The decent sound, major bookings, and tolerable Cajun food at House of Blues (8430 Sunset Blvd.; 323/848-5100)—constructed around an actual rusty farm building found at Robert Johnson's famous Crossroads, and with a stage built on truckloads of Mississippi soil—outweigh the heavy dollops of post-hippie mysticism and the profoundly undemocratic door policy. Whisky A Go-Go (8901 Sunset Blvd.; 310/652-4202), the midwife for every pop movement in the last 30 years, has lately been putting on a lot of hair-intensive heavy metal shows again. Coconut Teaszer (8117 Sunset Blvd.; 323/654-4773), which sucks more than 30 bands a week through its red doors, is home to the purest possible expression of the base rock-and-roll impulse.
Hustler Hollywood (8920 Sunset Blvd.; 310/860-9009) is Larry Flynt's bid for "respectability," a vast, clean, well-lit coffeehouse-newsstand-smut emporium across from the Whisky. Tourists fondle leather harnesses and giggle; scruffy rockers lounge on the terrace with smokes and nonfat lattes. A lonely remnant of the Strip's shady past, the Body Shop (8250 Sunset Blvd.; 323/656-1401), a relatively wholesome topless-bottomless joint, has been taking it off since 1938. The refurbished club draws Japanese tourists these days, along with a well-heeled contingent of young actors.
Bars of the Moment
Barfly (8730 Sunset Blvd.; 310/360-9490), a wildly popular spin-off of the Paris restaurant of the same name, is presided over by a giant picture of Charles Bukowski's alcohol-pickled visage. If you ignore the velvet-drenched décor and the weird Japanese-French cooking, you might be able to pretend that this address is still frequented by Frank and Sammy instead of young actors with poor shaving habits. Bar Marmont (8171 Sunset Blvd.; 323/650-0575) is club czar Sean MacPherson's model-infested proto-Vietnamese lounge.
It's a Gas
"How do you feel, man?" asked the waiter at O2 (8788 Sunset Blvd.; 310/360-9002) as I sucked aromatherapeutically enhanced oxygen through a plastic tube stuck deep into my nostrils. "Because you look, like, pretty silly." Prepare to feel like a patient while inhaling passion, joy, and clarity at Woody Harrelson's ultravegan raw-foods restaurant and bar (think kava-root "margaritas"). Wear hemp.
Park It Here
Book Soup (8818 Sunset Blvd.; 310/659-3110), perhaps L.A.'s best retail bookstore, has deep sections of Hollywood books and new fiction, as well as a good newsstand and the easiest parking on the Strip.
Thirty-one years ago, George Harrison's publicist got lost while trying to find George's rented house on Blue Jay Way, a tiny lane above the Chateau Marmont. The street, immortalized on the Beatles' Magical Mystery Tour album, is still a magnet for those who would neck to the superb view—although even stopping your car is a quick route to the surest parking ticket in Hollywood. West Hollywood is home to the most beautiful apartment courts anywhere: elaborately tiled, mid-twenties fantasy villas that actually outdo their supposed models in Andalusia. Many of the best are in the couple of blocks that make up the Harper Avenue Historic District, just south of Sunset. Still, my favorite court, Patio del Moro, is right around the corner at 8225-8229 North Fountain Avenue. The mammoth Guitar Center (7425 Sunset Blvd.; 323/874-1060) is the repository of every rock-and-roll dream that has ever gone down in this town. The onanistic displays of would-be Eddie Van Halens trying out new Strats are worth a special trip. A Rock Walk commemorates stars and faithful customers. Nearby is the hallowed spot where Hugh Grant was caught with his pants down. Hint: Hitchhikers around here aren't necessarily looking for a ride.
