Through the Years with the Viper Room 

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The planned destruction of the club currently known as the Viper Room will deprive WeHo of yet another beloved landmark, one with a long and rich history going back more than 100 years. The Viper is a cool spot to catch a favorite band along with about 250 people you don’t mind getting a bit close to – or losing a bad blind date.

While the address for the Viper Room is 8852 Sunset, the entrance used by customers is around the corner on Larrabee. Once past the door, one goes down a dark hall that gives the feeling of entering a den of iniquity, which the building may very well have been in one of its earlier incarnations. 

The building goes all the way back to 1921, when it was a small grocery store serving the local community but the real fun began when a venue called the Cotton Club took over the space in the mid-1940s. By this time, prohibition was over and the Sunset Strip had become synonymous with drinking, entertainment and hob-nobbing with famous names. Over the next few years, the club became the Greenwich Village Inn, the Rue Angel and in 1950, the Last Call, which was a strip joint. None of these were around for very long. One of the longest-lasting businesses occupying the space was a cabaret called the Melody Room, which was known for hosting famous acts and welcoming local gangsters from 1951 until 1969. The joint began to rock in 1973, when it became Filthy McNasty’s, then the Central in 1980, both hangouts for celebs.

Things began to get really interesting in 1993, when Johnny Depp and a pal took over the spot and named it the Viper Room. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers opened the club and later in the year, Johnny Cash did a memorable showcase for his first album with producer Rick Rubin. Unfortunately,the club made national headlines on Halloween, when actor River Phoenix died on the sidewalk in front of the building after a night of ingesting various drugs with friends.  

Still, this was the heyday of the Viper Room, with famous names using the darkness to duck the paparazzi and hair metal parody band Metal Shop (later Steel Panther) holding forth on Monday nights, when they were occasionally joined by real-life rockers like Steven Tyler, Sebastian Bach and Paul Stanley. Johnny Depp sold out his share of the Viper Room in 2004 but kept his presence in the area with the mansion above the Strip that he purchased from notorious palimony lawyer Marvin Michelson after the attorney was convicted of tax evasion.

Alas, the down and dirty days of the Viper Room will soon come to an end as a developer purchased the property from Larrabee to San Vicente with plans to build a shiny new 15-story building with restaurants, a hotel and a brand-new squeaky clean incarnation of the Viper Room. At least for now, the Viper Room is still standing and booking acts but its days are sadly numbered. 

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SeeMe
SeeMe
9 months ago

Thank you, Linda, for providing more context as to why this site might have historical significance. Unfortunately, despite the pedigree, I worry if we push hard for preserving this block we will lose the eventual battles to preserve the blocks where the Whisky and the Rainbow are, as I don’t see this as being in the same league as those. As much as I love the romance of what the Strip was in its heyday, I also understand the need to bring it into the 21st Century. Sometimes progress sucks.

08mellie
08mellie
9 months ago
Reply to  SeeMe

Great SeeMe,
Just cave in. Roll over. Are you serious to have no spine and keep the strip? WOW. This attitude of surrender will just leach and mold from Crescent Heights westbound to Doheny. Just rip it up, build it up and forget. NO. Los Angeles has a history of paving paradise and putting a parking lot. FFS.

SeeMe
SeeMe
9 months ago
Reply to  08mellie

I agree 100% with your idealism and would love for it to stay the same. Sadly, I have indeed surrendered to reality and realize we have to pick and choose our battles if we want to retain our history, too. Not ideal, for sure.

08mellie
08mellie
9 months ago

I’m not going to involve myself into the historic perspective. I totally understand. BUT there are family owned and operated business on that targeted land. What about them? NOPE. City Hall and Council don’t give AF about that. Just $$$ and PR for a small freckle of a town on the map. Progressive? No. Regressive. WTF???????

Jonathan Hong-Dowling
Jonathan Hong-Dowling
9 months ago

I urge the city of West Hollywood to preserve the Viper Room and reject the proposed redevelopment plan that calls for the construction of a 15-story monolithic building. The Viper Room is a historic landmark and cultural icon, known for its rich history and contributions to the music and entertainment industry. Its unique character and charm are what make it an integral part of the neighborhood, and tearing it down would be a significant loss for the community. The proposed redevelopment plan would not only destroy the character of the neighborhood. The construction of a 15-story building would not only… Read more »

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
9 months ago

Historic? Are you serious? If you mean it’s the location where a lot of illegal drugs have been taken, lots of overdoses, including celebrity deaths, then it’s historic. A “loss for the community”? How many locals do you think have even been inside? Only perhaps some compliance officers, ready to threaten to fine them, which never actually ends up happening. I welcome a 15 story eyesore, with lots of tax revenue, so the City Council can actually lower our property taxes. Ooops, that won’t happen either. Cause lots of taxes go to fund social meeting halls for our alcoholics and… Read more »

greeneyedguy
greeneyedguy
9 months ago
Reply to  WehoQueen

Yes the Viper Room is historic.

Maybe you should move to Vancouver? SO many million dollar condos you can cream your pants to. A city filled with soulless glass and concrete buildings all to your delight!

WehoQueen
WehoQueen
9 months ago
Reply to  greeneyedguy

I was actually in Vancouver a month ago, and my Asian-Canadian taxi driver was complaining to me that most of the new million dollar condos there are owned by people from China, and most are actually just for investment, and are vacant. He then complained that it forced prices in the city to be so high, that working class Canadians now must live way out in the suburbs, and commute over an hour each way. I told him to complain to his elected officials who permit this to happen, and that they are probably on the take from developers to… Read more »

Scott Sigman
Scott Sigman
9 months ago

Rip the place down. The central prior was the club we played as well as whisky. Starwood more interesting then the viper room.
Where did thee big bands get signed ?

angry gay pope
9 months ago

Terner’s Liquor, above it, is in the video game Grand Theft Auto V as is the viper room, even the rear bldg wall!

Enough!
Enough!
9 months ago

It’s a commercial strip dump. Let it get reinvented.

BloodshotEyedGuy
BloodshotEyedGuy
9 months ago
Reply to  Enough!

No! It’s Sunset Strip and music history. Ridiculous to tear it down only to recreate a faux version down the street. Only poseurs and tourists will frequent the new venue, if anyone attends at all. That place had perfect acoustics and site lines, not to mention a timeless history.

Enough!
Enough!
9 months ago

Unrealistic to think that a strip commercial structure is going to be around forever. Wasn’t built for it, nothing architecturally significant about it. Music is not about a room. It’s about the music.

Silly City
Silly City
9 months ago
Reply to  Enough!

Its a dumpy dive. Basta!

Tom
Tom
9 months ago
Reply to  Enough!

Yes! New buildings with new businesses are good. And they are going to have the Viper room in the new building, so not really a loss.

The opposition to this seems like it’s probably coming from someone who is going to lose their view or just doesn’t like 2-3 years of construction near them. It’s understandable they would fight, but they shouldn’t win.

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