The coming-of-age rock & roll scene in the early ’60s was thirsty for a new cocktail, and when the Whisky A Go-Go nightclub — one part discotheque, one part rock-star launching pad, one part hip hangout — opened its doors in L.A. on Jan. 11, 1964, the mix was made to order. And go-go culture had arrived.
Housed in a former Bank of America branch office on the corner of Sunset and San Vicente boulevards, the club quickly became the hot spot for young L.A. hipsters. Some came to ogle the go-go girls who spun records and frugged in glass cages high in the air. Some came to dig the live music by the coolest up-and-coming acts — including the British Invasion bands. Some came just to make the scene — as many as 2,000 scene-makers a night.
And what a scene it was. ”It became the place to play,” says Johnny Rivers, the leader of the Whisky’s house band and the first in a string of artists to hit big with an At the Whisky record. For many others, the club was the launching pad to stardom: Otis Redding, the Byrds, the Who, Cream, Jimi Hendrix, the Kinks, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin all performed there. Perhaps most famously, the Doors were discovered at the Whisky in 1966.
One of the first Sunset clubs to target kids, the Whisky helped displace the older, more elegant Hollywood revelers who had ruled the Strip. (The New York Times dryly speculated that this ”fad” could be attributed to the fact that ”girls are admitted in slacks and ties are not required for men.”) The changing of the generational guard wasn’t always smooth — the club’s bright red exterior was a backdrop for 1966’s sometimes violent ”Sunset riots” between patrons and cops.
In the mid-’70s the Whisky went a bit sour as dinosaur rock lumbered into arenas and disco took over the club scene. It revived in the early ’80s with L.A.’s burgeoning punk scene, showcasing groups like Black Flag and Fear; but, financially strapped, it closed in 1982.
Two years later, however, a remodeled Whisky resurfaced as a dance club, eventually bringing live music back. Though the go-go girls were gone, the Whisky’s potent nostalgia proved intoxicating to ’90s rockers, and once again it hosted bands-on-the-brink, including Smashing Pumpkins and the Breeders. Today, the club is a favored venue for such arena bands as Van Halen and the Black Crowes to get back to their roots — and perhaps the ultimate tribute to the wise aging of Whisky.
Jan. 11, 1964
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