Downtown Los Angeles has become something different for everybody mostly depending on what era they relate to. For some, it’s the promise of a new downtown, with a strengthened LBGT community, lavish loft living, grand markets, museums, skyscrapers with thrill rides, and the inevitability of a mega metropolis with amenities that only the well to do can afford. For others, it’s the era of Rock N Roll and what lies inside the last remnants of Downtown’s underground rock scene as solidified by the Five Star Bar.
Downtown’s best party atmosphere has always been found in Downtown’s old buildings. Not to be remolded into the forbidden soirees of prohibition but kept as faded as its memory, the Five Star Bar is set in an original casing built in 1905, with what looks like the original paint job on some walls, complete with juke box playing classic tunes from the 1920s to Journey, Zepplin, Hendrix and Creedence. It’s tough, dark and dangerous, especially if you’re afraid of Rock N Roll, beer bellies, Doc Martins and loud burps.
One of Downtown’s oldest surviving dive bars on 3rd and Main…Dive meaning: still gritty, like a dive bar should be…Not a dive bar redone in 1920’s replicas, guarded by numerous cameras with bartenders who lack likeability but still expect big tips.
The building that cases the Five Star was a hotel and used as an American Indian refuge, once, and the bar is centered in what used to be the building’s main lobby, but dimly lit, and decorated to where attentions aren’t always called to its high ceilings and accented pillars, or once immaculately placed porcelain hexagon floor tiles.
The Five Star may speak to an ideal even more than an era. The idea that after a few beers it’s ok to thrash to some hard core punk, bang your head and get sweaty inside of leather armor while throwing up the sign of the beast. The Five Dive speaks to the part of downtown where it’s still ok to get responsibly drunk, flip a bird, curse like a sailor, and go home with raunchy gals in tight clothing. Enjoy some blues, comedy, or an open-mic; the bar has been host to just about every other live entertainment genre you can imagine over its 31-year-old lifespan.
For the young indie artist bringing the noise, or the old jammer, the Five Star could be a rehearsal, a showcase, record release, or an opportunity for earning money, especially when it comes to touring bands.
For every entrepreneur the Five Star has seen make their way up its one-way street with a one tract mind to get away from a hard day’s work, there’s an indie band somewhere in the world trying to find their way to a stage in Downtown. Five Star Bar is not only the oldest Rock N Roll stage but also one of the last indie stages that are known for actually getting artists paid; a virtual Rock N Roll paradise, now facing the threat of becoming a real life interpretation of a Joni Mitchell song.
Paving Paradise to Put Up a Parking Lot
We caught up with the DeeDees, an all female Ramones Tribute band, touring from Seattle, who just finishing up a smaller tour in Belgium. They found the Five Star Bar while searching for places to play punk in Downtown. Before they went to Hollywood they went to the Five Star and were 5x as happy. Talking with Michelle Thurston, and Kirsten Ballweg, lead singer and guitarist, before their set, we sparked up a conversation about the possibility of the Five Star closing, without telling them who or what was responsible for its fate. The ladies quickly shared their input in true punk fashion saying…
“LA better pay attention and keep this bar, you know what’s happening in Seattle? Everything is being destroyed to put in shitty condos and parking structures and all of this other stuff that’s… rich money…it’s basically ruining Seattle…Capital Hill had a few places but now they have turned to none… If there is a punk show the crowd is mostly rich tech workers.”
“Seattle is going through this thing where the clubs are being destroyed with bullshit,” interrupted Ballweg. “The creative people can’t afford to live in the cities. We have to go build new communes.”
Six days out of the week there is live entertainment complete with sound man, stage lights, backstage, and outdoor patio. The corner eatery stayed open late before a recent heart attack took Khosro “Casey” Bagheri, from his Mediterranean restaurant, in business over 25 years.
If you were a daytime patron of downtown’s earliest happy hour, starting at 9am at the Five Star, for lunch, what many call the BEST BURGER can be made to order by Angie Hurtado, a take no prisoners bar keep (and part pirate let some people tell it). Angie still pours with a nurturing hand. Watch out gastro pubs, her burgers are good and you better not say other wise. She seems the opposite of Mark Cordova, the soft spoken bar owner who can easily accommodate a dozen or so favors all at once. Still living the life of a youthful man, Mark sometimes travels by skateboard around town, returning with the necessities to give dozens of unknown artists musical refuge.
Five Star Bar may not be where the most affluent come to party! It’s not about who you know or secret passwords, expensive drinks or overly controlled behavior. You just pay the door fee when there is a band and head towards the stage or the bar. If you’re with the band you can go to one of the only true do-it-yourself backstage lounges left in town. Backstage is upstairs so everyone can see your ascent into the upper unknown.
As daring as it may seem, the Five Star Bar is located directly across from a LAPD parking lot, so it might just be the safest bar in town. They don’t over pour, and who ever comes in is greeted respectfully by security, bar staff, and local bar patrons, mostly veterans, and billiard fans.
The Great Adapt-Reuse Era could see construction workers having their way with the buildings on 3rd and Main that include the Five Star Bar. Although an official date for demolition hasn’t been set, the stress of hearing about it from random sources, can be compared to the stress of having to deal with a mighty dragon who can strike at will, preying down on the corner when you least expect it. Will the dragon’s final fury lead to the end to Rock N Roll in Downtown? Many businesses on the block won’t be waiting around to find out, most are making plans to relocate.