UPDATED: Wavves to Play Historic L.A. Punk/New Wave Venue Madame Wong's Before it Closes for Good
UPDATE: L.A.-based noise-pop artist Wavves, a.k.a. Nathan Williams, will be playing one of Madame Wong's' final shows on Wednesday, August 4.
"Madame" Esther Wong, founder of the former restaurant and eventual punk venue in Chinatown
Commenters have pointed out that the venue never officially reopened, though that's only partly true. Most of the shows that have taken place in the space over the past year were word-of-mouth affairs.
West Coast Sound isn't sure whether or not that qualifies the events as "private" or just "unpromoted" (like some silly Brooklyn rooftop gig from Nick and Norah's), but they were fun, typically packed to the brim, and took place in a room still lovingly referred to as "Madame Wong's."
Tickets have already sold out for the Wavves gig.
[Originally published on Wednesday, July 28.]
This just in: West Coast Sound has learned that the historic Chinatown punk and new wave venue, Madame Wong's, will be closing for good on August 14.
"It'll probably never be a music venue again," said Aquarium Drunkard's Justin Gage, who broke the news via a Twitter post this afternoon. "So anyone that wants to get a sense of that old L.A. punk rock culture, get in while the getting's good."
This was actually the space's second run as an intimate host to some rather high profile performances. Founded in the early '70s, Madame Wong's was originally a Chinese restaurant with a Polynesian dance floorshow.
Co-owner Esther Wong was eventually convinced to become a punk promoter as a way to drum up customers, and wound up playing host to shows (here and at Madame Wong's West in Santa Monica) by an incredible spate of performers, from the Ramones and Black Flag to the Police and Guns N' Roses precursor Hollywood Rose.
Though she eventually ousted the punks for the skinny-tie set, Wong's venue is often remembered alongside neighboring punk venues the Hong Kong Cafe and the Atomic Cafe.* The restaurant was closed in 1985 after a fire, and the so-called "Godmother of Punk" passed away in 2005 due to lung disease.
About a year ago, though the space at 949 Sun Mun Way had been converted into a live-in loft, Madame Wong's was given another chance to rock.
Ben Kramer, a former FYF Fest employee and current Aquarium Drunkard affiliate, was renting the place in October of 2009 when he opened it up to performances again for the first time in nearly 25 years.
"It'd been converted," said Kramer, "but it had the same high ceilings and odd contours with a very Chinatown look--the faux Chinese architecture, the circular doorways, random nick-nacks."
The first two shows he hosted were under-the-radar performances from Devendra Banhart and Vampire Weekend. Noisier acts followed in the venue's original spirit--Harlem, Smith Westerns, the Growlers, Gun Outfit and Pearl Harbor to name a few.
"It was the coolest thing in the world to have bands you really like playing in your living room," said Kramer. "It was odd witnessing kids crowd-surfing higher than your stove-top or microwave, worrying about your [drinking] glasses breaking."
He and two others lived in the space, which, at the hands of new owners, is becoming strictly single-use--residential, of course--once again. To prep for shows, they'd move everything into their locked bedrooms and open the bathroom to 200 or so attendees.
Now, Kramer has to be out by August 14, so that the property-buyers can move in.
"They specifically asked that we have the stage removed," Kramer said, referring to the riser he'd helped to build. "We're trying to figure out what to do with it."
A couple more unannounced shows will take place before Madame Wong's closes once and for all. Keep an eye on the Wong's Facebook profile for more information.
Read a little bit more about the history of Madam Wong's here.
*Some suggest that the hands of time, and the malicious claw of misinformation that is Wikipedia, have led to the venues' bands and reputations becoming mixed up over the years.
This may be the case, though there are anecdotes involving the Ramones, tales about the Circle Jerks, and first-hand accounts of Axl and Slash being there, lending authenticity to the claim that the venue did indeed host hard rock of various stripes, as well as the poppier new wave crew.
Were you there? Post your reminiscences in the comments section.