While it started as a neighborhood grocery store, The Viper Room became an elite Hollywood hangout. On top of that, some of the biggest rock legends helped create wild parties still whispered about to this day.
Since it first opened in the early 90s, it’s been the setting for some epic nights and infamous moments. So whether you caught a show upstairs or headed downstairs to the bar, you were sure to have a wild night.
Join us as we explore this piece of Hollywood history and discover if you can still see a show there.
What is The Viper Room?
Where the Rat Pack had Ciro’s in the 50s, rock legends and A-list celebrities had The Viper Room in the 90s. It was an intimate nightclub where some of the biggest names in L.A. could work and play while staying out of the tabloids.
The Sunset Strip bar was originally a grocery store before serving as various nightclubs. It was a jazz club throughout the 80s but struggled. Singer and beat poet Chuck E. Weiss put the idea of buying the club into Johnny Depp’s head and even gave him the name.
Depp bought the venue along with Sal Jenko, his co-star from the TV show 21 Jump Street. He had a lot of help revitalizing the spot, including advice from Tom Waits. On opening night, Johnny Depp got Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers to play a set. It appeared the club was off to a great start.
From there on out, it was the perfect place for the Hollywood elite to play. Some great acts have performed sets at the intimate venue, including Johnny Cash, Green Day, Courtney Love, and The Strokes.
Does Johnny Depp Own The Viper Room?
The actor turned over ownership in 2004 to Constance Fox, daughter of Anthony Fox, who was one of the club’s co-owners. It was part of a settlement involving the disappearance of Anthony, who vanished in 2001. His disappearance is still a mystery.
There are a lot of conspiracy theories surrounding the nature of Fox’s disappearance. One has Depp behind Fox’s murder and the cover-up. Another says that Fox lives elsewhere under a fake name to avoid his debts. Fox was involved in several lawsuits against numerous people. He claimed Depp owed him millions in profits from the club.
Constance Fox sold the club immediately, and it’s gone through several owners since. Viper Room Holdings CEO James Cooper and Silver Creek Development are the current owners of the venue.
What Controversies Surround The Viper Room?
The debauchery and excess of the Hollywood lifestyle are infamous. The Viper Room is home to more than its fair share of controversies that involve some big names.
Actor River Phoenix’s Death
Perhaps the most famous incident at the Sunset Strip club, if not the most tragic, involved a well-known young actor. Sadly, River Phoenix lost his life to a drug overdose in 1993 in front of the venue. The event occurred shortly after Johnny Depp opened the doors of The Viper Room. Phoenix planned to play a gig with a band while he was at the height of his career.
The night of the show, something was clearly wrong with the actor. He went outside to get some air and collapsed in front of the club. River’s brother Joaquin and a friend tried to revive him, but it was too late. After that, Depp closed The Viper Room every year on the anniversary of his death until he lost ownership.
Illegal Celebrity Poker Ring
Molly Bloom hosted some seriously high-stakes poker games in the basement where she used to bartend. Throughout the 2000s, she made millions of dollars with enormous buy-ins. Some of her notable A-list customers included Tobey Maguire, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and the Olsen Twins.
Then, in 2011, the FBI raided a game and shut everything down. Bloom had all her assets frozen. The Poker Princess went from making millions to becoming broke instantly. Molly’s Game, a 2017 film, recounts her story.
Tommy Lee Attacked Paparazzi Photographer
The Mötley Crüe drummer’s relationship with Pamala Anderson garnered plenty of media attention, especially after their infamous sex tape. A few months after the leak, Lee was leaving The Viper Room with Anderson. They were accosted by tabloid photographers and pepper sprayed.
Lee was charged with assault after the altercation left a cameraman with a broken hip. A judge gave him two years probation, and he had to pay the photographer $17,500. It seems like it would be an open-and-shut self-defense case, but there are some inconsistencies in the story.
Did the Counting Crows Frontman Work at The Viper Room?
Adam Duritz took a job as a bartender in the infamous club soon after his band Counting Crows hit the big time.
The singer wasn’t hurting for money at the time. He just was looking for a space to help him stay grounded. Duritz had recently returned home to the Bay Area from touring. But he was overwhelmed by fans and the occasional person telling him how much his band sucked.
When Johnny Depp invited him to L.A. for Kate Moss’s birthday party, Adam saw it as a great opportunity. He could get away from the stress of fame in San Francisco and just stay in Los Angeles. Duritz felt relaxed and at home in the club. And he discovered he had more fun on the other side of the bar, where it was less crowded.
The Viper Room has always been a safe space for celebrities, even if they’re just looking for a job.
Does The Viper Room Still Exist?
While The Viper Room still hosts live music, mostly metal and punk shows, significant changes are in the works. Developers plan to demolish the original building and replace the entire block with a mixed-use site. While the plan will take several years to complete, the demolition will occur sometime in 2023.
The new development will include a hotel, residential units, and several restaurants. It’ll also house a brand new space for The Viper Room, with a built-in recording studio. The developers will honor the legacy of the original venue and maintain the landscape of the Sunset Strip. There’ll also be an exhibit in the newly remodeled club with memorabilia and background on the area’s rich history.
If Those Walls Could Talk
Johnny Depp’s parties may have been infamous, but plenty of other great memories occurred at The Viper Room over the years. It offered a place for some of the biggest names of the 90s to relax and not be harassed by photographers inside.
News of the building’s demolition has misty-eyed celebrities sharing their favorite stories from the venue. We can only hope the developers are true to their word so we can preserve this unique piece of Hollywood history.