Rock clubs are frequently noisy, smelly, dark and cramped…and we wouldn’t have it any other way! Music history is born out of these crowded and smokey venues, where tomorrow’s megastars are today’s opening act, struggling to be heard over a drunk dude’s repeated request for “Free Bird.” The recent film CBGB paid tribute to the eponymous NYC rock spot, which gave us dozens of timeless bands before closing in 2006. This got us thinking of some other incredible joints that have earned their spot in rock mythology. Read on to see our picks for the 10 most legendary rock clubs of all time!
10. Cafe Wha?
Location: 115 MacDougal St., New York, New York
Who Played There: Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Bruce Springsteen, Peter Paul & Mary, The Velvet Underground
Why It’s Awesome: First and foremost, this place was a folk focal point, a central hub for the coffee shop scene in the late ’50s and early ’60s. Anyone a little off-kilter had a home here, including beat poets like Allen Ginsberg, ground-breaking comedians like Lenny Bruce, Richard Pryor and Woody Allen, and guitar-wielding troubadours of every flavor. In fact, a young singer named Bob Dylan made the Wha? one of his first stops after arriving in New York City, where (according to legend) he was offered a free burger and allowed to play his songs and pass the hat to scrape together some money.
The Dylan connection is enough to make the Cafe Wha? a landmark, but he’s far from the last icon to emerge from the small cellar stage. In 1966, Animals bassist Chas Chandler was captivated by the wild guitar stylings of an ex-paratrooper named Jimi Hendrix. Chandler signed on as his manager and took him to London, where Hendrix’s career exploded. And a few years after that, future Boss Bruce Springsteen was earning his stripes in his teenage band, the Castiles. Although it changed management (and names) for a period in the ’70s and ’80s, the Cafe Wha? is still alive and well today.
More recently, a newly reunited Van Halen performed a surprise warm-up gig in prior to their A Different Kind of Truth Tour in January 2012. It’s appropriate considering that the club’s original owner was Manny Roth, David Lee Roth‘s uncle!
9. The Cavern
Location: 10 Matthew Street, Liverpool, England
Who Played There: The Beatles, The Who, Elton John, The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Johnny Lee Hooker, The Arctic Monkeys, The Beatles, The Wanted, Adele, The Beatles…
Why It’s Awesome: The Cavern bills itself as “The Birthplace of the Beatles,” and it’s hard to argue with that. The Fabs played a whopping 292 gigs at the venue between 1961 and 1963, using it as a sort of clubhouse while they consolidated their hometown popularity and contemplated bigger pastures. After the Beatles conquered the musical world, this humble former fruit-cellar enjoyed vaulted status as the most famous rock club in the world. The s0-called “Mersey Beat sound” originated in these archways, taking hits from Gerry & the Pacemakers, Billy J. Kramer & the Dakotas, and Cilla Black to America and beyond.
Despite its status as a beloved cultural landmark, the club fell on hard times and closed in May 1973 amid much controversy. The steet-level buildings were demolished and the cellar area filled in with rubble, literally paving musical paradise to put up a parking lot. But luckily for music fans everywhere, the club rose from the dead in 1984, when a replica was built on “75 percent” of the original site, using (allegedly) 15,000 original bricks! Hey, we’ll take it…
Paul McCartney never forgot his debt to the place, and on December 14th 1999 he performed his final concert of the 20th century on the (rebuilt) stage he knew so well. Still glowing from the Beatle-brush nearly 50 years later, the Cavern is an INSANELY popular spot for mega-bands to play surprise dates or pre-tour warm-up gigs.