The Coolest LA Music Venues, According to the Musicians That Play Them
Los Angeles has one of the most legendary music scenes in the country, jump-starting iconic careers from The Doors to The Go-Gos to Guns N’ Roses to N.W.A to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Starting in the ‘60s and ‘70s, anyone who was anyone would swing through SoCal to record music or play a show. But the real beauty behind LA’s mosaic-like music community is that it has something for everyone. Remember, this is the same sunny locale that inspired the sounds of The Beach Boys, Natalie Cole, and Skrillex.
When it comes to music venues, LA is an embarrassment of riches. To show you the coolest live music spots, we went to the local artists who’ve performed on the city’s best stages and got the inside scoop on everywhere you need to go.
THE BAND: CHICANO BATMAN
Their Go-To Venue: Fonda Theatre
The Fonda, built in the ‘20s, is one of Hollywood’s first legitimate theaters and is a staggering 31,000-square-feet of pure rock. Chicano Batman, a four-piece Latin-funk band that has generated a cult following across the country, loves the Fonda because of the staff, its proximity to after-show hangouts at Palms Thai Restaurant, and the epic memories from the band’s first show.
“I remember driving out to the Fonda to see the Yeah Yeah Yeahs in 2003 when I first started college, and I remember that place being so massive and seeing these sold out shows as an up-and-coming musician,” says guitarist Carlos Arevalo. “Ten years later, to be headlining the place and selling it out, it was unbelievable.”
THE BAND: LO MOONTheir Go-To Venue: Greek Theatre
The indie rock group Lo Moon plays sold-out shows in its hometown of LA, and The Greek Theater in Griffith Park stands out as their top spot. “One of my favorite shows that we’ve ever played was opening for the legendary band Air,” keyboardist and vocalist Crisanta Baker says. “Beck was a surprise special guest that night (a surprise for us too). It was surreal watching that part of the show from the crowd.”
Seating nearly 6,000 people and approaching its 90th birthday, the outdoor theater has welcomed all-time greats like Frank Sinatra and Elton John. “The sound is outstanding,” Baker says. “I love the atmosphere; you can go to some shows to relax and have a glass of wine (and maybe a hot dog) and other shows you can go to be in the center of a dance party.”
And if you need post-show grub, Baker recommends getting a Freshwich (fresh spring rolls wrapped in rice paper and your choice of filling) and a beer at late-night diner staple Fred 62 in Los Feliz.
THE MUSICIAN: DJ RUCKUSHis Go-To Venue: Break Room 86
“There’s a cool music scene that’s happening in DTLA,” says DJ Ruckus, an open-format DJ spinning everything from AC/DC to Calvin Harris, and who’s been hired by celebrities like Kanye West and Oprah. “It’s the anti-celebrity who’s who. Downtown venues like Break Room 86 are the answer to that.” The sought-after open format DJ, whose family tree includes Lenny Kravitz, has lived in LA most of his life and sees something special happening within the trendy ‘80s-themed karaoke bar in Koreatown that you can only access through a secret door at a loading dock. “They have rock ‘n’ roll cover bands that do ‘80s music karaoke, and they have DJs that play other music ‘til 2am,” he says.
As far as his favorite late-night spots, once you gotta leave the show, Ruckus recommends English gastro pub The Pikey on Sunset. “It has a super cool decor with a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, and they have really kick-ass fish and chips and veggie curry.”
THE MUSICIAN: BISHOP BRIGGSHer Go-To Venue: Troubadour
Even though she hails from the UK, musician and singer Bishop Briggs has been living in LA since she was 18. She started out by playing at any venue she could, including the Troubadour, unanimously one of the best rock clubs in the country that has seen the likes of The Eagles and Van Morrison. “It was the first venue I ever saw a show in LA,” she says. “It became this far-off dream to sell it out, so when I sold it out a few years ago, it was such a full-circle moment because of the musicians I had admired that had played there.”
Opened back when I Love Lucy was still on TV, the Troubadour’s 500-person capacity limit lets you see big name bands without having to sit up in the rafters with a pair of binoculars. “I’ve seen artists from John Legend and Common perform there to Stornoway and The Head and The Heart,” she says. “It was always a place I idolized and felt like you could see an artist truly for who they were. There is no hiding.”
THE BAND: ORGONETheir Go-To Venue: The El Rey Theatre
Drawing inspiration from 1960s and 1970s funk, Orgone’s 10-member group was created in LA in the early 2000s. The band naturally developed its dance-heavy Afro-disco sound by growing up and playing in some of the most iconic clubs and bars in the city. But venues like El Rey Theatre, originally opened in 1936 as a first-run movie house in the heart of Miracle Mile in one of LA’s hip art deco districts, remains one of the group’s all-time favorite spots to play.
“The El Rey is a classic Art Deco style venue,” says founding guitarist Sergio Ross. “Sound can be a bit rough, but it’s a beautiful room. We’ve played there a few times, among them having the honor of opening for Gil Scott Heron. That was an experience for sure.”
THE MUSICIAN: G PERICOHis Go-To Venue: The Roxy Theatre
One of LA’s rising hip-hop artists, G Perico grew up on the east side and says that Los Angeles is “his entire inspiration for his sound.” Even though he’s played all over the country, he considers the Roxy Theatre on the Sunset Strip as one of the most memorable venues because of the crowd. (Perico even spotted J. Cole in the crowd at one of his shows there.) “I got major love for the Roxy,” he says. “You get this vibe in there. It’s so intimate and close up. A lot of artists that come through there bring me out, and the crowd in there is always about having a good time.”
