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The Whisky a Go Go

Feb 13th, 2015 | By | Category: Movie Locations

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I’ve never really been into music.  As I have mentioned before, if it’s not sung by Michael Bublé, Britney Spears or Michael Jackson, or was not a top ‘80s hit, chances are I haven’t heard it.  But my good friend Kim from Kentucky is a huge music buff, so when she and our good friend Lavonna came out for a visit in November, we made sure to hit up what is arguably one of the most famous rock venues in the world, the Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip.

Whenever Kim, Lavonna and I do any stalking together, we seem to have miraculous luck.  This day was no different.  We showed up to the Whisky in the late afternoon only to find it closed.  There was a sign on the front door, though, that stated that anyone looking to buy merchandise could call the club’s office during daytime hours.  So we did just that, using Lavonna’s twang to full effect, of course.  An incredibly nice booking agent named Bekah (that’s her pictured below) let us in and, after Kim and Lavonna purchased pretty much every piece of merchandise available (not joking!), offered to give us on a tour of the place!

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We wound up being taken on an epic tour of the venue and, even though I am not into music, I was pinching myself the whole time.

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While a sign on the Whisky’s front door specifically states that no photography of any kind is allowed inside, Bekah told us that we could take all of the pics that we wanted, so as you can imagine I was snapping away like a madwoman!

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It was so neat to be able to see the Whisky while empty, because come nightfall it is typically packed to the gills with crowds.

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It was also amazing to stand in the space and think about the music history that had taken place within the four walls and the many legends who had performed on its stage.  Lavonna, Kim and I were walking in the footsteps of some major music legends and it was pretty surreal to contemplate.

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Just standing on the Whisky a Go Go stage.  NBD.  Winking smile

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The Whisky a Go Go first opened its doors on January 15th, 1964.  The club was founded by Elmer Valentine, a one-time Chicago cop who was the then owner of P.J.’s restaurant in West Hollywood.  During a fateful trip to Paris in 1963, Valentine visited a discotheque named Whisky a Go Go and thought the concept would be successful in L.A.  Upon returning home, he secured three investors and opened his club inside of a former Bank of America branch.  He hired singer Johnny Rivers to be the headliner.  The venue was instantly popular, though small – seating capacity was just 500.  The space was so tiny, in fact, that there was no room for a D.J. booth.  In a 2006 Vanity Fair article, author David Camp states, “Between sets, the audience would dance to records spun by a D.J.—but not just any D.J.: a girl D.J., suspended high above the audience in a glass-walled cage.  This faintly ridiculous idea was Valentine’s pragmatic response to the room’s space limitations: the Whisky was not a big club, and the only way he could fit the D.J. booth was to mount it on a metal support beam that ran alongside the performing area.”

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As fate would have it, that D.J. box wound up leading to the go-go dancing craze.  Prior to the Whisky’s launch, Valentine decided to hold a contest for the D.J. job, but as Camp explains in the Vanity Fair article, “On the very night of the Whisky’s opening, January 15, 1964, the contest winner called Valentine in tears, explaining that her disapproving mother wouldn’t let her take the job.  So Valentine pressed his reluctant cigarette girl, a young woman named Patty Brockhurst, into action.  ‘She had on a slit skirt, and we put her up there,’ he says.  ‘So she’s up there playing the records.  She’s a young girl, so while she’s playing ’em, all of a sudden she starts dancing to ’em!  It was a dream.  It worked.’  Thus, out of calamity and serendipity, was born the go-go girl.  Valentine acted fast to formalize the position, installing two more cages and hiring two more girl dancers, one of whom, Joanie Labine, designed the official go-go-girl costume of fringed dress and white boots.”  The rest, as they say, is history.

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Whisky a Go-Go was also responsible for launching the careers of countless legendary musicians and bands.  Just a few who played at the club during their early days include Fleetwood Mac, Janis Joplin, Led Zeppelin, Frank Zappa, Mötley Crüe, Metallica, Nirvana, Hole, The Bangles, Guns ‘N Roses, the Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, KISS, Rage Against the Machine, Korn, and Limp Bizkit.   The Doors and Chicago even served as the Whisky’s house bands for a time before hitting it big.  Celebrities could often be found in the audience, as well, including Cary Grant, Nicolas Cage, Patricia Arquette, Steve McQueen, Jayne Mansfield, Jack Paar, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Mick Jagger, Michelle Phillips, and Cass Elliot.

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Perhaps most phenomenal about the Whisky a Go Go is that the place is still a veritable rock institution to this day, over 51 years after its opening.

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The Whisky is also a filming location!  It is outside of the club that Ben Braddock (Dustin Hoffman) and Elaine Robinson (Katharine Ross) kiss after a very bad first date in the 1967 classic The Graduate.

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The venue played itself in the 1991 film The Doors.  It was there that Jim Morrison (Val Kilmer) and the group were famously fired after performing the Oedipus section of “The End.”

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You can watch an interesting featurette about the filming of that scene by clicking below.

Suzette (Goldie Hawn) gets fired from her Whisky bartending job at the beginning of the 2002 comedy The Banger Sisters.

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The Whisky also served as the inspiration for the fictional Bourbon Club in Rock of Ages, but no filming took place there.  Though the 2012 musical was set on the Sunset Strip in the 1980s, director Adam Shankman needed to be able shut down traffic for six weeks during the shoot, a scenario that would have been impossible along one of L.A.’s busiest stretches of road.  So production instead took place in Miami.  For the filming, the intersection of North Miami Avenue & NE 14th Street was transformed into the Sunset Strip and the building located at 10 NE 14th Street was used for the exterior of The Bourbon Club.

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The nightclub Revolution Live at 100 Southwest 3rd Avenue in Fort Lauderdale masked as the interior of The Bourbon in the flick.

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For more stalking fun, follow me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Los Angeles magazine online.

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Until next time, Happy Stalking!  Smile

Stalk It: The Whisky a Go Go is located at 8901 Sunset Boulevard in West Hollywood.  You can visit the venue’s official website here.

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4 comments

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  1. Ashley says:

    So cool, I never knew the go-go dancer history before! Geoff’s old band played here when we first started dating. So did No Doubt in their early days! http://www.doghousegallery.net/gallery/albums/runningmine/135.jpg

  2. beachgal says:

    The person who wrote that VF article is a tad off – those dancers with the boots came a lot later. I was going to the Whisky by late ’64 – the dancers wore tight fringe skirts with short crop tops and little kitten heals – boots were in vogue later. Those initial outfits they were were all the talk at college (USC), you better believe it and much parodied at college dances.

  3. Lavonna says:

    Such a fun day!!! Glad my twang came in handy! I didn’t know about the go-go girls either….duh!

  4. Laurie says:

    excellent post! I never knew about the go-go girls! Totally makes sense now!


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