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.