I opened the Viper Room
for a single
reason: I was looking for a bar worthy of the name. A place for good
music and good host groups. A place where, if I wanted to have a drink
with friends, we would not be left victims by ridiculous pounding beats
by a “connected”, simple-minded DJ. Or there would
this feeling of rage that invades you when you suffer the bad taste of
others. A place where you would not feel insulted by the crushing of
stupid, obnoxious music- and not escape, even in so-called adequate
bars. I was looking for a place to escape. -Johnny
Depp, French Studio, February 2000 (my English translation)
early 1993, Johnny Depp met Anthony Fox, who owned a nightclub called
The Central in West Hollywood. The club existed on
of The Melody Room, formerly owned by gangster Bugsy Siegel in the
1940's. Johnny and musician Chuck E. Weiss went into business
with Fox, took 51% ownership in the club and reopened it as The Viper
Room on August 14, 1993. Johnny's best friend from childhood,
Jenco, became a manager.
The opening night was a benefit for the
Foundation, an organization that grants wishes to terminally ill
children. Tom Petty And The Heartbreakers were among the
according to their website The
played a 60 minute set that included the debut performance of Mary
Jane's Last Dance, Crawling Back To You (reportedly the only
performance of this song with Stan Lynch on drums),
Drivin’ Down To Georgia, and Something In the Air.
MacGowan's participation is mentioned in a blog
by backup musician Cindy Collins Smith. Other performers that
Evan Dando, Maria McKee, and Weiss' band the G-ddamn Liars.
Attendees included Quentin
Tarantino, Julien Temple, Mary Stuart Masterson, Crispen Glover, and
of a newspaper clipping from the Biography Silver Screen II: Mavericks
November 30, 1993 Rolling Stone article
Chuck E. Weiss; The Heartbreakers at the Viper Room opening night, August
From a 1994 People magazine article,
Johnny envisioned the club as a "cool little underground place" for him
and his friends to hang out at and listen to good music, but for better
or worse, it soon gained a much higher profile than this.
Concrete Blonde had a
record release party there in late 1993, leading frontwoman Johnette
Napolitano to make a toast to an absent Johnny: "Lift your glasses!
Is that man good-looking or am I crazy?" (This
may have lead to the rumor that Johnny appears in one of Concrete
Blonde's videos, for the song Joey. This has never been
substantiated, and the common video for Joey does not feature Johnny).
November 25, 1993 Rolling Stone mention of Concrete Blonde's Viper Room show
Tragically, River Phoenix died of a
outside the club in the early morning of October 31, 1993 (often
misreported as Halloween night). Johnny has said in
that he was playing on stage with his band P at the time, and had no
idea what had happened until being notified of it later. In a Spin Magazine
article, Gibby Haynes recalls playing Michael Stipe that night:
"Haynes later told Spin about the night P played at Depp's Viper
Room in Los Angeles. Starting 'Michael Stipe,' the singer looked for
Phoenix, who was supposed to be in attendance: '[The song's] got
River's name in it, so it was going to be cool. He's a friend of mine
and he's never heard the song. So we're singing up on stage…and
right at that moment, he was basically on the sidewalk…. I've
got a guitar solo, and at the end of the solo, Johnny stepped offstage.
He was frightened. River died [of a heroin overdose] just a few feet
away from us, right on the other side of the wall.'" Johnny
club for 2 weeks, placing a sign outside to express sympathy and
condolences to River's family and loved ones. Fans were
to place flowers, candles, photos and other memorabilia outside the
club while it was closed.
following River Phoenix' death on October 31, 1993
P was said to
have played at the Viper Room on a number
occasions, sometimes with help from the likes of Flea of the Red Hot
Chili Peppers and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols. They also
reportedly threw Kate Moss a party there for her
birthday in January of 1995.
Johnny was present for guest appearances by many
artists, including the great
Johnny Cash. On December 3, 1993, after hooking up with
Rick Rubin with the intention of recording a new album, Cash did
something at the Viper Room that he had never done before: he played
solo. He famously debuted much of the solo material that was
later released on the Rubin-produced CD, American Recordings,
reportedly beginning with his own composition, Drive On. Johnny Depp
introduced the Man In Black by saying "Ladies and gentlemen, I can't
believe I get to say this: Johnny Cash!" Rick
Rubin recalls: "It was an incredible night. Dead silent.
You could hear a pin drop. People couldn't believe
was Johnny Cash there in the Viper Room. He started playing,
I could see how nervous he was, but by the middle of the first song, or
the beginning of the second song, all of the fear was gone.
was in the music and it was beautiful. People who were there
night still talk about it as one of the greatest things they've ever
seen. And we recorded that night and I think one of those
ended up on our first album." (Actually, two songs recorded
night were later released on American Recordings: Tennessee Stud and
The Man Who Couldn't Cry).
December 3, 1993: the 2 Johnnys
with June Carter Cash, handwritten lyrics to Drive On, and a mention in
the January 27, 1994 Rolling Stone
famous Viper Room guest was Hunter S. Thompson, in September 1996.
Johnny and John Cusack joined Hunter on stage to discuss many
things, including his fight against a DUI charge. Some of
this Viper Room appearance has been documented on the DVD, Breakfast
Breakfast With Hunter screencaps and November 14, 1996 Rolling Stone mention
The club was also the setting for a spring 1997 event
paying tribute to the release of the Kerouac - Kicks Joy Darkness CD.
Michael Stipe was at least one of the performers.
May 29, 1997 Rolling Stone mention
The Viper Room
operated successfully for years, attracting many top music acts.
However, it was not immune to controversy. In 2000,
Fox sued Johnny for mishandling of profits, but while the suit was in
progress, Fox disappeared in December of 2001 (he is still missing to
this day). Meanwhile, by this
time, Johnny was spending most of his time in France with long time
love Vanessa Paradis and their two children, and had become less and
less involved with the club.
at the courthouse, October 23, 2001
In 2004, Johnny and his lawyers
finally settled the case, quietly selling his majority share to
Fox's daughter Amanda, whose intent was to resell the club.
club was then owned by Darin Feinstein, Bevan Cooney and Blackhawk
Capital Partners, Inc.
February 15, 2008, it was announced that the club has been sold to
Harry Morton, son of Hard Rock Cafe owner Peter Morton.
will retain a minority share. Morton plans to open additional
Viper Room clubs in such cities as Las Vegas, Miami, Portland, Seattle,
New York, London and Tokyo. As for the original club, he
"only minor cosmetic changes, and would not compromise its identity or
culture." Read the article about the sale here.
is an article from the November 30, 2008 issue of the Washington Post.
The Viper Room is still open and thriving. The
official Viper Room
which once mentioned Johnny's involvement in the club, no longer
mentions him by name anywhere on the site. One can only guess
that this is by mutual agreement. Nevertheless, Johnny is
seen sporting a Viper Room knit cap on occasion.
Johnny in LA, January 28, 2011
Check the Photo
Gallery for more photos of Johnny in his Viper Room hat or t-shirt!
is an article that appeared in a 2005 magazine called Club Systems,
telling about some of the history and also the sound system for the
Some more articles, not all of them totally accurate, about the lawsuit
and other controversies: