It wasn’t just the teen pop idols of the day that young’ins around the world craved information on; the clubs and cities that bred the music were as important as the stars in painting a full picture of the 1960s. In both New York and Los Angeles (as well as London, Nashville, San Francisco, etc.), nightclubs and coffee houses were rife with rising talent — which was quickly mined by record companies looking to cash in on the new sounds.
In 1966, Hit Parader did a special series, first on the venues of Greenwich Village (it only makes sense — the magazine was based in New York), then spotlighted a few of the Sunset Strip hotspots. Here, in chronological order of issues from March to October, are just a few of the more high-profile spaces from which some of the decade’s best-loved music emerged.
Greenwich Village, NYC
Venue: The Night Owl
Immortalized in the Mamas and the Papas’ autobiographical song, “Creeque Alley” (“Zal, Denny, and Sebastian sat — at the Night Owl”), the club played host to a variety of acts, including (but certainly not limited to) the Magicians, Strangers, Blues Magoos, along with folk stalwarts Fred Neil, Richie Havens, and Tim Hardin. The Owl is perhaps best known, in rock lore, as the launching pad for the Lovin’ Spoonful, who held a long-standing residency. John Sebastian has said that the inspiration for “Do You Believe in Magic?” came from a young dancer during one of the band’s sets at the club.
What it is now: Closed by the 1970s, the Night Owl space went through several reincarnations as a head/button shop, retail space, and, most recently, as the longtime home of Bleecker Bob’s Records, which closed last year. Rumor has it that a boutique (read: fancy) frozen yogurt joint will move in. Because NYC, particularly the Village, so needs another one of those. At least it’s not a Starbucks, I guess.
Venue: Cafe Au Go Go
Boasting an eclectic array of entertainment (as profiled in the article above), the Cafe Au Go Go hosted everyone from Stan Getz and Muddy Waters, to cabaret acts and underground theatre. In the mid-’60s, it was a hotbed for up-and-coming blues artists like John Hammond, Jr., Paul Butterfield, and Al Kooper, along with the usual cast of Village folkies. (See more about the Au Go Go in the article b’low b’low. Am I funny yet?)
What it is now: After the Au Go Go days, the club was converted into the Garrick Cinema, before the whole building was demolished and built as a mid-level high-rise with a Capital One bank in its ground level.
Venue: The Bitter End
I’m not sure that “beyond legendary” is a strong enough term to describe the Bitter End. Listing its never-ending roll call of performers could fill the rest of this article. Everyone from folk singers to comedians to jug bands stepped onto that narrow stage against the club’s famous brick wall; it was a rite of passage. Though its name shifted slightly to “The Other End” during the ’70s, it was eventually restored to its initial moniker.
What it is now: Still the Bitter End! It did change hands over the years, from original owner Fred Weintraub to Paul Colby in 1974. Sadly, Colby passed away earlier this year, but for a great history of the club, check out his book, The Bitter End: Hanging Out at America’s Nightclub.
Venue: The Gaslight Cafe
A smoky, dark, basement coffeehouse on MacDougal Street, the Gaslight Cafe was a tiny space with a big reputation. A favorite for performers because of its relaxed, intimate atmosphere, it attracted the likes of Bob Dylan (of course), Dave Van Ronk, even Johnny Cash. Before or after a gig, performers and audience members alike could pop upstairs to the Kettle of Fish, where it’s said that Dylan wrote some of his most well-known tunes, including “Blowin’ in the Wind.”
What it is now: The Gaslight itself is a swanky, underground bar, but with some of the original interior from the Gaslight days still intact. Most notably, the original gaslight itself still sits in a wall alcove. (Yours truly, along with contributor Louie Pearlman, DJ’d ’60s dance parties in one of the Gaslight’s revivals a few years ago.)
Los Angeles, CA
Venue: The Trip
Originally a club called the Crescendo, the Trip was a sister club to the Whisky A Go Go in that both venues were started by the same person, but the Trip boasted larger-capacity seating for bigger acts. Quickly, it became the place to perform and the place to be seen by rock acts from all over the world, including the Yardbirds, Donovan, Motown acts like Martha and the Vandellas and the Temptations, and east coast transplants like the Byrds.
What it is now: Demolished. An Equinox gym and a retail plaza sits in its place on the Sunset Strip.
Venue: The Troubadour
Beginning as a west coast haven for folkies, the Troubadour’s famous “hootenanny” nights could be downright brutal with a discerning crowd that pulled no punches when it came to critiques. (I’ve even heard tales of screaming matches bordering on fistfights after “hoots.”) Like the Bitter End in NYC, it wasn’t uncommon for new faces to pay their dues and suffer through a “hoot” on the way up.
What it is now: Still the Troubadour! It’s even still got founder Doug Weston’s name on the marquee.
Venue: The Hullabaloo
By far the largest club on this list, the Hullabaloo was formerly occupied by the grand Moulin Rouge of the ’30s and ’40s and retained a lot of the original ambiance, but with a modern twist. Meant to be more of an “experience” than, say, the Troubadour, guests were welcomed by attendants and valets, and its entrance featured a lavish staircase and golden statues. Everyone from the Doors to Chad & Jeremy performed on its partially-revolving stage.
What it is now: The building is still standing, though now part of Nickelodeon. To give you some scope of just how large the club was, it’s now where some of the network’s shows film.
Venue: The Whisky A Go Go
Probably known equally for its music as it was its cage dancers (see above), the Whisky was a hip ‘n’ happen’ spot — if you weren’t cool, you weren’t there. Most notably, the Doors cut their chops in a Whisky residency, along with a cavalcade of ’60s luminaries. Fun fact: in 1965, the Whisky hired the very first female disc jockey. Thanks, Whisky!
What it is now: Forever the Whisky! Still open for business, featuring newcomers and legendary talent alike.