The Sunset Strip Whisky was founded by Elmer Valentine, Phil Tanzini, Shelly Davis, and attorney Theodore Flier and opened at 8901 Sunset Boulevard on January 16, 1964.The club owes its name to the first discothèque, the Whisky à Go-Go, established in Paris in 1947 by PaulPacine. The Whisky had to spell its name without the ‘e’ because Los Angeles city zoning laws didn’t allow any club to be named after alcohols.Since its opening night in January in 1964, the club was a hit, with Johnny Rivers playing his brand of rock, rhythm, and soul to a crowd of Hollywood stars. Future music mogul and co-owner of the Roxy with Valentine, Lou Adler, produced Rivers' live Whisky album. Valentine recognized Adler’s ear for talent and enlisted him to help book the club in its early days.
The place also had a female DJ named Joanie Labine (the first DJ at The Whisky) who played records in a booth that was suspended to the right of the stage in between Rivers’ sets. Labine entertained the crowd by dancing, and the idea of the go-go dancer was born. Very soon a ‘costume’ of the go-go dancers also emerged: a girl wearing a short, fringed skirt and high, white boots: a trend that will spread to all discotheques and nightclubs all across the country.The club was sold out virtually every night with stars like Cary Grant, Johnny Carson and The Beatles holding court in its tufted red booths.The Whisky was not only the center of the blooming local scene, but it also hosted up-and-coming touring acts like Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Velvet Underground, Cream, the Who, the Animals, the Kinks and countless others.The Whisky was the place where the Doors rose to fame, as they took on house band duties in summer of 1966. The band typically performed two sets per night. Exposed to a wide-ranging audience, The Doors began to experiment with their music. Allegedly, the experiments often took the form of drug trips. During this period The Doors opened for artists such as Captain Beefheart And His Magic Band, Buffalo Springfield, Love, Them, The Turtles and Johnny Rivers. Poetically the band was fired from the venue after Jim Morrison performed his obscene verse in 'The End’ song.
Check out the story, told by Ray ManzarekThat same summer, tensions were reaching a boiling point as police and local merchants were none too pleased with the 'freak' scene developing on the Strip. After the city announced it was going shut down many venues to clear out the crowds, so began a series of 'riots on Sunset Strip,' the inspiration behind Buffalo Springfieldʼs famous song, ‘For What Itʼs Worth.'In order to stay open, hold onto his liquor license and keep the police off his back, Valentine had to ban psychedelic groups and went strictly 21 and up. The Whisky was one of the first venues to book all R&B acts through 1967. They booked everyone from The Temptations, to the Four Tops, Cream, Martha & the Vandellas, Sam & Dave, Jimmy Smith, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and Otis Redding.Janis Joplin and her group Big Brother and The Holding Company also became regulars at The Whisky. They performed at the venue from 1967 to 1970.
Mario Maglieri (who now owns the place, but in 1967 was just 16 years old busboy there) describes one night sitting at a booth with Janis:
‘She was a great entertainer, but a raunchy chick. Dirty nails, stringy hair. Looked like she hadn’t bathed in a month. And she had that raspy voice. Well, she was at the Whisky one night. I was sitting next to her, don’t know what the hell we were talking about. The waitress came up to the table. Janis says to her ‘Gimme a drink.' So the girl brought over a Southern Comfort on the rocks. And what do you think Janis said? ‘I want the whole fuckin’ bottle!’ That was Janis. I truly loved her musically and as a person. She was just a great chick, you know what I mean?’
Maglieri also recalls:
‘I gave Janis Joplin her last drink, four shots of Southern Comfort, and dad said, ‘Put the bottle in her trunk.’ Next day the headlines said she died of alcohol poisoning. It was actually heroin, but for three days I thought I killed her.’In early 1977 Elmer Valentine also recruited the Runaways manager Kim Fowley to help book the club and his ‘New Wave Nights’ soon gave way to high profile acts like Blondie.Whisky was booking everyone from the LA’s native punk scene, starting from XTC and Dead Kennedys to The Jam. Just as riots had almost brought down the Whisky in the 60s, the Black Flag riot in 1980 served as a bookend to the end of the chaotic punk scene on the Strip.Another legendary band that started their career at Whiskey a Go Gowere the Mötley Crüe. They performed many nights at the Whisky A Go-Go and The Roxy Theatre. The band also filmed their 'Kickstart My Heart' video at the Whisky.Nikki, Tommy, and Vince were living in an apartment up the street from the Whisky a Go-Go on Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood. They found girls to help pay for drinks, drugs, clothes, and food, and when that failed, they stole the necessities from the stores down the streets.
Nikki Sixx still remembers when they sold out the Whisky a Go-Go three nights in a row, saying: 'That was one of the highlights of our career.'He also recalls the wild parties they had here, ‘Did I tell you about the time I tied a girl up in the Whisky bathroom with Mick’s guitar cable, and then went to get a bump ofblow from Tommy? I forgot she was in there!’Formed in LA in 1985, Guns N’ Roses emerged from the Sunset Strip music scene as one of the great stadium rock acts of its time and one of the best-selling bands in music history.
The band performed 'Sweet Child O’ Mine,' 'Mr. Brownstone' and 'Ain’t Going Down' for the first time at the Whisky on August 23, 1986.While the Whisky played host to some traveling grunge acts in the 90s, it was no longer the launchpad for local acts. Valentine eventually sold his interest in the club in 1990, and today the Whisky is in the hands of Lou Adler’s son, Nic Adler and Mikael Maglieri, son of the former club manager Mario Maglieri.During the early ‘90s, the Whisky hosted Soundgarden, Mudhoney, Melvins, Fitz of Depression and 7 Year Bitch and other bands of the grunge era.In 1997, System of a Down played at the Whisky. The band were unsigned at the time, and played songs from their early demo tapes, in particular containing the band's only live performance of the song ‘Blue.’The club even hosted Eminem’s show in 1999.While the strip has been colonized by corporate offices and boutique hotels, the scent of lost weekends remains. You just have to stand on the corner of Clark and Sunset and breathe it in.