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Rock ‘n’ Rollers, Your Tab Is Running at the Rainbow

The platform boots, the Spandex, the big hair, the dog collars--the Rainbow Bar & Grill has seen it all during three decades as playroom of choice to the Sunset Strip’s flamboyant rock ‘n’ roll strutters. Oh, if those walls could talk. From the bustling side patio and parking lot pickup scene to the dining room’s dimly lit red leather booths to the intimate “Over the Rainbow Room” upstairs, where the Beatles once hung out, the place exudes decadent cachet. We reminisce with owner Mario Maglieri, 79, the silver-haired father figure who reigns over the Rainbow and legendary rock-club neighbor, the Whisky A Go-Go.

Did you intend to work in rock ‘n’ roll?

No. I came into the Whisky in 1964 as a manager. Now I have the building and I have the business. I don’t know how I ended up with it, but that’s how business goes. I had clubs in Chicago, and I came out here because the fella who had the Whisky at the time, Elmer Valentine, called me needing help with the business--and it was fantastic. He had groups coming in like the Turtles, John Mayall and Eric Clapton. That’s how I got started out here.

What was the Strip like when you opened the Rainbow?

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The Strip in 1972 was young people. They’d gather together, smoke a joint or whatever. It was a laid-back thing. You didn’t have the hard drugs that you have today. It was all peace and love.

Who were your earliest rock star regulars?

Led Zeppelin. Every time they were in town, they’d party in the middle booth. And them guys know how to party!

How did the Rainbow become home away from home for rockers?

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A lot of people who own bars and restaurants act like they’re so above everybody else. I don’t do that. You have to make friends with people--you gotta greet them by their name. People love to be noticed. I feed ‘em. Like Matt Sorum from Guns N’ Roses. I used to give him soup and bread. These poor guys don’t have any money, they’re musicians. So I take ‘em in. I won’t give ‘em booze. But if they’re hungry, I’ll feed ‘em.

What’s the secret to staying in business with customers who like to throw TV sets out of windows?

It’s very simple. If a guy stood up on a table, you tell him, “Either sit down or I throw you out.” That’s the way you gotta be with them. They know if they don’t behave, they’ll get thrown out and they won’t be let back in. And they always want to get back in!

Who were your rowdiest customers?

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Oh, Guns N’ Roses! I had to put them out I don’t know how many times! They’d get rowdy and throw bread at people. They’re good guys but they get out of hand.

What about that occupational hazard of rock, drugs?

I try to tell young people that drugs aren’t the way to go. Like Jim Morrison. I babied that guy day in and day out [at the Whisky]. I used to grab him and go, “Why are you ruining your life?” and he’d just look up at me [and say,] “Oh, Mario...” He went down the tubes like so many guys. It’s sad.

You’ve lived through glam, metal, punk, grunge, hip-hop. Which era is your favorite?

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Every year. I love rock ‘n’ roll. Even the guys coming up, they get an E for effort.

OK, but what era was your least favorite?

The punk guys like Sid Vicious. They weren’t out to make music, they were out to destroy things. I had to close the Whisky for a couple of years because they’d walk out of the club and break car windows and yell at people. It’s not that I’m against punk music. I used to sit in the car with John Belushi and listen to bands like Fear. He loved that stuff. It’s fine as long as you don’t hurt other people.

Which customer did you most love?

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I loved a girl named Janis Joplin. She was just a priceless lady. She had stringy hair and dirty fingernails. She’d come in [to the Whisky] and say, “Gimme a Southern Comfort on the rocks--I want the whole bottle!” She had that raspy voice. To me she was beautiful.

Who are your high-wattage regulars these days?

Lemmy from Motorhead. He likes to play the pinball machines, so he’s in here all the time. [The late] John Entwistle used to hang here when he was in town. We have a lot of rappers coming here now, like B-Real from Cypress Hill, Dino from Fear Factory. They come in by droves.

Give us the worst Rainbow Room pickup line.

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Hey, baby, I’m a producer. I’ll put you in the movies!


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