Reviving the Roxy – Can the Strip Follow? – NYTimes.com

THE stage at the Roxy Theater was a blur of tattoos, platinum hair and black leather pants. Two rock stars, Dave Navarro of Jane’s Addiction and Matt Sorum of Guns N’ Roses, watched the show from the V.I.P. section. Devil horns — the international symbol of rocking out — were thrown triumphantly in the air.

The band on stage was an all-grrl cover group, the Chelsea Girls, who marched through songs by Mötley Crüe, the Cult and Quiet Riot, groups that played the Roxy during glam metal’s glory days. Welcome to the jungle, the 2009 edition.

At least one person got the irony: a D.J., Riki Rachtman, the former host of “Headbangers Ball” on MTV, wore a shirt that read: “Has Been.”

The Sunset Strip — long considered a seedy tourist trap — is in need of a makeover, and the Roxy, an anchor of the Strip, is trying to lead the charge. Rather than becoming a West Coast version of CBGB, the ossified punk club in the Bowery that closed in 2006, the Roxy is booking marquee acts and marketing them on Twitter.

“Having the Roxy be around another 30 years is important to me,” said Nic Adler, 36, who operates the club, and now owns it with his father. “I was handed a legend, and I am expected to continue that legacy.”

His father is Lou Adler, who helped produce “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” (which had its American stage premiere at the Roxy) and the Monterey Pop Festival, and managed acts like Cheech and Chong. Lou Adler opened the Roxy in 1973 with partners who included David Geffen, and the club became the center of Hollywood rock ’n’ roll. Guns N’ Roses had its start there, and John Belushi partied there before he met his end.

Back in the day, “we were so successful and we had no competition to worry about,” Nic Adler said.

At various times, John Lennon was a regular, and the Hollywood Madam, Heidi Fleiss, hosted parties there.

“And then,” Mr. Adler continued, “Seattle grunge came in and that shifted everything. It became uncool to wear latex. And instantly, we had lost a whole scene just like that.”

When Lou Adler ran the Roxy, he was infamous as a partying playboy. He sired seven children with four women, including the model Britt Ekland, who is Nic Adler’s mother. Another son is Cisco Adler, the swashbuckling, actress-dating musician from the band Shwayze.

But Nic Adler is the Alex P. Keaton of his rock’n’roll family, and a club impresario for the Obama generation. A vegan just like his wife, Alison, whom he married last year after six years of dating, he is universally described as a nice guy. Sometimes he calls Roxy employees to thank them for being “awesome.”

While the Chelsea Girls played, Nic Adler was out in the Roxy’s parking lot filming for The Real Sunset Strip (therealsunsetstrip.com), a live Web show. Two hosts, named Lauren Scheff and the Hawk, interviewed passers-by; by night’s end, the site had gotten more than 30,000 views.

Harry Perry, the Los Angeles version of the Naked Cowboy, roller-skated over in his turban and played his guitar. Another man showed off autographs of famous people he had gotten tattooed on his torso. “My dad’s on his back,” Nic Adler noted.

The fate of the Roxy weighs heavily on the younger Mr. Adler. He was three months old on opening night when Neil Young played forElvis PresleyBob Dylan, Alice Cooper and Elton John. He hung out after school in the Roxy’s office and played in the kitchen when bands like Oingo Boingo and Jane’s Addiction were sound-checking. He met his wife at the club (she was a bartender).

“That’s our Strip, you know?” Cisco Adler said in an interview. “It defines us as a Los Angeles family.”

The extended Adler family is a who’s who of Hollywood, and includes Daryl Hannah, Peter Sellers and Slim Jim Phantom of the Stray Cats. Jack Nicholson is Nic Adler’s godfather.

But Nic Adler veered toward a more traditional life. After watching his teenage sisters rebel, he volunteered to go to Colorado Rocky Mountain School in Carbondale, Colo., a boarding school with 155 students.

“I’m surprised that both of my boys have gone into this,” Lou Adler said. “Nicholai had never made me aware that this was a career he was going to seek. So I think he was like a sponge, and anything that went on around him, he just sucked in. It’s not like we sat down and discussed the entertainment business.”

In his early 20s, Nic Adler began running the Roxy, but not in any hard-charging way. “I don’t know who was driving,” he said. “I was near the front of the bus, but nobody was really telling the Roxy where to go.”

His wake-up call came three years ago, when Tower Records closed on the Strip after 36 years.

“It was his kind of come-to-Jesus moment, where it was like, ‘If don’t do something fast and drastic at the Roxy, I’m next,’ ” said Kyra Reed, a marketing consultant who helped him devise a digital media strategy.

Reviving the Roxy was harder that it would appear. “We had built such a perception on the Sunset Strip that we were so passé, so ‘a certain time,’ there was so much work to do,” Nic Adler said. “It wasn’t overnight. It wasn’t going to be like, we’re Twittering, so now we’re cool.”

For one thing, he had to contend with the hipper Silver Lake and Echo Park music scenes, six miles east — an eternity in Los Angeles traffic.

“I watched that community happen and I was very impressed by it,” Mr. Adler said. “At first I was very resentful and felt like, ‘Oh no, they don’t know anything about music.’ Then the bands left and bloggers started to move there.”

He responded by booking indie acts that would typically play venues like Spaceland or Echoplex: Weezer, the hipster D.J. Steve Aoki and Them Crooked Vultures, the all-star band with members from Led Zeppelin, Queens of the Stone Age and the Foo Fighters. That show sold out after it was announced on Twitter.

Mitchell Frank, who books and manages Spaceland and Echoplex, said. “There are a lot of shows that are going to them that didn’t two years before.”

The Roxy still looks the same as when it opened, but its cocky attitude toward patrons is gone.

Before, Mr. Adler said, “We just felt like ‘We’re the Sunset Strip, we’re sitting up here on our hill. The phones are always going to ring, the bands are always going to come here.’ And that’s not true. That’s like living in some dream world.”

He broke his father’s rules and allowed fans to photograph shows. He started monitoring customer complaints on Twitter and leaving free drinks for people under their Twitter handles.

Mr. Adler also became more involved with his community, attending city council meetings and serving in the Sunset Strip Business Association.

“We all make the Sunset Strip,” he said. “None of us alone would be able to be here.”

Read the whole story at the NYTimes: Reviving the Roxy – Can the Strip Follow? – NYTimes.com.


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