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Why is this Sunset Blvd Club Called Whisky a Go Go?

Posted by Colonel Bourbon on

Whiskey -- without the "e."

Whisky a Go Go (informally "The Whisky") is a nightclub on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood, CA. The location was founded in 1964. The club has launched the careers of many bands, including The Doors, No Doubt, The Byrds, Chicago, Van Halen, Led Zeppelin, Fleetwood Mac, KISS, Guns and Roses, AC/DC, Metallica, and so many more. Alice Cooper recorded a live album at the club.

Why is the Nightclub Called Whisky a Go Go?

(Whisky a Go Go on the Sunset Strip, West Hollywood. Wikipedia Creative Commons photo by Mike Dillon.)

If you fallen down the rabbit hole and have come across this page, you may be a kindred spirit. The topic of the spelling of whisk(e)y has filled many pages here at Colonel Bourbon T-shirts.

So eventually the spelling of the famous Los Angeles nightclub would catch our eye. Specifically, why is it spelled without the "e"?

If you're like most people with lives, you may never have regarded this before. But for enthusiasts of the tasty brown liquor, the spelling has significance. 

  • WHISKEY -- Is generally used for American, including bourbon, rye, and Irish whiskeys.
  • WHISKY -- is generally used for Scotch, Canadian, and Japanese whiskies.

Note the different plurals.

The spelling conventions date back to translations from Scottish and Irish Gaelic.

There are exceptions of course, since rules as they say are made to be broken. Maker's Mark calls its bourbon, whisky. 

But for the most part, it's whiskey in the United States and not whisky.

Which brings us back to Whisky a Go Go

Why is this American nightclub spelled whisky? Aka The Whisky 

The answer can be surmised by reading the question. Read it again.

The club grew out of a franchise, with the first Whisky a Go Go in 1958, at Rush Street in Chicago, Illinois. It was called the first American discotheque, and -- here we go -- the name came from Whisky á gogo in Paris, built in 1947 (á goo means abundance or galore in French.)

It goes even deeper:

The Paris club in turn got the name from a British novel Whisky Galore a farce written by Compton MacKenzie, published in 1947.

Whisky Galore Paris Jim Morrison The Doors

(Whisky Galore novel, 1947. Photo book cover fair use, Wikipedia) 

As per the plot summary in Wikipedia, "During the Second World War, the cargo vessel S.S Cabinet Minster is wrecked off a remote fictional Scottish island group -- Great Todday and Little Todday -- with fifty thousand cases of whisky aboard."

The story was based on a real occurrence in 1941 on the Hebrides, a Scottish archipelago.

So there you have it. Scotland. And as you saw earlier, scotch is spelled whisky.

Clip from the 1949 movie, Whisky Galore 

The club

So The Whisky on Sunset Blvd was never about the brown liquor. And it wasn't about rock or heavy metal as it is today. When Whisky was founded by Elmer Valentine, Phil Tanzini, Shelly Davis, and Theodore Flier and opened in 1964,  there had been a plan to open a French restaurant, the origins of the venture theme being from Paris. It was a discotheque, with the likes of Johnny Rivers and go-go girls dancing in cages above. 

The transition to rock took place a few years later, probably best described as when Jim Morrison and The Doors were the house band in 1966. The Doors' "psychedelic" sound changes the club's vibe: the go-go girls slowed their dance to move with the music. The highlight may well have been the night the band was fired, when Morrison introduced some new words to "The End" -- the song the band normally ended their set with: it was played in the middle with the new, shall we say,  "Oedipus Rex" lyrics.

Speaking of Morrison

We always try to mention the drink preferences in this blog. It is said after Jim Morrison moved to Paris, he was drinking too much whisk(e)y.

Being the poet, he followed in the footsteps of Baudelaire, Hemingway, and Miller. He didn't seem to have a preference, but Chivas and Jack Daniels were go-tos. In late 60s/early 70s, bourbon was out of favor; seen as old-fashioned (pun perhaps intended), something your parents drank. It would take decades for Don Draper to be cool again (or should we say created as a character).

And of course, The Doors performed "Alabama Song" -- also known as "Whisky Bar," also "Moon of Alabama" and "Moon over "Alabama." The song was covered by the Doors (and David Bowie).

It's an English version of a German song originally written by playwright and poet Bertolt Brecht,  translated by Elizabeth Hauptmann, with music composed by Kurt Weill in the 1920s, during Prohibition in America.

"Well, show me the way
To the next whisky bar
Oh, don't ask why
Oh, don't ask why"

In Los Angeles, besides drinking at The Whisky, Morrison haunts included the Palm Bar, the Troubadour, and a strip club called Phone Booth. The singer lived across the joint at the Atla Cienega hotel. 

Food and drink at the Whisky a Go Go

The Whisky is not a bar but it does have a bar. One of course go there for the music, not the bar menu. They serve food: hamburgers, fries, onion rings, potato skins, something called Whisky Fries. On a whim we called the club to see what drinks were on the menu, and in particular if there was any bourbon. The gal who answered didn't know and reminded us the bar opened for shows. If anyone knows the drink menu, drop us a line in the comments below. We're thinking Jack of course,  and lots of beer. Cheers!

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