Whisky a Go Go: Where Janis Joplin, The Doors and Marilyn Monroe Partied on the Sunset Strip

The Doors Jim Morrison & Bandmates 1968

Sunset Strip institution Whisky a Go Go celebrates its 50th anniversary on Jan. 16 with a show by Robby Krieger. His group The Doors were the nightclub's house band in the years after the Whisky made discotheque and go-go dancers a national craze. The iconic building went on to anchor the Sunset Strip music scene from surf to punk to metal to now, and gave important early exposure to Neil Young, Frank Zappa (who married Whisky secretary Gail Sloatman), Johnny Rivers, Jimi Hendrix, Fleetwood Mac, Blondie, X, The Motels, Guns N' Roses and Soundgarden.

In true Whisky form, the venue will be packed with anniversary shows all month, from Lita Ford to the Bangles (Jan. 26). And if you see a motley crew at the Whisky, it may very well be a nostalgic Motley Crue.

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"Vince Neil is a doll when he's sober, but one time he whacked one of my guys with a pizza because he parked his car in the back instead of the front," says owner Mikeal Maglieri, 62, who started out in 1966 as a busboy working for his Whisky-owning father Mario, 90, whom Mikeal calls the King of Sunset. "I can't listen to 'Light My Fire' on the radio, because I had to hear the Doors rehearse it for hours a day, while I was setting up chairs," says the younger Maglieri. "I told Oliver Stone he got Jim Morrison all wrong -- he wasn't a mystic, he was a party animal, in here every night. I gave Janis Joplin her last drink, four shots of Southern Comfort, and dad said, 'Put the bottle in her trunk.' Next day the headlines said she died of alcohol poisoning. It was actually heroin, but for three days I thought I killed her. She was a mellow chick, but smelly -- she bought her clothes at Goodwill."

The Whisky is less known for another culture-shifting introduction. "We were the first club to integrate," says Maglieri. "The Temptations, the Four Tops, Smokey Robinson, Martha and the Vandellas played here." Robinson's 1966 hit "Goin' to a Go Go," later covered by the Rolling Stones, immortalized the Whisky. "I remember Sting when he was just Gordon [Sumner]. Arthur Lee still owes me $10 for a bag of marijuana. It was a crazy fun time -- the Strip was eight kids deep along the sidewalk."

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Everybody wanted to get into the Whisky: the Beatles, Steve McQueen, Charles Manson (who got thrown out), Mariska Hargitay's mom, Jayne Mansfield. "Jayne had a terrible crush on my dad," says Maglieri. "The Kinks played the Whisky, then went to the Rainbow [started by Mario Maglieri and Lou Adler in 1972], and one of them crawled out of the front booth, bit a waitress on the leg, her tray dumps, a table turns over on the floor -- and it was no big deal. One night, either Vanilla Fudge or Cream were playing. It was so crammed, I couldn't fight the crowd at the bar, I had to go out the club's back door and come back in through the front -- and on Sunset, I saw our waitress standing naked with her underwear on a stick, flagging down cars. I ran in and said, 'Dad, M------ is naked on the street!' He said, 'Who's watching her station?' So I covered for her."

Maglieri notes that the Whisky's scene is just a continuation of a longer tradition of serious, culturally influential fun. "The Whisky just kind of followed the tradition and kept it going," says Maglieri. "W.C. Fields put his fist through a wall, Marilyn Monroe dated Joe Kennedy in the corner booth, Kennedy picked up his mistress at the third bar stool every Wednesday night, Errol Flynn was on the Strip." Flynn's daughter Rory Flynn was a regular when the Doors played the Whisky. Courtney Love, whose great-grandmother Elsie Fox was a screenwriter who partied with Douglas Fairbanks, follows in her forebear's glamorous footsteps on the Strip. "I just saw Courtney the other day -- Dave Navarro was rehearsing, and she said, 'Dave, want to come upstairs?' " Adds Maglieri: "It was a party every night."

And so the good times continue with a 50th birthday bash that kicks off at 8 p.m. on Jan. 16 at 8901 Sunset Blvd. There, West Hollywood Mayor John Heilman will present a proclamation and Krieger will jam with his Jam Kitchen Band -- probably better than the Doors did in their earlier, sloppier day.

Whisky a Go Go 50th Anniversary Lineup:

Jan. 16: Robby Krieger's Jam Kitchen Band
Jan. 17: Buckcherry
Jan. 18: Fear Factory
Jan. 19: Martha Davis and the Motels ("It's Martha's birthday," notes Maglieri.)
Jan. 20: AXS TV Beastie Boys Tribute Band
Jan. 22: Michael Angelo Batio and Deathriders
Jan. 23: Uli Jon Roth & Bumblefoot of GnR
Jan. 24: Jack Russell & Great White
Jan. 25: Faster Pussycat & Jetboy
Jan. 26: The Bangles
Jan. 27: AXS TV the Eagles Tribute Band
Jan. 28: Headbang for the Highway
Jan. 29: Onyx
Jan. 30: Emery  / The Class Crime / This Wild Life
Jan. 31: Infectious Grooves

Twitter: @TimAppelo