The Venice West is a newly-opened venue in Venice that showcases a wide variety of live music performances. PHOTO Courtesy of Venice Paparazzi

The Venice West offers live entertainment and great food

By Sebastian Lipstein

Five and a half years ago, Venice local Rob Lissner and his business partner, Allen Sanford, embarked on a journey to open a much-needed live music venue in the heart of Venice.

Music fans at heart, Lissner and his friends would often joke about how difficult it was to see great live music on a consistent basis without driving at least 10 miles east. They’d pick numbers to see who had to drive or get them a ride whenever they’d go catch a show. Eventually they decided to solve the problem. The project had many twists and turns, but five years and a pandemic later, The Venice West finally opened its doors.

“It was a very tough road, but we are stoked to finally be open and appreciative of all the local support,” Lissner said. “One of the reasons I moved to Venice 20 years ago was because it wasn’t like the rest of Los Angeles. The diversity, eccentricity and culture are what drew me here and made me want to raise my family here. What could be a better representation of those things and connector of people than music?”

No stranger to the music business, Sanford is also the owner of St. Rocke, a popular music venue in Hermosa Beach that has yet to reopen following the pandemic. Lissner and Sanford are both cofounders of the BeachLife Festival, a music festival held in Redondo Beach that attracts 30,000 visitors across the three-day event each year.

The building that houses The Venice West has a storied history as well. It was most recently the locally loved nightclub Witzend, and before that it served as a production studio and a nightclub called The 4H club, also known as Honky Hoagies Handy Hangout.

The music at Venice West is tastefully diverse, with national touring bands such as Grammy-nominated blues act North Mississippi Allstars, internationally-renowned and New Orleans-based Dirty Dozen Brass Band, reggae legends The Wailers, as well as The English Beat, a ska-reggae group that toured with David Bowie, The Talking Heads and The Police.

There are plenty of local acts as well, such as Torrance-based rock band Joker’s Hand, and Thursdays feature performances by Tom Freund and Friends, a multi-instrumentalist singer/songwriter who has played alongside Jackson Browne and Elvis Costello.

Musical acts change nightly and there are a wide array of genres and performers including dueling pianos, jazz and the legendary Guitar Shorty who recently played there. He has toured with Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, and allegedly introduced Jimi Hendrix, his former half-brother, to the wah pedal.

Kaycee Smith, director of marketing and community engagement for The Venice West, said, “The goal is for this to be a neighborhood place where people are always like, “I don’t know what’s going on, but let’s go by the Venice West because you know it’s going to be good.”

The owners of The Venice West put forth meticulous effort and time to make sure the venue and interior is designed for the best audio quality possible. Furthermore, every performance has a sound engineer behind it to ensure great quality of sound and lighting.

“This is a full professional, proper venue,” said Carl Roberts, musician and general manager of The Venice West. “It’s a venue like The Coach House and Canyon Club. Here you’re getting a professional level of lights and sound in a 225-capacity venue.”

In addition to musical entertainment, The Venice West is also known for having a great menu. The upscale-casual food headed by Chef Diego Balam, former owner of Food Fair by Diego, is also guaranteed to impress. The flavorful menu features recognizable classics like fried pickles, calamari, spaghetti with Bolognese sauce and burgers, among other dishes.

“I want people to come in and enjoy the menu and recognize it,” Balam said. “I also want to keep it reasonably priced for the customers. I just want people to be happy when they walk out. At the end of the day, that was the only goal when I owned my restaurant.”

There is also a full liquor bar with over a dozen beers on draft featuring mostly local microbreweries like Smog City and Surfridge, and a cocktail menu.

The venue’s name pays homage to the beat scene in the 1950s and 1960s in Venice, dubbed “Venice West.” Beats would gather in living rooms and coffee houses such as The Gas House and Venice West Cafe to recite poetry, play music and converse. The beat generation brought culture, the arts, bohemianism, eccentricity, and an overall renaissance to Venice that still lives on to this day.

Inside, visitors will enjoy an immersive visual history of the era as there are dozens of original photos, posters and decor from that time, including an original Gas House silkscreen print from famed local artist Earl Newman. Lissner was meticulous with the selection of the imagery and artifacts chosen for the interior and enlisted Brian Chidester, a writer, historian and documentary filmmaker who is a respected authority on Venice and LA during the beat era.

“It was really important to me that everything displayed have an authentic connection to the storied history…either directly or through music and other creative influences,” Lissner said.
From the art on the walls and friendly staff to the menu and music, it feels as if The Venice West has been around for ages.

“The place is for the local crowd,” Roberts said. “It’s not corporate, it’s a real local bar not a chain. Most of the staff here is local and has been here for years. It’s about respecting Venice and hoping they respect us back.

We’re all in it together. We love it and as soon as everybody knows we’re open, they’ll love it too. It’s new, but it’s respectful to the past and spotlights it. But we are in the now. It’s time to get the Roaring Twenties going. People have been waiting a long time to socialize and listen to good music again, and bands have been itching to play.”

The Venice West
1717 Lincoln Boulevard,