Sunset Marquis: Secrets of Rock 'n' Roll's Wild Hotel

The Black Crowes at the Sunset Marquis
The Black Crowes at the Sunset Marquis
 Getty Images

Merle Ginsberg, journalist: Warren Zevon was sitting in my room and he keeps going off the bathroom. The next thing I know, I hear the sliding glass shower door crash. I run in there and he is lying on the floor with a giant empty vodka bottle and broken glass all over the place. He wasn’t hurt. He starts mumbling, “This is really bad because I am banned from the Sunset Marquis. I’ve come here a couple times really drunk and gotten into fights and I am not supposed to be here at all. So if the hotel finds out I’m here, they’re gonna throw me out.” But they didn’t.

Gruen: I met Green Day in the bar there. Tre [Cool] had a pellet gun, and he was trying to shoot glasses out of people’s hands, which he thought was a clever trick. We’ve since become friends, but I think the first conversation I had with him was trying to explain that it’s not really a good idea.

Dave Mustaine, Megadeth: The great thing is the hotel let us do whatever we wanted -- it became a heavy metal mansion! They could have kicked us out, and they didn’t.

Kathy Nelson, former president of music, Universal Pictures: Pete Townshend, who stays there a lot, calls it the Tattoo Clinic because the whole contingency is covered in tattoos.

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Navarro: For some reason, behavior at the Chateau that would end up in the tabloids, you take that same behavior and go over to the Marquis and you’re pretty much right as rain. I’ve been escorted off that property a number of times and then allowed back the following night. I’ve gotten into fistfights with a really well-known rock lead singer. And certainly I’ve spent a lot of time in the bathrooms, and I wasn’t necessarily going to the bathroom. One of the things that you gotta respect is that what happens there kinda stays there.

Rabin: Nobody was sitting on their Twitter and actually calling the press on themselves, you know? We were always running away from a possible nightmarish situation into the safety of the Sunset Marquis.

Lisa Hagen, former director of sales and marketing: Flea from the Red Hot Chili Peppers cannonballed off the hotel rooftop into our shallow four-foot pool in the middle of the day so they could shoot unauthorized music video footage. It’s a miracle he and all the other band members weren’t hurt. They knew we never would have given permission for them to do this. They had it well planned, sneaking up the fire escape to the closed off rooftop while their buddy videotaped them from a balcony across the pool.

Fishkin: At the Riot House, there was this idea that because it’s a Hyatt, it’s corporate, that’s where you threw televisions out of the room -- that sort of destructive, anything- goes, rock 'n' roll vibe. But the Marquis I remember as being different than that. Yes, there were people jumping off the second story into the swimming pool, but it wasn’t chaotic and destructive. The vibe was you could do anything you wanted. Totally cool. And I just remember a sense of not abusing that privilege.

G. Rosenthal: Rock bands knew that if they tore it up, they wouldn’t get back in.

Hagen: The ’80s is when all the strange contract riders started. How many hotels do you know would repaint an entire suite robin’s-egg blue for a returning guest? Each time they checked out, we would take Polaroids of exactly how the room was left by them. And it would be exactly the same each time they returned. Of course, the studios and recording companies paid for this.

Wilson: I spent literally more time there last year than at my own house in Seattle. We were working on a record close to Christmastime. They put a Christmas tree in my room and lit candles.

M. Rosenthal: We have very, very long-term staff. People aren’t speaking into an earphone to recognize guests.

Gruendyke: The average length of time for an employee is 15 years. The average length of time for management is 18 years.

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Gruen: One thing that always impresses is that they seem to remember me. And without looking down at the registration, I would walk in and they’d go, “Welcome back, Mr. Gruen.”

Wilson: The staff, they’ve seen you in every state, every state of makeup.

Conroy: If you’re vulnerable or sick, you want your mom, right? You can surrogate that with Michael, the butler around the back bungalows. He sorted everything out so you never even had to go through the front desk if you were back there.

Laura Grover, neighbor: There was a major fire in our condo building. I walked up the hill with my daughter into the hotel and I said, “I need a room.” They offered a room for free that night for anyone who needed one. We ended up staying two months. My daughter was in first grade. We’d come home from school, and they’d be waiting with a glass of milk and cookies for her.

Rabin: When the Whiskey Bar opened [in 1996], it changed the whole dynamic of that hotel. Prior to the Whiskey Bar, it was totally undercover. All of a sudden a lot of people who never knew about the magic of the Sunset Marquis and what was going on over there all of a sudden became hip to the Sunset Marquis.

