Music in Los Angeles: Sunset Boulevard's best live venues

The iconic Sunset Boulevard is your hub for live music in Los Angeles. Here are our top picks, from the hot spots on the Strip to the lesser known Eastside clubs.

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House of Blues

  • Critics choice

Spread across three floors, the House of Blues has a decent vibe despite the chain-club factor. The menu is heavy on Southern influenced food and American classics, and you can enjoy live smaller acts while dining in the Voodoo Lounge. The main room’s big and barnlike, but the sight lines and sound are good. Sure, there are cheesy Pink Floyd tribute bands (Brit Floyd), but there are also legit punk shows with the Dead Kennedys, JFA, Channel 3 and a little bit of everything in between. The Sunday Gospel Brunch is always heavenly. If you can pony up the extra cash ($1,000-$3,500), you can become a Foundation Room member and enjoy perks like VIP seating and complimentary valet.

  1. 8430 W Sunset Blvd, at N Olive Dr
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Viper Room

  • Critics choice

Known as the Melody Room in the ’40s and frequented by Bugsy Siegel, the club became a biker bar before it became the Central, where bluesman Chuck E. Weiss held forth every Monday night. It was Weiss who suggested to Johnny Depp that the actor invest in the ailing club, and the Viper Room was born in 1993. Johnny Cash played here, and Hunter Thompson drank at the bar. While it no longer draws as many famous attendees or acts (perhaps because Depp is no longer affiliated with the club) it’s still a great intimate room to see a show. Recent bookings range from legendary drag performer Jayne County to Michael des Barres, a night of Elvis music and even a pole-dancing event with karaoke.

  1. 8852 W Sunset Blvd, at Larrabee St
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Whisky A Go-Go

  • Critics choice

The Whiskey has been resting on its decaying laurels for far too long. Yes, they pioneered go-go dancers in suspended cages; yes, the Doors were the house band; and yes, it enjoyed a new injection of life with punk shows in the ’80s. But that was all a long time ago. Lately, its calendar reveals a lot of no-name hopefuls interspersed with some genuine past-season bonafides such as the Untouchables, Faster Pussycat and Missing Persons. Still, along with the Roxy, it has the best sound system on the Strip, it’s always all-ages, and you can breathe in the ghosts of performances past by Johnny Rivers, the Kinks, Led Zeppelin and the Who.

  1. 8901 W Sunset Blvd, at N San Vicente Blvd
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The Roxy Theatre

  • Critics choice

The acoustics are incredible here, as befitting a club owned by former record company owner and producer Lou Adler. Many artists—Bob Marley, Frank Zappa, Bruce Springsteen, Social Distortion and Warren Zevon to name a few—have turned their live recordings here into album tracks. Musicians also play the tiny On the Rox bar above the nightclub, a former hangout for John Lennon, Alice Cooper and Keith Moon—and the last stop for John Belushi before the Chateau Marmont. Exceptional rock operas (Hedwig this fall) arrive here from time to time—even Rocky Horror started as a stage production here!

  1. 9009 W Sunset Blvd, between San Vincente Blvd & Doheny Dr
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Key Club

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

Gangster Mickey Cohen took a bullet in the shoulder here in ’49 when it was Sherry’s Restaurant; Ben Gazzarri, self-proclaimed “Godfather of Rock and Roll” operated it as Gazzarri’s from ’63 till his death in ’91. After suffering major quake damage, the building was torn down and did a two-year stint as Billboard Live until Key Club opened in ’98, inheriting its odd modern design. An elevator will carry you three stories, from the balcony dining room overlooking the stage, to the main room, to an intimate subterranean bar, the Plush Lounge. The music ranges from hip-hop artists like Warren G and Pimp My Ride host Xzibit, to mainstay punk acts the Adicts, Fear, and the Misfits, with a little bit of Michael Schenker thrown in for good metal measure.

  1. 9039 W Sunset Blvd
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Honorable mentions

Sunset Strip Music Festival

Sunset Strip Music Festival

  • Critics choice

Sunset Boulevard is closed down annually for this three-day outdoor music festival, which has effectively breathed new life into a Strip that saw its last heyday with the glam metal bands of the ’80s. While the outdoor acts are for three days, inside at the Whiskey, Roxy, Viper Room and Key Club, the celebrating goes all weeklong. Artists at 2012’s fest included X, Peter Murphy, Marilyn Manson, the Offspring, Bad Religion and Robbie Krieger and Ray Manzarek from special honorees the Doors. Oh, and a bunch of glam metal bands, too. Held annually in August.

Troubadour

  • Critics choice

Swing down Holloway Drive, just off the Strip, hang a right on Santa Monica and you will soon find yourself in front of the legendary Troubadour, a former favorite haunt of Tom Waits and the place where Lenny Bruce was arrested on obscenity charges in ’57. It’s still one of the best places in town to catch a live show.

  1. 9081 Santa Monica Blvd, at N Doheny Dr
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Piano Bar

  • Price band: 2/4
  • Critics choice

The plainly named Piano Bar is a rare find in the heart of Hollywood: a comfortable, lowkey and friendly dive. On any given night, the house piano man generally keeps things lively in this endearingly contrived Brit-themed hangout. It's also where you can see local songwriting/singing legend Chuck E. Weiss (subject of Rickie Lee Jones’ song “Chuck E.’s in Love”), who has played with the likes of Lightnin’ Hopkins, Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters.

  1. 6429 Selma Ave, at N Cahuenga Blvd
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Rainbow Bar & Grill

  • Critics choice

Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe met here in 1952 when it was the Vincente Minelli–owned Villa Nova restaurant. Steps from the Roxy, the list of stars who have drank here is endless but include Elvis, Jimi Hendrix, John Lennon, Elton John and members of Led Zeppelin and the Who. The debauchery that has occurred in the parking lot has its own Facebook page. Go have a drink.

  1. 9015 West Sunset Blvd
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