Great Nights Out: Listen

Not the stage-diving type? These music venues might change your mind

Illustration by Andrew Roberts

The Echoplex and its sister stage, the Echo, form a hub for the Echo Park-area music scene. Every kind of alternative act finds its way to these gritty clubs. The Echo sports out-of-place crystal chandeliers and an asphalt patio in back; the Echoplex draws larger acts that are undeterred by the dicey alley entrance. The vibe at both varies depending on what you’re there for, whether it’s local alt-country bands, electro-pop DJs, roller skate nights, or silk-screening parties. » 1822 W. Sunset Blvd. (Echo) and 1154 Glendale Blvd. (Echoplex), Echo Park, 213-413-8200. 

Piano Bar
The repertoire of piano-driven cabaret music featured here has expanded to include singer-songwriters as well as jazz and blues groups. Tucked on a side street in the thick of Hollywood, the intimate space—a former dive—has been spiffed up with a copper bar. Sitting in the candlelight, the giant picture windows glinting behind you, you’ll feel like you’re in a neighborhood haunt rather than a nightclub. Admission is free, and there’s a happy hour every day of the week. » 6429 Selma Ave., Hollywood, 323-466-2750. 

McCabe’s Guitar Shop
Folks gripe about having to sit on folding metal chairs, but it’s worth putting up with a little discomfort to watch a show at the Santa Monica guitar shop-cum-folk institution. Since the store began holding concerts in 1969, its humble stage has welcomed a stream of legends, including Linda Ronstadt, Tom Waits, and Townes Van Zandt. Playing the living room-like venue is a rite of passage for any up-and-comer. » 3101 Pico Blvd., Santa Monica, 310-828-4497 or 

Bardot Sessions
A Hollywood spot known for its dance nights becomes a playground for music industry A-listers on Thursdays. Macy Gray and Jane’s Addiction are among those who have stopped by the red-curtained back room to perform their hits along with inspired covers, backed by a five-piece house band (though Jane’s Addiction did fine on its own). You never know who’s going to show—bookings are last minute—but that’s part of the fun. Don’t make early-morning plans; the action typically doesn’t start until well after 11. » 1737 N. Vine St., Hollywood, 323-462-1307. 

Bootleg Theater
A former Rampart District bra factory from the 1930s reopened in 2000 as a lively arts complex that hosts entertainment ranging from theater to spoken word to music. Concerts are often held in the barnlike front room, where lights suspended from rafters give the joint a desert roadhouse look. Despite a vintage cocktails sign, only beer and wine are served. Artists skew indie, but the sound quality is major. We’re also fans of the unobstructed stage views and the blessedly low ticket prices (about $5 to $20 per show). Our only complaint: Brooklyn Bagel across the street closes too early to satisfy postshow cravings. » 2220 Beverly Blvd., L.A., 213-389-3856.

Grammy Museum 
It’s hard to believe there’s a place in L.A. where your musical heroes perform for a mere 200 people, which can include you. Artists such as Brian Wilson, Ringo Starr, and Annie Lennox have appeared at the museum’s cushy new Clive Davis Theater. Even better, when their sets are done, they might stick around to dish about life behind the scenes or to offer guitar-playing tips. Hit the museum early to get a peek at Michael Jackson’s gloves and J.Lo’s slit-to-there Versace dress from the 2000 Grammys (you know the one). » 800 W. Olympic Blvd., L.A., 213-765-6800. 

Hollywood Forever Cemetery 
A graveyard that doubles as a theater: It could only work in Hollywood. The Cinespia film screenings—held where Rudolph Valentino, Cecil B. De Mille, and other movie legends are entombed—launched the cemetery as an entertainment venue in 2002, and last year’s extraordinary sunrise gig by the band Bon Iver established it as one of the city’s most magical outdoor concert venues, too. Most shows take place in the Masonic Lodge, a stunning 1927 building with vaulted ceilings, stained-glass windows, and remarkable acoustics. Ethereal indie rock suits the surroundings—Iron and Wine, Band of Horses, and Hope Sandoval have all performed here. » 6000 Santa Monica Blvd., Hollywood, 323-469-9933. 

Hotel Café
This Cahuenga Corridor club (the entrance is in back) retains the feel of its former life as a coffeehouse, with hanging lanterns, dark booths, and exposed-brick walls. These days, however, you can order a panino and gimlet with your latte as you enjoy the first-rate sound system. In addition to being a frequent stop for well-known singer-songwriters, the café specializes in nurturing new talent with an annual national tour that showcases a bevy of gifted regulars. » 16231/2 N. Cahuenga Blvd., Hollywood, 323-461-2040.