And when you’re done jamming with your crew at the 500-person theater that, yes, made The Rocky Horror Picture Show famous, Perico says you need to head to Bossa Nova, a late-night Brazilian spot just down the street that serves everything from charbroiled shrimp to 21-day-aged Coulotte steak. “A lot of the times when we do shows in Hollywood, we go straight up to Bossa Nova on Sunset and eat,” he says. “It’s one of the few places that are open late, and the vibe in there is cool.”
THE MUSICIAN: DANNY JANKLOWHis Go-To Venue: Blue Whale
“It’s a cool, sleek place that people can afford to go to with a low cover charge and no drink minimum to see your favorite musician,” says saxophonist and jazz musician Danny Janklow about Little Tokyo’s live jazz spot, Blue Whale. “You’re always going to be happily surprised with the music you see there, whether it’s Afro-Cuban or world music or avante garde, it’s all high-level presentation. A lot of LA music fans want a variety of different things, so we need venues like this.”
Inexpensive covers and access to LA’s most-watched, up-and-coming artists isn’t all the club, art gallery, and bar boasts. Little Tokyo’s surrounding food and bar scene buzz at all hours of the night, especially after Janklow gets done with a show. He recommends Seven Grand for a sweet collection of rare whiskey or Rhythm Room, where jazz musicians like to hang out and shoot pool after they’re done playing.
THE BAND: LAS CAFETERASGo-To Venue: La Cita
The LA-based Chicano group hypes up shows with zapateado dancing, so of course, the crew knows which local venue is about letting loose. And even though they’ve toured internationally, their first (and favorite) performances are still in their hometown, including shows at the iconic La Cita. “It was the only bar for up-and-coming Latino bands in LA,” vocalist and guitarist Hector Paul Flores says. “La Cita [is] like a '70s North Mexican bar. The club is so retro with its dark scene and its red leather seats, but in a totally awesome grunge way. La Cita is the shit.” What started out as a dance party, with La Cita’s owners bringing in emerging artists from surrounding neighborhoods and even Mexico, has turned into the epicenter of acts from across all cultures getting their shot at playing.
During Las Cafeteras' residency at La Cita, they also ended up falling in love with the surrounding neighborhood. “After the show we’d go to Little Tokyo down the street to Suehiro Cafe, and it’s still the spot for late night Japanese munchies,” Flores says. “They have great tempura and udon soup that’s on point.”
THE BAND: CHAOS CHAOSTheir Go-To Venue: Zebulon
This synth-pop sister act cut its teeth in Brooklyn, but recently took the plunge and moved out west. Sisters Chloe and Asy Saavedra have already gotten a few local shows under their belt as new LA residents, but Zebulon stood out among the rest for being a haven for artists and a safe testing ground for new music projects, boasting shows every night. “It's become an everyday place for me and my friends to hang out at and catch our friends perform in weird side projects,” says vocalist and drummer Chloe. Once in NYC, Zebulon relocated to the west coast, drawing inspiration from both cities.
“Everyone from Sonic Youth members to Reggie Watts has played at Zebulon,” Chloe says. “Zebulon is also a cool combination of a fun hangout spot with loud music, but they also make great cocktails. Usually, the good cocktail thing comes with a whole attitude I don't enjoy, but Zebulon is pretty laid back.”
Chloe also says a pre-show Mexican dinner at Salazar will change your life. Next door to Zebulon, it was name-checked by LA Times food critic and all-around epic food eater Jonathan Gold as one of LA’s best restaurants.
THE MUSICIAN: MAKOHis Go-To Venue: Hollywood Palladium
The traditional Art Deco style, the high ceilings, and the nearly 12,000 square feet of dancing space that extends to a large upper-level floor, make the Palladium one of those venues you have to check out more than once. “The shape of it is really nice with a nice big dance floor,” says dance producer and singer-songwriter Alex Seaver of MAKO. “It’s right in the heart of LA, and it feels more epic than a traditional nightclub, almost like a showroom.”
From mega dance DJs to sold-out indie rock shows, it’s not all just big-name music acts that you can catch at the Palladium, either. “I saw Dave Chappelle there,” Alex says. “I was so used to seeing artists like Above and Beyond at the venue, so to see Dave Chappelle do stand up there was crazy.”
THE MUSICIAN: MADAME GANDHIHer Go-To Venue: Resident DTLA
Even though solo artist and activist Madame Gandhi has toured just about every metropolitan city as the former drummer for M.I.A., the Angeleno has deep roots in downtown LA and performed some of her first shows there, including at the metal shop turned badass music venue Resident DTLA. “They are politically minded and support feminist art, and they have good food, drinks, and an indoor-outdoor space,” she says.
This hybrid cocktail bar, beer garden, brunch spot, and music venue with a chill back patio is in the center of the Arts District. It’s also surrounded by other breweries and bars, like Angel City Brewery, a spot with a dog-friendly patio and food trucks. It’s a great gateway to more after-hours spots that Gandhi says go off at all times of the night in her neighborhood.