Whisky a Go Go and Rainbow Bar and Grill owner Mikael Maglieri dies at 73

Mikael Maglieri, who carried forward his family’s legacy on the Sunset Strip as the second-generation owner of the Whisky a Go Go nightclub and Rainbow Bar and Grill, died Sunday in the Hollywood Hills of an apparent heart attack. He was 73.

His death was confirmed by his son, Mikael “Mikey” Maglieri Jr.

Maglieri spent a lifetime on the Sunset Strip, helping to establish its intimate club scene as ground zero for generations of legendary performances of rock, metal, punk, soul and more. He was following in the footsteps of his father, Mario Maglieri, the owner of both venues who, until his death in 2017 at age 93, was known as “the King of the Sunset Strip.”

“This is really a shock,” said Lou Adler, the veteran music impresario and producer who was an original co-owner of the Rainbow with Whisky partners Mario Maglieri and Elmer Valentine. He first met Mikael when the latter was 9 years old. “Mikael through the years has had health issues,” Adler said. “He always bounces back. This just came out of nowhere.”

On Monday, Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash, whose career largely began on the Sunset Strip, re-posted the Whisky’s note about Maglieri on Instagram: “He was the best person in the world. The most generous. The most loving… Thank you, Mikael, for everything.”

The Whisky opened in 1964 with a residency by singer Johnny Rivers. Over the decades, the biggest and most influential names in rock and R&B appeared on the Whisky stage, from Smokey Robinson to the Doors, Otis Redding to Blondie, Metallica to Eminem.

A few blocks west, the Rainbow opened its doors in 1972 in the former location of the Villa Nova restaurant (once co-owned by filmmaker Vincente Minnelli), and it quickly became the watering hole of choice for artists and fans before and after concerts.

Along with the Roxy Theatre, the Whisky and Rainbow have survived as immovable fixtures on the boulevard through shifting musical tastes, economic downturns and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Maglieri was born in September 1950 in Chicago. His father, Mario, was a cigar-chewing restaurant manager and former bailiff when he moved the family West so he could join Valentine at the Whisky. At 16, Maglieri’s first official job at the Whisky was not as the club’s heir apparent, but as a busboy. On his nights off, he wasn’t allowed to be at the club at all, because his father “did not want me in that environment,” he recalled with a laugh of the era’s swirling drug culture in the 2019 documentary “The Rainbow.” But within a year, he was filling in as manager when his dad wanted a night off.

“He had one of the toughest fathers, and he was able to stay honest and loyal to that upbringing and yet be able to insert more kindness and sensitivity to it,” said Adler, adding that Maglieri Jr. will almost certainly continue the family businesses. “Mikey will 1699380238 be the one that steps into that situation. Though none of them were in the arts as musicians, the whole family were very respectful of musicians.”

At the Rainbow, Maglieri liked to conduct business in the daytime at a small table by the patio bar, taking calls there, keeping his face present and recognizable to regulars, just as his father had done for years. “Mikael never forgot a face,” said Sabrina Ment, an executive at Disney and a longtime friend. “Honestly, it didn’t matter whether you were famous or not — if he knew you, he would just get up and greet you the same way,”

The Rainbow’s menu includes Italian recipes from Maglieri’s mother, Scarlett, and the walls are covered with memorabilia from generations of famous patrons from music and Hollywood. Adler opened the Roxy Theatre next door a year later, in a partnership that included Valentine.

The scene that emerged from those three venues captured the imagination of music fans around the world, who learned of wild parties and epic performances in the pages of Rolling Stone, Creem and People magazines.

Before artist manager Wendy Dio met her husband, the late metal singer Ronnie James Dio, she was a waitress at the Rainbow in the 1970s, as celebrated rock stars of the moment came to eat, drink and hang out. “When I worked there, [Led] Zeppelin were in there. The Who, Deep Purple, you name them — everybody was there,” Dio said. “Even now, when bands come into town, they always go to the Rainbow. It will never die.”

During his last couple of decades living in West Hollywood, Motorhead’s Lemmy Kilmister made the Rainbow a second home, stationing himself between tours at the end of the patio bar to play a favorite video game console, smoke cigarettes and drink Jack and Cokes. In an interview from “The Rainbow” documentary, Kilmister says: “I’ve seen a few things in this place you would not believe. … This should be a protected building. This should be a revered monument. The history of rock ’n’ roll is in here.”

Maglieri was exceptionally close to some of his famous clientele. In 2015, he was visiting an ailing Kilmister at his nearby condo and witnessed the musician’s abrupt passing. The next year, Maglieri commissioned a crowd-funded bronze statue of Kilmister to stand on the Rainbow patio.

In the Rainbow’s upstairs bar, a plaque pays tribute to “The Lair of the Hollywood Vampires,” a mid-’70s group of rock-star hell-raisers that included Alice Cooper and the Who’s Keith Moon. “People started calling us the Hollywood Vampires because we’d never see daylight,” Cooper recalled to NME in 2015.

As his father slowed down, Mikael stepped into the leadership role. He’d already grown up at both venues, crossing paths with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin in the early days, Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue decades after. In “The Rainbow,” he recalled initially believing he was responsible for Joplin’s death, after the singer spent the previous evening drinking heavily at the Whisky and was sent home with a complimentary case of Southern Comfort. It was soon determined she’d died of a heroin overdose, not alcohol poisoning.

As a member of the nonprofit Sunset Strip Business Assn., Maglieri helped established the Sunset Strip Music Festival in 2007, and in subsequent years the street between Doheny Drive and San Vicente Boulevard was closed to make room for outdoor stages celebrating the Strip’s essential role in rock ‘n’ roll history. There were headline performances by local heroes Slash, Joan Jett, Ozzy Osbourne, Motley Crue and Jane’s Addiction before the festival folded after seven unprofitable years.

While Maglieri remained the hands-on host at the Rainbow, by the early 2000s much of the day-to-day business of the Whisky was passed on to his son, Mikey. “It’s a family business and Mikael wanted to keep it in the family. I’m sure Mikey wants to do the same,” said Rainbow office manager Nancy Lupica, who started as a waitress in the ‘80s.

The Whisky marks its 60th anniversary next year.

On Sunday night, following the news of Maglieri’s death, an impromptu memorial unfolded at the Rainbow. One of the bartenders set up Maglieri’s table with a bouquet of flowers and a small “reserved” sign, then poured his usual: a vodka soda with lime.

“It’s not just a restaurant, it’s not just a bar,” said Ment, who attended the emotional gathering of friends and restaurant workers. “A bunch of people came by, because where else are you going to go?”

Along with son Mikey, Maglieri is survived by daughters Cheryl and Gina, and three grandchildren.

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