“Everybody’s got a memory of The Viper Room,” says Oliver Trevena, who, with longtime owners Bevan Cooney and Darin Feinstein, recently relaunched the iconic music venue on L.A.’s Sunset Strip. “Or if they don’t have one, they want one. The younger Hollywood elite want to be part of it, and those that have been here want to come back.”
The club, once co-owned by Johnny Depp, has long been about rock ‘n roll grit coupled with glam. So it wasn’t a surprise that everyone from starlet Vanessa Hudgens and supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio to actor Kelsey Grammer and Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner attended the November relaunch party that featured performances by X Ambassadors and Stokeswood.
With Mr. Trevena, an actor/TV host and brand ambassador for AllSaints clothing, as a new partner, the 225-capacity Viper Room is looking to bring in many other bands that typically play much larger venues.
Allsaints, Mr. Trevena notes, has worked on shows or clothing deals with chart-topping bands like Cage the Elephant, OneRepublic and Imagine Dragons. Mr. Trevena mentions Imagine Dragons multiple times as the type of the band he’d like to have at The Viper Room. He envisions something like what The Sayers Club has done over the years—bringing in arena-headlining talent for intimate industry showcases.
“We’re going to put our signature on the booking aspect,” Mr. Feinstein says. “Oliver has great connections. It’s going to be a vastly higher-caliber and more interesting schedule.”
So, the question is: Why be in the rock ‘n roll business at all when there’s now been a few years of nightlife evolving into much more of an EDM world? Plus, for many club kids in L.A., Las Vegas is where they go to really rage anyway.
“I don’t think live music is ever going away,” Mr. Feinstein says. “Certainly, there’s been a lot of metamorphoses of clubs and venues like those in Las Vegas. The problem is the turnover.”
What happens with many of these bottle-service clubs is that they have to completely transform themselves every couple years to stay relevant. Meanwhile, The Viper Room, where Johnny Cash and Courtney Love have taken the stage, celebrated its 21st birthday last year.
And its relaunch nods to the past. The new oxblood leather booths are reminiscent of what the club once had.
“We’ve redone Johnny’s Room, which is the private room with one-way glass,” Mr. Trevena adds. “There’s new furniture and new flooring, a new stage and carpet. It’s enough to make a difference, but it’s not going to take away the feeling of The Viper Room.”
There’s also a new mural from local artist Louis Carreon, which features the prose of Hunter S. Thompson as well as the words “R.I.P. River Phoenix.” Mr. Carreon’s goal was to create a tribute to Mr. Phoenix. But the club, where the 23-year-old actor overdosed before collapsing outside and dying on Halloween 1993, has gotten some shit from a local alt-weekly about what the publication sees as a “tasteless” display.
The Viper Room’s proprietors want to make it clear that this is about art and not exploiting the death of a celebrity.
“River Phoenix was one of [Carreon’s] idols,” Mr. Trevena says.
And The Viper Room is proud of Mr. Carreon’s work.
“He volunteered his time out of his heart,” Mr. Feinstein says. “What some people don’t know about Louis Carreon is that he was a recovering addict. He ended up in the prison system. He’s very fortunate to be alive. He was part of the scene back in the day and had ties to The Viper Room. We didn’t tell him what to make. Who is anybody to tell an artist he should censor what he’s feeling? It’s that hyper-PC culture that we don’t buy into. We don’t tell the musicians what song they can sing.”
Rock ‘n roll.