Los Angeles is celebrated around the world for its music industry of stellar artists and several raved-after clubs, but equally as worthy are the hidden and forbidden music venues, each with its own personality. While diverse enough to have something for everyone, these clubs are the same in their absolute devotion to music they judge the best.
The El Rey is one in the line of Art Deco theaters designed by theater architect Clifford A. Balch. For music connoisseurs who enjoy top-notch sound quality in a lavishly decorated and clean environment, the El Rey is the place to go. Clad in crimson curtains and carpets and cast under hefty chandeliers, the theater curates a caramel glow of age-old dreams. But when the band starts playing, you will be pulled back from the old days to the contemporary glitz of electronic music, jazz, indie rock, country music and more. The theater hosts big names and burgeoning musicians alike. Though intimate, the theater gives every guest a decent amount of room to cheer and socialize.
Unanimously described by fans as laid-back, The Echo is among the small music clubs in Los Angeles that even New Yorkers travel to see. Intimate enough for the possibility of getting personal with the artists, The Echo has the comfort level for chillin’ with old and new friends, with cheap drinks and pizzas from the bar in hand. Don’t let the casual environment fool you – the acoustics are nothing but pro. Come, especially on Monday nights since the tickets are free, and meet artists before they become the next big hit, as did The Airborne Toxic Event and Active Child. While you’re there, check out The Echoplex, the larger sister club down the street.
If you dare to be a dedicated soul to music, innovation and freedom, The Smell will welcome you into its envied community of punk, electronic and rock music no matter who you are. It is perhaps the most non-discriminating club ever – it’s all-ages, alcohol- and drug- free, hosts a library, a gallery and a vegan snack bar for those interested, and most shows are ticketed at the symbolic price of $5. Entirely run by volunteers, The Smell has inherited the DIY ethics from two demised underground clubs in Los Angeles and has nourished a close family of independent artists and supporters. The club is to local musicians as Greenwich Village is to New York writers and artists; The Smell has sprung the careers of many local musicians, with successful alumni including No Ages and Ponytail.
Tucked inside a shopping mall in Little Tokyo, Bluewhale is an oasis for jazz lovers to drop in and savor world-class jazz at a reasonable price. Run by Korean-born jazz musician Joon Lee, Bluewhale is rated as one of the best jazz clubs in LA by Zagat and LA Times. The place is best known for jazz of the highest standard, delicious drinks and an Asian-infused menu, including munchies such as sweet potato fries. The bar has a simple and sleek interior that resembles an art gallery. Come on any night and the music will be equally first-class, but come early or you will have to stand on your feet all night.
The Satellite is meant for unwinding on the dance floor and boogieing down to indie electronic and rock music. The club was originally named and perhaps better known as Spaceland, a gay disco club. Since the first show of its renaming, which featured major musicians including Beck, it has periodically invited big names to join the local artists. The night club and its always-popular but never-claustrophobic dance floor are best known for the ‘Dance Yourself Clean’ event every Saturday. Crowds are lured to their feet by local talents, and fledgling musicians hone their skills in the low-key ambience. If you get tired from the dancing, reboot with a game of pool or foosball.
Amoeba Music is actually an independent music chain collector of old and new CDs, vinyl records, cassettes and movies. The Hollywood store, one of the largest independent music stores in the world, is itself a landmark. Entering the store is like being devoured by a boundless utopia where records rule all. While the flooring of CDs is intimidating, the low prices and the immaculate organization allow you to glean to your heart’s content. Equally exciting are the free live shows and album signing by local artists scheduled every few days. In March, an established band and Grammy winner that started in Downtown Los Angeles, La Santa Cecilia, is coming to town. The store is a mecca for people from every music niche to meet friends, enjoy the music and bring it with them.
Bootleg Theater is one of the exceptional small venues in terms of sound quality and performances. The club will give you a wonderful night if you are looking for a non-chaotic place to enjoy a wide variety of original performances – theater, music, dance, talk shows and comedy. With theater seating in the back of the club and couches near the front stage, Bootleg gives you ample space to get cozy. The owners seriously care about the audio experience, as you will see a tech guy pacing and stopping in the room with an iPad to monitor the sound quality. The most special thing about Bootleg Theater is that it regularly hosts international performers, for example, Canadian singer-songwriter Basia Bulat and the British bands Pins and Yak coming in March. Go for the popular beer selection and the ping pong table if that’s your cup of tea.
Originally a cozy coffee shop where local singers entertained a small audience, The Hotel Café has outgrown from its ‘Central Perk Coffee House’ image into a professional pop music venue for singer-songwriters. The stage has welcomed renowned artists such as Katy Perry, Bruno Mars and Adele, as well as starting artists who will come back from world tours later. The venue has a theater-like main stage surrounded by red velvety curtains, and a gilded, more intimate second stage where the audience can sit at tables ten feet from the artist. However, the shows are usually much more pop and energetic than the setting let on. Shows are ticketed individually, but if the tickets are not sold out, the staff usually lets you pay for one show and stay for the rest of the evening.
A Club Called Rhonda is a special child in the litter of Los Angeles music venues. This is the place where your true self emerges, from the open shell of the front door lined with pink neon light, donned in the most self-assertive and flamboyant costume. The all-inclusive, polysexual club has Hollywood’s glamour but rejects mainstream earworms with house music and famed DJs such as Monty Luke and Jacque Renault. The sensual setting is lit under smoky blue lights and the neon logo of a pair of legs in heels. To spin your stress away in the music before others do, dress audaciously and your taste may get you through the line.
Get your dance cravings fixed at The Mayan, the club with three floors for grooving and rocking. Parties at The Mayan last all night, so whip out your marathon spirit and dive into the night worth remembering, although that may be hard with the distraction of seven bars. The club has an eerie Halloween-theater-like interior, surrounded by intersecting planes of blue, red and purple lights, blood red curtains and esoteric bronze carvings on the ceiling. With the space for a concert, The Mayan plays an eclectic selection of music, from Latin music to hip hop. If you don’t like the music you’re dancing to, just go up or down the floor as each floor has its own party going on, but all are equally sweaty and decadent.