink vouchers. Yes, you read that correctly. You stay with us, you are on the list at the Viper Room for the duration of your stay, and you will get at least one drink voucher. Honestly, if I were you, my West Hollywood hotel booking would have been decided in those sentences. In exchange, we will be offering a 15% discount to Viper Room designated “artists,” as long as these artists book before 2am. So…you will also hang out at our hotel with the Viper Room musicians. I mean, honestly, we think we have outdone ourselves.
Whether you’re a fan of the Viper Room or don’t know much about it, you’ve got the rest of this blog to learn about the truly Hollywood history (and hearsay!) behind this legendary Sunset Strip locale, which is, we should add, only half a mile from our hotel down Holloway.
So The Viper Room, which was originally built in the early 1920s, is one of the oldest buildings on the Sunset Strip. Back then, it served as a mom-and-pop grocery store for local residents. But by the 1940s, the Sunset Strip was undergoing an extensive metamorphosis, burgeoning into the famed playground of the Hollywood elite. Soon, the strip was chock full of restaurants, bars, strip joints, and jazz clubs, and the Viper Room experienced a similar renaissance.
The building underwent many incarnations throughout the 1940s. First, 8852 Sunset Blvd was home to a jazz bar, The Cotton Club. Though the place liked to tout itself as the “Harlem of Hollywood,” our Cotton Club had no relation to the famed Cotton Club in New York City, which hosted such jazz elites as Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Lena Horne, and Billie Holiday, to name a few of its esteemed performers. Our West Hollywood Cotton Club was, well, doing its own thing.
Then, there were a series of name changes – including the Greenwich Village Inn and Rue Angel – until the building reopened in 1950 as the strip joint, Last Call, a place to “rendezvous with the stars” and experience “five hours of continuous entertainment” any night of the week. (Those quotes are from photos of an old ticket stub that have been largely quoted across the Internet). But in 1951, Last Call was shut down due to “lewd dancing and cross-dressing,” both of which had recently been banned on the Sunset Strip by Los Angeles County. Bummer, we know.
But don’t worry – nothing could bring this building down. On June 14, 1951, The Melody Room was officially opened by two brothers, Pete and Bill Snyder. They were here to stay, and they did – for eighteen years. The Melody Room served as a jazz club and cabaret for local talent, ushering in a slightly less seedy audience. However, it is rumored that Mickey Cohen – the famed gangster with ties to the Italian mafia – enjoyed spending his evenings gambling in the basement. Today, the basement serves as a speciality whiskey bar and is open to the public, though some have experienced paranormal activity down there. It makes sense; supposedly, the basement of The Melody Room is where the mafia liked to do “business”.
But it was in the 1970s when everything changed – musically, at least. From The Cotton Club to The Melody Room, 8852 Sunset Blvd had always been a jazz destination. But in July of 1973, Filthy McNasty’s opened, and the era of rock and roll began. It would not be surprising to run into Evil Knievel drinking at the bar. Tom Waits was a regular haunt. If you check out the cover of Sweet’s Desolation Boulevard, you’ll see the building’s red awning front and center.
By the 1980s, the club reopened again under new management as The Central, but the rock and roll ethos remained. In fact, 8852 became an even hotter destination for rock and roll icons, luring in some of the biggest talents of the 80s. John Belushi allegedly performed impromptu stand-up sets. John Entwisle (bassist for The Who) had a regular Tuesday night open jam session. The Go Go’s filmed their music video for “Our Lips Are Sealed” on The Central’s stage. The club was building its reputation as the place to go for consistently great rock and roll performances.
But it wasn’t until August of 1993 that the Viper Room became the Viper Room: its final and current incarnation. Supposedly named after a style of music, “viper music,” that originated in New Orleans, Johnny Depp (per Tom Waits’ suggestion), Chuck E. Weiss (who was a fixture at The Central), and Sal Jenco created the nightclub of all nightclubs. Upon The Viper Room’s opening, Johnny Depp mentioned his wish for the club to be a place where famous people “won’t feel like they’re on display” – a community spot with some of the greatest musicians of all time. And for the most part, he very much achieved that goal.
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers played to an audience of two hundred or so on opening night, christening the Viper Room stage. Quentin Tarantino and Tim Burton attended. Asked how he enjoyed his first night at the club, Tim Burton replied, “It’s better than Cats” (very topical!). Christina Applegate was also in attendance. Rumor has it she would bartend at some point in the future as a way to say humble. So would Adam Duritz of the Counting Crowes. On its first night, The Viper Room made $14,000 for the Starlight Foundation, which helped terminally-ill children.
From there, the Viper Room only became more entrenched in Hollywood lore. It bears mentioning that, yes, the late, great River Phoenix overdosed outside of the Viper Room in the early hours of October 31st, 1993. I’m not going to mention anymore about this awful incident; River Phoenix was a true artist and way ahead of his time. A lot has been written about his death, so research on your own if you must, but we’d like to give this story some much needed rest.
At this point, legends of rock and roll clamored to play the Viper Room stage. Pearl Jam on September 2, 1993. Johnny Cash on December 3, 1993. A mural of Cash immortalizing the performance adorns the outside of the building. Bruce Springsteen on September 14, 1995. Oasis on December 19, 1995. Green Day on July 19, 1997. These are just a handful of the performers who carved their names into Viper Room history. Others include The Counting Crows, Jerry Lee Lewis, the Strokes, the Wallflowers, and Billy Idol. The Pussycat Dolls – the hottest burlesque group in L.A. and future noughties pop super group – were personally signed by Johnny Depp for a weekly residency in homage to the building’s past life as a strip joint. Supposedly, for a mere twenty bucks and twenty Coronas, Queens of Stone Age played the Viper Room after they’d already achieved mainstream success. Bands wanted to play the Viper Room to join the ranks of those who’d come before.
But the mystique of the Viper Room wasn’t only about the music. Hollywood icons saw the spot as a place to live and let live. Kate Moss celebrated her 21st birthday at the club. And in the basement, Molly Bloom hosted the most expensive (and illegal) poker game in Hollywood. Buy-in alone was $10,000 (though it is rumored to have been closer to $50,000), and a young Leonardo DiCaprio and Tobey Maguire were regular players. According to Bloom, Tobey was the sorest loser of the bunch, which somehow is not surprising and also we kind of like it.
Meanwhile, the Viper Room maintained its community feel… as much as was possible. No matter what, bands never had to pay to play, a rare move, but also one that made the Viper Room all the more alluring for up-and-coming local talent. That ethos remains today, which is another reason why we are stoked to announce our new collaboration with the Viper Room. Because a history of being a place for musicians to let their hair down and a reputation for fostering artists’ talents are both things on which we too pride ourselves.
So here’s the deal again – if you’re staying with us, you’re already on the Viper Room list, and we have a drink voucher with your name on it. Assured entry, free booze, and our glorious hotel to crash in when you’re done with your Sunset Boulevard adventure. And Viper Room artists, hi and we love you, and we can’t wait to book you at a 15% discount – when you give us a 1:59am or earlier heads up. Later than that, and you’ll have to sleep in our gardens. We’re joking…we didn’t say you could do that…