End of an era.
Madame Wong’s West, one of the last remaining links to the tumultuous late-'70s L.A. rock scene, will be closing sometime after the first of the year. Club owner Esther Wong, whose original Madame Wong’s Chinatown-based club served as the spawning ground for many local bands, said that she’s grown weary of the headaches that accompany running a rock club.
“I just think the club scene is burning out,” she explained. “I’m looking for a band to play New Year’s Eve right now, and it’s really hard to come up with a good group. I really miss the days when the Plimsouls and the Motels were here all the time. But those days are gone.
“I’m paying $250,000 in rent each year and it’s too much. I have to make people pay for a drink ticket at the door now, and I’m still losing money. So I figured it’s time to move on.”
The walls of Wong’s office at the club are decorated with posters and photos of the many groups who made early appearances on her stages--X, Oingo Boingo, the Motels, the Knack, the Textones and the Go-Go’s. Wong has a reputation as a colorful, tight-fisted businesswoman, but she’s always been a staunch supporter of local groups. Now, however, she’s lost much of her enthusiasm for the long hours and raucous behavior of club-goers.
“The kids that come here now, they drive me crazy,” she said. “They come here and act like spoiled brats. Some of them plugged up my toilets, and one band set fire to some paper towels and set off our sprinkler system, flooding the whole basement. They write graffiti everywhere, even on the inside of the refrigerator in the kitchen. It’s got me pretty discouraged.”
Wong hinted that she might open a new theater-style club in the near future, though she was deliberately hazy about details, except to say that she had been looking at a property in an outlying suburb. “If I’m going to open a new place, it would be something that I own myself,” she said. “I’m 69 years old. So why I should I make all the money for the landlord and not make any money for myself?
“I’m not going to live forever, so I want some time off, and have the freedom to do other things. I want to travel, and get around.”
Asked what she would miss the most, she shook her head. “I’ll miss the bands I liked. But I don’t think I’ll miss anything else, not anymore.”