By the late 2020s, threats and acts of terrorism grew frequent and unpredictable. Americans became wary of entering theaters, nightclubs, concert venues and other public, enclosed spaces, for fear of chemical, gas or biological attacks. Around this time the burgeoning technology allowed people to create augmented show venues in the comfort and safety of their own homes. As a result, many small, iconic music venues that once overflowed with music, crowds and glamour were forced to shut their doors. Until now.
A century later, The Viper Room reopens its doors, fully restored to its original, early 2000s glory. From grabbing a drink and sitting in a booth, to watching a live band and sneaking backstage, visitors can experience what an evening at this iconic nightclub, nestled in the heart of Hollywood, was like during its heyday 100 years ago.
The museum can be experienced in two ways: the self-guided tour and/or the guided tours.
Entering the Museum
The visitors purchase their tickets at the entrance of the building. The ticket is a replica of what a concert admission ticket looked like in the early 2000s, but marked with the current date. Visitors are also handed a special RFID Mega or Bluetooth 3000 enabled drink glass (most likely plastic).
Once inside the entrance hallway, the area lighting darkens and screens are automatically lowered, covering the original artwork that lines the hallway. A 3-minute documentary-style film begins with the history of the building dating back to its days as the Melody Room (jazz music plays in the background). The short film covers famous patrons including Bugsy Seigel and Mickey Cohen, touching on their connections and contributions to the venue and the booming Hollywood area of the 1930s and 40s. The film goes on to cover the clubs time as The Central and then as a 1970s icon, Filthy McNasty’s and its then-famous patrons that included Evil Knievel and Tom Waits. The film talks about the final decades of the building when it re-opened as The Viper Room, passing through the hands of Johnny Depp and to its subsequent and final owners. It ends on the events that lead to its inevitable closing.
The visitor leaves the entrance area and enters the main lounge, bar and stage room. They are immediately embraced with a gust of cold air, from an AC on blast in a small space, as well as the SMELL of old alcohol and bleach coupled with the floating stench of stale, dampness from the AC. The lighting is dim, as it would be during its hours of operation.
The flow from the entrance along with an empty glass in hand, shows the visitor that they must go to the bar as their first stop. The first drink is included in admission. Additional drinks can be purchased thereafter. The bar was most likely cash-only during its day, but since cash money no longer exists, visitors are able to tap their chip-embedded finger to pay. The visitor can choose not to drink, however, the glass is a key component of the self-guided tour.
Self-Guided Tour – Exhibits & Interactions
Once getting their drink (or not) visitors can roam around venue. Ambiance punk and rock music from artists who played the venue from 1993-the early 2020s plays in the background. Areas to explore: VIP booths, the standing room in front of the stage, the bar, the bathrooms and an office room.
The VIP Booths: The visitors enter the booth and place their drink upon on an obvious spot on the table. The RFID/Bluetooth triggers audio that is filtered to site-specific high def speakers that can only be heard within the space of that particular booth. Each booth features a different audio conversation between famous patrons of the club who either claimed that particular booth or who frequented the place. Conversations include those of Johnny Depp, Tom Waits, Evil Knievel, Jennifer Aniston, Johnny Cash, Lisa Marie Presley, among others.
These conversations were pieced together by old interviews and historic research and recorded by voice-over actors. In the case that actual recorded conversations are available, those will be digitally remastered and used in a booth.
The Standing Room: Every hour on the hour, a “live band” performs a short 2-song set on the stage. The bands include a rolodex of 5 rotating groups that hold a special role as performers at the Viper Room. Bands include Tom Petty and the Heart Breakers (the first band to play the venue), The Pussy Cat Dolls (who began their career at Viper), Johnny Cash and The Counting Crows. The bands appear on stage through 3-dimensional hologram technology. This technology nowadays makes holograms as lifelike as real people.
The Bar: The bar is a place for visitors to hang out, drink, share stories and leave behind their legacy. This is what can be called “analog interaction.” The bar tenders would likely have a connection to the Viper Room’s past, whether their relatives had been in bands that played there or perhaps they had heard stories passed down of adventures had by their (great) grandparents at the club. Visitors can request a recording device to share and archive their distant memories of the venue.
The Bathroom: The bathrooms are restored with the original stickers covering the walls. As one uses the restroom, they can explore this mini time capsule (hopefully quickly).
Office Room: The office is an immersive exhibit putting the visitor in the club the day that celebrity River Phoenix died from a drug overdose at the venue. A lit path leads to a hidden office room. Visitors can enter this room, and sit around on the furniture. The only item in reach is a phone. As soon as the door closes (it is on a hinge that will not allow it to stay propped open), they can hear echoes of Johnny Depp’s band playing. An audio recording is played through a Dolby Digital style sound system that follows the audio of the voices as they move throughout the room, as if people are walking around talking. The audio is of River Phoenix telling Bob Forrest that he thinks he is overdosing. “Bob, I don’t feel so good. I think I’m OD’ing.” The voices stumble out of the room (the concert music briefly gets louder before the sound of the door slamming shut). From amid the muffled concert music, sounds of people shouting “call 911” can be heard from the standing area. The phone in the room is lit lightly from a spot light, encouraging visitors to pick up the receiver. When they do, the audio of the 911 call made by his brother, Joaquin Phoenix is heard.
Guided Tour Options
Guided tours are optional, and for an additional fee. When purchasing their tickets, the visitors are instructed to meet at the bar 5 minutes prior to the tour start-time. Like the bartenders, it is ideal that those who fill the tour guide roles also have some connection in their past or family’s past to the club or the bands who played the club.
Backstage & Greenroom Tour: This tour is given by a “stage manager” who brings the group on a 45 minute tour of the green room and backstage of the club. The tour begins backstage. Visitors can learn about the history of the club and the bands who played there as well as its history of drugs and drug dealing. They will also learn about secrets and scandals of the club. One not-to-be-missed historic artifact is the infamous stripper pole in the greenroom. The group hangs out in the green room a few minutes before the “live band” performance begins, much like the actual band would have.
Whiskey Bar Tour & Tasting: A somewhat secret whisky bar is hidden below the club. It is restored with all of the original whiskey bottles that were left on display above the bar. This one-hour tour brings a small group down to this hidden area and includes a tasting of the original whiskeys that were served, including Hochstadter’s Slow & Low Rock & Rye and Slow Hand White Whiskey.
In order to narrow down the specifics of this detailed description, I created make-shift Venn Diagram that compares the Eldridge Museum and the Tenement Museum. It highlights what is commonly found in historical place-museums and highlights what works effectively. Most importantly, historical places are site-specific. They invite the viewer into the world in which the site lived and breathed during its heyday. They encourage visitor interaction both verbally and with the exhibits.
Based on these observations, I deemed the following musts and possibilities for the potential historical place museum:
Cover Image Photo Credit: