There what you think it is…and what it actually is, on the Sunset Strip.
So, we’re going to go ahead and get it out of the way, right up front. When most people think of the Viper Room, they think of River Phoenix, the young, talented star who died of a drug induced Heart Failure in front of the Viper Room on October 31, 1993.
Problem is, because they think of that first, a whole mess of…other stereotypes get built up around the place; like its rough, that its dangerous, that it attracts a “bad crowd”, that drugs are being slung out there, that’s it’s a place where Bikers hang out.
Okay, that last one was mine.
But it’s not like that.
So what is it?
Let’s start with a little history. From what I’ve read, before it carried the name “The Viper Room” it was the “The Melody Room”, a Jazz Room hangout for Bugsy Siegel and Mickey Cohen. I have to check but I think the Melody Room made a brief appearance in the otherwise rotten movie: Gangster Squad. (Trust me, that club in that movie was not in the same space as the Viper Room). Then it became the “The Central”, and now…here we are.
So, let’s establish up front that the first thing you’ve got to know about the Viper Room is…that whatever it is you think about the Viper Room is probably wrong…and wrong as hell.
Hell, I look up the Google Map of the Viper Room, and the first comment is: “You won’t feel safe at viper room a lot of aggressive people there.”
Is that what happened to me?
No, not so much.
The Viper Room is a venue for live music. Believe it or not, that’s really it. It’s really not more complicated than that…and that’s a good thing. The acts it collects, displays are just about the best out there, acts just about to take off.
The Viper Room itself is a pretty simple space. Big open floor, a Bar that runs just about the length of the wall. A couple of booths, and a nice round stage. You pay your money. You walk inside, get a drink, enjoy the show
Again, not more complicated than that. You don’t need to know anyone to get it in. The Viper Room Website is actually a fantastic resource, with sound player playing music from upcoming acts, so you can get a taste before you show.
Now, your actual game-day experience.
First off, and this surprised me a little bit. The Staff at the Viper Room…is nice as hell. As in down-to-Earth level-headed nice. Every single encounter with the Staff was fantastic. People wanting to help you, look out for you. This is not the memory I have of my College Bar. Hell, this is not the memory I have of most places on the Sunset Strip or the Westside.
The crowd there was…mixed. I really thought I was going in there as the old fart of whatever audience was there to rock it out, but not so gentle reader. I was there to see the Passport Tour, featuring a bunch of acts from abroad. The audience was mixed. Some younger, more than a few older than me. Go figure.
But they were…well, nice. No one was slobby, dangerous, find-me-the-bouncer drunk. People were drinking, having a good time and listening to the music.
That’s right, I’m actually saying I had a pretty mellow time at the Viper Room. Though it was loud as hell (see: Important Safety Tip).
Look, Viper Room. I don’t mean to harsh your buzz. You do call yourself the “notorious home of Rock ‘n Roll on the Sunset Strip”, and that’s all legit…but I can’t help it. You actually had good service there. You had good music playing there. I had a good time there.
Let me also emphasize this. It was a freaking Monday. I know that makes a difference. I know things are probably a lot more hopping on a Weekend, but still the main question was whether or not I’d feel safe at the Viper Room…
…and…well…I felt safe at the Viper Room.
Oh, and about my College Bar crack I just made. Sorry, went to Maryland…and the Viper Room does remind me of all the College Rock & Roll Bars I went into, only difference being that the Viper Room is maintained and clean. The restroom doors are plastered with stickers from every band imaginable, adding to that College Bar feel.
So the Viper Room was much, much, much better than expected. And best of all, they do Hip-Hop, the do Rock, they do R&B. Hell, the even do staged readings from time to time. This is a place I’ll come back to.
IMPORTANT SAFETY TIP, PEOPLE: Okay, this is going to be the most important section of the article, and…frankly I wouldn’t be surprised if you skipped ahead and read this first.
First off, entry. When you get here, and want to get in, before 7:30 the doors are closed. There are two sets of them by the way, the more famous entrance along Sunset, and the one down on Larrabee Street near the portrait of Humphrey Bogart. There will be a line down on Larrabee Street. Once they open the doors, present your I.D., pay the nice Ticket Lady (I know her, so be nice to her), and either walk straight ahead to the bar for Drink Specials, or head upstairs to the main floor and the Bands.
Second, the Viper Room is S.R.O (as in Standing Room Only). There are booths (about five or six of them) along the wall, and a special V.I.P. room behind glass that you and I probably can’t afford. Other than that, there’s the floor and the bar, and maybe some space to lean against the bar. Maybe, that will shift as the night goes on and people gravitate toward the stage.
Third, the Viper Room’s bar is a Bar Bar, a bit of a manly man’s bar. Not a lot of mixology going on here, but some. I had a 1977 that was fun and very spicy (Ginger), but for the most part, they are serve Alcohol two ways, straight up, or on the rocks. Oh, and Beer, there will be beer.
Fourth, Bathrooms. There are bathrooms, on the top floor, away from the stage. And there are of the one person at a time variety, though people might try to jam in there if they’re in a hurry. Though I believe a certain level of desperation will compel more than one person at a time in there at some times. The good news is they are not disaster areas (at least the start of the night), and the lines to get in them aren’t too tragic.
Fifth, the Website. Again, can’t be said enough, the Viper Room Website is actually really damn good. Not perfect, I’d make a change here or there, but nothing major. It’s got a nice layout and a player that will play songs from upcoming acts, so you can get a taste of what’s coming your way. It’s how I first heard Monks of Mellonwah (that’s their video above), a band from Australia. I liked what I heard, and decided to hit the Viper Room.
Sixth, and most important…it is loud as hell in here. Seriously. They have the Amps turned up below Painful and just above Get Your Attention. Earplugs might be something to consider.
Seventh, and just for laughs. The Viper Room’s Wikipedia page has a long and torturous history of all the places that have sought to jump on the Viper Room’s name (or infamy in their minds) from around the world. It is rather sad that these places do this.
Eighth, the Viper Room does close on Halloween Night, out of respect.
PARKING: Yes, there is Parking directly behind the Venue, again along Larrabee Street. It’s $10 bucks a shot, gated and Attended. It’s close enough so that if you get too blitzed at the Bar, you won’t go wandering off into the nether regions of West Hollywood. You can try other locales, but they’ll cost you about the same amount and are further away.
8852 West Sunset Boulevard
West Hollywood, CA 90069
Tel: (310) 358-1881
8pm-2am Live Music 7 Nights a week