The Sunset Strip: The Story of An LA Icon Continued
Part Two: La Cienega to Doheny
This guide is continued from The Sunset Strip: The Story of An LA Icon, which starts on the Strip's eastern end at Crescent Heights and takes you past landmark hotels and historic nightclubs to La Cienega.
Part II: La Cienega to Larrabee
The stretch from La Cienega to Larrabee is without a doubt the most changed part of the Strip since the Golden Age of Hollywood. Today it’s home to the Sunset Plaza outdoor mall, but originally it was one of L.A.'s nightclub hubs. First there was Dino’s Lodge, a venture by some club owners and actor Dean Martin. Its neon sign of a cartoon of Martin’s face was one of the unmistakable Strip landmarks in the 1960s, right next to the building that served as the fictional title address of the hit TV show 77 Sunset Strip (of course, there's no such address).
The Tiffany Theater was next door to Dino’s between 1966 and 1983. It was the Strip’s premier movie theater and one of the birthplaces of The Rocky Horror Picture Show cult phenomenon. The Tiffany Theater sign was salvaged and is on display at the Valley Relics Museum.
The original Los Angeles location of the Playboy Club was on the southeast corner of Sunset and Alta Loma from 1964 to 1972—the towering bunny logo can be seen in many movies and TV shows from the period. In the 1960s, the same block housed the nightclubs The Sea Witch and the psychedelic Trip, where you could catch the Byrds, The Velvet Underground and all the top Motown acts.
Twenty years before The Trip, the southern stretch of Sunset between Alta Loma and Palma was home to the two other key nightlife locations besides Ciro’s: the Mocambo (immortalized by Bugs Bunny, among other homages and parodies) and the mighty Trocadero, the crown jewel of classic Hollywood nightlife. Much later, Elton John owned the successful restaurant Le Dome in the middle of Sunset Plaza.
Across the street, the legendary teen hangout Ben Frank’s, the Strip’s historic diner and one of the few extant examples of Googie architecture, has been carefully preserved and transformed into a Mel’s Drive-In location.
Continue west, cross Sunset at the former Tower Records, and buy a book on local history at independent bookstore Book Soup. Then step outside and realize you’re in one of the most notorious stretches of buildings on the Strip: this was gangster Mickey Cohen’s base of operations, first as Club Bali and later as Mickey Cohen’s Haberdashery. The private club Cafe Society also ran in the premises during the 1940s.
The building on the southeast corner of Larrabee Sunset (another Chase bank) was Jerry’s in the early 1960s. Jerry Lewis’ competitive answer to Dino’s Lodge later became the notorious Classic Cat, the Strip’s most famous strip club and burlesque venue, popular with nightlife denizens like Jim Morrison and Russ Meyer, who found busty actresses for his movies there.
Part III: Larrabee to Doheny
The liquor store on Larrabee and Sunset is the "entrance" to the rock 'n' roll part of the Strip. The Viper Room, owned in the 1990s by Johnny Depp and the site of River Phoenix’s overdose and Johnny Cash’s comeback concert, was earlier the Melody Room, the cool jazz venue favored by the Mickey Cohen set. Around the corner on San Vicente, The London West Hollywood at Beverly Hills was previously the Bel Age Hotel and appeared regularly in the 1990s teen drama Beverly Hills, 90210.
The block north of Sunset between Clark and Hilldale is where the hippest action was in the mid-1960s - so much so that Arthur Lee of the band Love wrote a song, “Maybe the People Would be the Times or Between Clark and Hilldale.” The Whisky a Go Go is still there: step into it and it looks exactly like it did when The Doors or The Who were mesmerizing the teen audiences. The same buildings between Clark and Hilldale used to house the London Fog and Galaxy clubs, the Sneeky Pete’s mob bar, and the Hamburger Hamlet, purveyor of munchies to several generations of late-night Strip dwellers.
The Hustler Store across the street is still doing business but the property is currently being redeveloped by Gwyneth Paltrow and other investors into a Goop-approved private club where, apparently, people won’t be allowed to swear.
Back to the north side of Sunset, The Roxy and its neighbor, the Rainbow Bar & Grill keep the faith for rock and roll and metal. The Roxy, Lou Adler’s 1970s clubhouse for rock scenesters (there was a private clubhouse above called “On the Rox”), still functions as a venue - it was previously The Largo, a popular “burlesk” joint. The Rainbow continues to be a time warp to the 1980s scene where glam, metal and punk intersected. For years, the Rainbow was also where you'd see the late Lemmy from Motorhead drinking at the outside bar - he’s still there in spirit(s) and as a lifesize statue in an imposing mausoleum/memorial in the back.
Down the street from The Roxy and the Rainbow, there’s a venue that was the mobbed-up Sherry Club in the 1940s, became Gazzari’s in the 1960s (another rock landmark) and then Billboard Live and the Key Club. Most recently, that same spot has been doing business as 1 OAK, a non-nostalgia EDM venue for the bottle service crowd.
After hitting shows at The Roxy and the Whisky, and then a few drinks at the Rainbow, you might decide to get a Sunset Strip commemorative tattoo. Cross the street to Mark Mahoney's Shamrock Social Club and you’re stepping into L.A. tattoo history, a place where a certain kind of 1950s punk retro never really ended.
The last stretch of the Strip, its western boundary going towards Doheny, has lost much of its history to glass-box contemporary buildings. One of them, 9200 Sunset looks like a nondescript office building but its top houses Soho House, the private club that is the unofficial base of operations for the many entertainment industry Brits that dwell in Los Angeles. The high-end BOA Steakhouse is located at street level.
Across Sunset, where it meets Doheny Road, you can grab one last drink at the Blind Dragon, a faux-Chinese speakeasy inside another office building which you access through the parking lot.
Tips for Travelers
Before your visit, make sure you watch the wonderful 2012 documentary Sunset Strip, directed by Hans Fjellestad and currently available on Netflix and other services. The film is a wide-ranging history of the Strip through the 20th century with revealing interviews with celebrities (Johnny Depp, Keanu Reeves, Sophia Coppola), Los Angeles historians, and long-time Strip scenesters, including some real-deal mobsters.
Also, rewatch Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard or a couple of episodes of 77 Sunset Strip to get a feel for the Golden Age of the Strip. If 1980s glam rock is more your speed, Rock of Ages might not be completely historically accurate, but it will definitely give you a feel for the Strip during the Spandex Era.
Taking a rideshare or taxi to the Strip is strongly recommended. Parking can be difficult and chances are you’ll want to get a drink or two.
From the Eastside: take Sunset west until you see the Chateau Marmont. You’ve arrived.
From the Westside: take Sunset east all the way past Beverly Hills. When the residential area ends and you see the 9200 Sunset tower (you can’t miss it) and the huge billboards, you’ve arrived.