Beyond the Standard
Always cool and perpetually under construction, Chateau Marmont (8221 Sunset Blvd.; 800/242-8328 or 323/656-1010; doubles from $210) is really a charming place to stay. My favorite Chateau story?Last summer, a gaggle of girls pounded on what they thought was Leonardo DiCaprio's door in the middle of the night, only to be greeted by a bemused George Plimpton. DiCaprio had checked out the day before. Members of Led Zeppelin once heaved TV sets through the window of their upper-floor suite at the Hyatt West Hollywood (8401 Sunset Blvd.; 800/233-1234 or 323/656-1234; doubles from $129), the famous "Riot House" of the 1970's, but you shouldn't feel obligated to follow suit. Sunset Marquis Hotel & Villas (1200 N. Alta Loma Rd.; 800/858-9758 or 310/657-1333; doubles from $280) is a Beverly Hills Hotel for the kind of people who wouldn't be caught dead at the Beverly Hills Hotel, and its Whiskey Bar is the most reliable rock-star hang in town. Howard Hughes, John Wayne, and Bugsy Siegel all used to live at the Art Deco landmark now known as the Argyle Sunset Boulevard (8358 Sunset Blvd.; 800/225-2637 or 323/654-7100; doubles from $240), but that was a really long time ago. Still, the view from the pool is endless and the weekend scene rivals that of the SkyBar, the long-reigning watering hole at the Mondrian (8440 Sunset Blvd.; 800/525-8029 or 323/650-8999; doubles from $260). Ian Schrager's re-invention of this white box of a hotel pretty much sparked the Sunset revival.
There's No Place like Chrome
Once known as Ben Frank's, a great 1950's coffee shop name-checked in Frank Zappa's "Help, I'm a Rock" and frequented by misbehaving rock stars from Jim Morrison to the Germs' Darby Crash, Mel's Drive-In (8585 Sunset Blvd.; 310/854-7200) was chopped and channeled into an ersatz Happy Days-era diner. Somehow, the place is more crowded than ever. There's a moral in here somewhere, but I can't put my finger on it.
Legumes with a View
Spago Hollywood (1114 Horn Ave.; 310/652-4025) spent 16 years as possibly the most famous restaurant in America, the foundation of Wolfgang Puck's empire. Today, Puck's attention may be on his more ambitious Spago Beverly Hills, but Spago Hollywood is better than ever, with impeccable versions of the Jewish pizza, chopped Chino vegetable salad, and sticky fried quail that changed the way California cooks. Every restaurant on the Strip has the same vista as Spago, more or less—what the real estate brochures call "jetliner views of L.A."
It looks like a rock club, it sounds like a rock club, and when the crowd gets pumped up on a Saturday night, it even smells like a rock club. Sushi on Sunset (8264 Sunset Blvd.; 323/656-3242) may be nobody's idea of a classic sushi bar, but the firecracker rolls, the soft-shell-crab rolls, and the infamous Philadelphia rolls made with cream cheese and salmon are screamingly popular. As is the "tuna pica," minced raw tuna tossed with sesame oil and layered like mortar between stacks of fried wonton wrappers, at Asia de Cuba (8440 Sunset Blvd.; 323/848-6000), the Cuban-Chinese restaurant at the Mondrian. Some of Asia de Cuba's food is actually good, but it's hard to eat a dish like calamari salad and sliced banana without laughing hard enough to propel half a glass of Riesling through your nose.
Conventional wisdom has it that, of the half-dozen sidewalk restaurants on Sunset Plaza, Café Med has the best food and Chin Chin is the cheapest. Le-Petit-Four (8654 Sunset Blvd.; 310/652-3863) attracts the most Euroglam crowd, cell phones glued to their ears, hunkered over endless glasses of Mumm and barely touched grilled-chicken Caesars. Clafoutis (8630 Sunset Blvd.; 310/659-5233) is a great place to stretch a cappuccino into an hour or two of pure, hedonistic people-watching. Men tend to have complicated hair; women, elaborately constructed garments that display cleavage in ways not technically feasible without input from the aerospace industry.
The Standard, 8300 Sunset Blvd.; 323/650-9090; doubles from $95.