Drugs, Dolls and Johnny Depp: The Viper Room’s demolition is the end of a Hollywood era

Today, the Sunset Strip is a shadow of its former self. In the Sixties, the infamous two-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard was the heart of Los Angeles’ emerging counterculture, a place where world-famous actors Jack Nicholson and Peter Fonda joined young hippies in riots against a 10pm curfew. Fast-forward to the Eighties and bands like Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen and Mötley Crüe were staying up long past their bedtimes as the area transformed into the whisky-soaked home of hair metal. These days the counterculture is long gone and the bulldozers are circling. In February, the iconic former home of Tower Records, which went bankrupt in 2006, was torn down to make way for a new branch of skatewear brand Supreme. Last month, it was announced that The Viper Room, the rock’n’roll dive once owned by Johnny Depp, will soon be demolished and replaced with a 12-storey glass high-rise. “Just what the Strip needs!” jokes Steve Cohn, Depp’s former construction manager and a Viper Room regular in the Nineties. “There’s so much crap like that. It’s so sad.”

When it opened, on 14 August 1993, The Viper Room was the hottest ticket in town. Despite the cave-like venue’s miniscule capacity of just 250, the stellar bill on that first night featured Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers, Evan Dando of the Lemonheads and Pogues frontman Shane MacGowan. A who’s who of Hollywood watched from the crowd, with directors Quentin Tarantino, Jim Jarmusch and Tim Burton rubbing shoulders with stars like Dennis Hopper, Christina Applegate and Patricia Arquette. The building had been converted from a grocery shop into a music venue in 1947 by mobster Mickey Cohen, a fact proudly noted by a zoot-suited Depp. “I really love the idea of clubs from the Twenties, Thirties and Forties,” he told the LA Times on its opening night“Like long slinky dresses, gin fizzes and witty banter?” one party-goer asked. “No wit, I don’t want any wit here,” Depp zinged back. What he did hope to create, he said, was a club where celebrities “won’t feel like they’re on display”.

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