Grover: There was a year or two where it was just like too many people. To me, it was out of character with the hotel.

Amanda Demme, music supervisor: Like any bar in L.A., if there’s no fame or pussy in the room, nobody’s gonna go.

Rabin: The Whiskey Bar was pitch f---ing black, and everyone was wasted. But you didn’t even know who was really in there until you actually went out in the lobby to take a breather. And you were like, “Oh my God, they’re in there?” Like you had no idea how deep the party was until you actually stepped out to look in.

Gruendyke: Keith [Richards] was in-house during the Northridge quake. He came out with everyone in the middle of the night, pouring shots at the Whiskey Bar.

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Lennon: They used to have the occasional lock-in, which everybody appreciated, of course, especially in Los Angeles. Because I’m still confused about the laws in Los Angeles, why everything closes just as you’re starting to loosen yourself up after a busy or a hard day’s work.

Rabin: I’m sure Julian Lennon is still in there. I mean, you could always count on Julian Lennon.

Navarro: Back when I was pretty heavily involved in hanging out there, the Whiskey Bar was always a conduit to some regrouping later in the evening that usually took place in some house in the Hollywood Hills. I remember ending up in scenarios where sunglasses were passed around at maybe 4 in the morning because we all knew the sun was about to come up.

Jed Leiber, owner, NightBird Studios: There were a bunch of car spaces that weren’t being used. So this was basically non-income-producing space that I could turn into something that would be wonderful for the hotel and the Jeff Becks of the hotel. I have to credit Rod, the manager, because he saw the vision. I said: "If you give me the spaces, I’ll build a world-class studio down here. The hotel will benefit because it caters to your crowd." I used George Augspurger, who did the acoustics for the Hollywood Bowl.

Wilson: NightBird is just a brilliant thing. It’s so much easier just to go downstairs rather than to go across town.

Lennon: Steven Tyler walked into the bar, and I grabbed his elbow and said, “Mr. Tyler? Mr. Lennon -- the other Mr. Lennon. Any chance we could do a little work together?” So he drags me down to the studio to do some backgrounds on [Aerosmith’s] latest album, and he and I ended up writing a track together. And that wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t been staying there.

Gibbons: Jeff Beck hailed us downstairs to give a listen to a new recording. We asked, “Is this one of your new ones?” “No, not exactly.” Stretched across the console was the most stunningly beautiful female, all 6 feet of her, frocked in lace and roses. It was Imogen Heap, in from London to showcase her latest creation, which she was coaxed into releasing by Jeff.

Leiber: Thirty of our artists were nominated for Grammys in one year.

Rabin: If you’re here working, that means you’re in a creative mode what the Sunset Marquis really afforded an artist -- this magical, beautiful, relaxed bubble where people could really hunker down and make music. And isn’t that what it’s all about?

Harry: The Sunset Marquis has always been a very good creative atmosphere for me.

McGuinness: It’s changed enormously. It’s much more sophisticated these days. I’m sure there are people doing things, but it’s a place you can really take your kids now.

Conroy: The last couple of times that I’ve been around the back swimming pool, it seems like it’s less rock star and more family. And the whole place has been redone. Even though you can still see Steven Tyler there, it’s not Aerosmith Steven Tyler anymore; it’s American Idol Steven Tyler.

Spheeris: All of a sudden there was valet parking. What’s going on here now? It’s getting classy!

Navarro: I have a very strong kinship with the place. It’s like an extended family member. I think of it as somewhat of the womb to the stars. There is a maternal aspect to it; as soon as you walk in and that lighting hits you, you’re back in the womb. It’s a pretty phenomenal place. I’m hesitant to talk about it because I hate to make it a point of interest on a star map, but at the same time, it deserves to be spoken about. It’s almost like the people that love that place and want to continue enjoying that place -- and protect it like it’s the launch codes.

Des Barres: The most important thing is that rock ’n' roll needed a headquarters, and the Sunset Marquis became the headquarters of rock ’n' roll. It was as important as playing the Fillmore or the Whisky a Go Go or the Bottom Line. It was a location that oozed credibility. It’s also incredible because it’s been through so many incarnations, just like David Bowie. It was a cheap little funky place and then it became gradually more and more super chic.

Leiber: The Sunset Marquis really is the Hotel California.

Additional reporting by Tim Appelo, Shirley Halperin and Susan L. Hornik

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