Music Don’t Miss These Musical Mainstays of Los Angeles

by Steve Baltin | November 04, 2019

Perhaps the only thing more sprawling than the famously vast maze of freeways, neighborhoods and landmarks of Los Angeles, CA, is the city’s rich pastiche of musical enclaves and movements.

“Walk into any club or theater and you’ll find punk, jazz, pop, country, rock, Latin, heavy metal, electro and a million other genres made up along the way,” says local singer/songwriter Haley Reinhart. “That’s the beauty of this city. People have dreams of performing and there are countless outlets to do so. I’m happy to live in a place where people are unabashedly themselves, playing loud for all to hear.”

Kat Corbett — host of the influential Locals Only show on the L.A. radio station KROQ — agrees. “We have so many talented upcoming bands it’s hard to keep track sometimes,” she says. “Perhaps it’s because entertainment is part of the DNA of this city. And since L.A. has been rocking for such a long time we are blessed with many legendary venues and new spaces popping up all the time.”

It’s an embarrassment of riches that not only presents a conundrum for live music enthusiasts trying to pick between shows, but also for those responsible for filling up venue calendars.

“I book our shows with an open mind, embracing all of the genres that reflect the city of L.A.,” says Jenn Liu, who books the iconic El Rey Theater. “It’s important that we have and promote diversity in our calendar. There are so many different audiences in L.A. that it only makes sense for our shows to reflect the sprawling range of musical appetites.”

The scene’s prevailing vibe is a result of deep, still-reverberating history rubbing elbows on a nightly basis with a visionary, trailblazing future. Ready to immerse yourself in the L.A. music scene? This guide to some of the essential and up-and-coming live venues can help you get started.

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We have so many talented upcoming bands it’s hard to keep track sometimes.
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Must-see L.A. music venues

Hotel Cafe

1623 North Cahuenga Boulevard / Hollywood

This Hollywood hotspot sits in the center of the bustling Cahuenga corridor and has become synonymous with the folk and singer/songwriter movements in town. Reinhart considers it one of her favorite places to play in L.A., and it’s where Angelenos can check out both up-and-coming artists or superstars doing an intimate show. Since it opened in 2000, it has hosted secret or surprise shows from some of the biggest names in rock and pop.

Get there early to have a drink in the comfy and stylish bar tucked in the back of the venue, and then you'll be well set up to nab one of the coveted railing spots alongside the wall to spy the show in the main room.

The Roxy Theater

9009 West Sunset Boulevard / The Sunset Strip

You cannot talk about L.A. music without including the world-renowned Sunset Strip, a hotbed of nightclubs, restaurants and drinking dens since the 1920s. Even as more and more high-rise and apartment complexes replace favorite haunts on the Strip, the Roxy Theater remains, and it continues to be a thriving home for all styles of music — from punk to hip hop.

“The Roxy and Hotel Cafe are classic places that, I hope, will never go away. And shouldn’t,” musician, songwriter, and producer Carl Restivo says. And, if you can wrangle a spot at the intimate On The Rox bar above the club, do — it's still one of the coolest spots in town.

Signage in front of The Roxy Theater, Los Angeles CA

Photo provided by The Roxy Theater, courtesy of Steph Port

The Mint

6010 West Pico Boulevard / Mid-City

Established in 1937, the Mint is not only one of the longest-running venues in L.A., it has become hallowed ground for the blues in the area. Though the venue has branched out in recent years and now hosts everything from singer/songwriters to pop to jazz fusion in an intimate room, blues and roots music remain at the core of this Mid-City treasure.

Troubadour

9081 North Santa Monica Boulevard / West Hollywood

There may not be a more iconic local music venue than the Troubadour, which opened in 1957 (and has a kicky era-appropriate marquee out front to prove it) and is still going strong today. Pop by the upstairs lounge or the front bar to marvel at the memorabilia — signed guitars and autographed pictures — of big-name acts who have taken the stage over the years.

Insider tip: Ask the bouncer at the door for a loft pass to check out the incredible posters in the room above the stage and, once there, you can easily order a drink at a bar with no line.

Facade of The Troubadour, Los Angeles CA

Photo courtesy of The Troubadour

Bootleg Theater

2220 Beverly Boulevard / Westlake

Like many newer venues in L.A., the Bootleg is a bustling home for many artistic mediums, including art shows, film screenings and dance. This array reflects the eclectic vibe of the surrounding Westlake neighborhood. However, the Bootleg is still best known to Angelenos for its live music; musical acts run the gamut of genres like indie, rap, soul and hard rock all in the same week, making it one of the best spots in L.A. for discovering new sounds.

McCabe’s Guitar Shop

3101 Pico Boulevard / Santa Monica

This L.A. institution opened in 1958 and is a musician’s paradise. This intimate guitar shop offers music lessons, has a live venue and is unlike anyplace else in the city. The guitars, banjos, ukuleles and mandolins hanging on the wall for sale double as backdrop decor for when various singer/songwriters take the stage and play for up to 150 fans. McCabe’s doesn't offer alcohol, but tea (and free coffee!) coupled with the venue's famous cookies make for an awesome snack between sets.

Up-and-coming spots

It isn't always easy to make inroads in the crowded L.A. music scene, especially with so many venues that have stood the test of time. But these three rising stars on the scene are quickly carving out space for themselves by showcasing the diversity of the LA. scene with a vibe that is both new and respectful of L.A.’s rich musical history.

Madame Siam

1723 North Hudson Avenue / Hollywood

It's been a long time since Hollywood has had a down-home rock bar. The latest venue from L.A. club kings the Houston brothers has a sideshow theme and brings back the rugged, crowded rock club in a big, bold, exciting way.

Interior of Madame Siam, Los Angeles, CA

Photo provided by Madam Siam, courtesy of Jakob Layman

Zebulon

2478 Fletcher Avenue / Frogtown

The eclectic L.A. version of the popular Brooklyn hotspot has a delightfully avant-garde vibe. Jazz seems to be the most popular music here, but every night brings something unique. If your jam is, say, Britpop, Zebulon has you covered. There’s even an anything-goes catchall night where performance, music and comedy all come together under one heading. The only rule is it has to be out there.

Resident L.A.

428 South Hewitt Street / Downtown Arts District

With an outdoor beer garden and live music inside, Resident L.A. caters to a variety of moods and desires. Musically the venue hosts DJ nights, soul, pop — a little bit of everything. Almost all of it is designed to make you dance, though it does throw in the occasional fist-pumping rock and guitar themed show.

Steve Baltin

is a Southern California-based writer who covers L.A. music and nightlife scene. He is currently a senior contributor at FORBES, has written for Rolling Stone, Billboard, L.A. Weekly, Chicago Tribune and hosts the music podcast My Turning Point.