Best Small Music Venues in L.A., According to L.A. Artists (Vol. II)

Ari Herstand tells us the best venues in the city to catch artists on the verge of breaking, and Americana star Chris Pierce and rising pop artist Ada Pasternak agree wholeheartedly with one of those recommendations.
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The LA music scene is hotter than ever after a pandemic hiatus shut down the city, and the venues that survived are thriving, with music aficionados swarming to catch the best local talent performing.

In the first edition of LA Mag’s Best Small Music Venues in L.A., According to L.A. Artists, we learned that hipster haunt Silverlake Lounge has been revitalized under new management, why artists love West Hollywood icon The Troubadour, and why Grammy winners love Hollywood gem Black Rabbit Rose. But for this edition, we turned to artist and author Ari Herstand (@ariherstand), who is beloved by the music community for his genuine advice in his best-selling book How to Make It in the New Music Business.

“The real magic happens at the smaller venues in town like the Hotel Cafe, the Echo, Resident and Moroccan Lounge,” he tells me. “This is where you’ll find your next favorite artist who is the on the verge of breaking.”

This month, we dive into two of these fixtures — Hotel Cafe and Moroccan Lounge — and in June we’ll explore the rest.

The Hotel Cafe

Courtesy of Hotel Cafe

Nestled within Hollywood’s happening Cahuenga Corridor, this city staple has been hosting artists, big and small, for decades. Adele, Katy Perry, The Lumineers, Billie Eilish, Ed Sheeran, Leon Bridges, Mumford and Sons, John Mayer, and Sara Bareilles are among the bigger songbirds who have sung on the Main Stage, with a 215 capacity, while its more intimate Second Stage, with a 75-person capacity, is practically a second home for countless up-and-coming artists trying to be seen and heard in the City of Angels.

LA-based Americana artist Chris Pierce (@iamchrispierce), who has had a busy year performing across the country on his American Silence tour, describes Hotel Cafe as “a treasure chest full of gems to be discovered.”

“The Hotel Cafe has been a songwriters place of refuge within the hustling streets of Hollywood for a couple decades now,” says Pierce, who performed here last month during the Americana West Music Festival. “I’m honored to have made so much music and so many friendships within that sacred space. Music connections in the moment that will last a lifetime. Throughout the years, I’ve tried out new songs, presented albums, sat in with numerous musicians, recorded a live album, filmed videos during the pandemic, and so much more all at The Hotel Cafe.”

Virtuoso violinist and pop singer-songwriter Ada Pasternak (@adapasternak) tells me that out of dozens of venues in LA, this is her favorite. “On almost any given night, you can go to Hotel Cafe and hear quality live music,” she explains. “Second Stage is particularly intimate where you can catch some of the most talented songwriters in Los Angeles sharing their magic. I always enjoy performing there and going to support my musician friends.”

If those friends aren’t playing their own shows here, they’re featured acts in weekly songwriter showcases Monday Monday and Writer’s Block, or perhaps monthly show The Spotlight Sessions, which returns to Hotel Cafe this Thursday, May 12, with artists Georgia Feroce, Raynes, Pat McManus, and Trent Rush on the bill. Enjoy a show with food from Johnny Pacific Empanadas, as well as many bottled beers, wines, and a full bar.

Youngtones (@youngtonesmusic), a very entertaining soulful retro-pop outfit fronted by The Voice alum Luke Wade, takes the Main Stage this Wednesday at 8:30 PM before taking the act to New York City next week. Like Pierce, Wade also considers this venue to be “sacred,” describing it as “somewhere between a church and a home away from home.”

“Legends play there and have played there, but somehow the staff knows your name even if you’ve never brought more than 20 people to a show,” he explains. “I have lived in Los Angeles for almost seven years and I would say half of my relationships stories start with an evening at Hotel Cafe.”

The Moroccan Lounge

Courtesy of Matt Draper/The Moroccan Lounge

Since opening in 2018, this 250-capacity venue on the edge of DTLA’s Arts District has become a central hub for LA’s flourishing indie music scene, hosting artists on the rise, whether they live in the area or are touring through.

“The Moroccan Lounge has some of the best sound and lights production for any venue in town,” Ari Herstand says. And electrifying, powerhouse pop singer Beck Pete (@itsbeckpete) tells me, “I love the Moroccan!”

Whitney Tai (@whitneytai), an alternative artist who has been turning heads and mesmerizing LA audiences for years, says she appreciates the venue because it “has a welcoming and stylish atmosphere which prides both established and emerging artists alike.”

It’s also a favorite spot for Robert Abalos, aka Raspado Man, the superb singer-songwriter who fronts Triangle Fire (@triangle.fire), one of my personal favorite indie rock bands playing in the scene today. “The bar area kind of acts like a lobby of sorts, so that once the music starts, everyone swarms info the main room where the music hits like a dream,” says the East LA native, who has performed at venues all over the city and whose music has been heard on KCRW. “Blown away every show I’ve been to, from Junior Mesa to Twin Seas.”

This venue also serves food, offering a variety of Jamaican-inspired bar bites from Ozi’s Kitchen. Of course, the Arts District offers plenty of delicious food options, as well, which Amber Bollinger of Broken Baby (@brokenbabybaby) pointed out when I asked what draws her to the venue, where her LA-based punk rock band held a record release show last fall. “Moroccan Lounge is great,” she says. “Great sound, cool bartenders. There are great places nearby, too, so you can grab some food and then catch a show.”

Tonight, you can catch alt-pop artist ALDN performing at 7 PM, Austin Ward on Wednesday, Trupa Trupa and Tourist on Thursday, and Johnny Goth and Irish rapper Kojaque on Friday. And for those who love singing ’90s music, come by Saturday night for live band karaoke after a set from Stephen Sanchez.


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