Rainbow coalition

Hair-metal royalty, working-class meatheads, and six-year-olds still mingle at LA’s Rainbow Bar & Grille
By EUGENIA WILLIAMSON  |  August 24, 2011

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LEGENDARY This unassuming pizza parlor is where the author, age six, partied with Whitesnake — and where Guns N’ Roses shot the video for “November Rain.” 

It is 1985. I am six years old, sitting in a sticky red leather booth in a wood-paneled room on the Sunset Strip, eating pizza.

This is really no different than how I spend the rest of my time — back home in Chicago, I live next door to my grandparents' wood-paneled pizza parlor. I stop in every afternoon and head straight for the soda gun behind the bar, squeezing past my grandpa, the bartender, to make myself Shirley Temples heavy on the maraschino juice.

This place feels the same. The same thin-crust, square-cut pizzas on metal stands hover over the center of each table, covered in the same plasticized tablecloths, which attract the same thick, shiny-haired men with shiny pants and shiny rings, gossiping and buying rounds.

But something is terribly, horribly wrong. Dead ahead, three skinny boys sprawl in a center booth. They have long, messy hair, teased out high and wide at the crown like the feathers of splendid, unknowable birds. Their clothes are skinny, too — painted-on jeans and tight white T-shirts severed at the armpits. They are wearing eyeliner.

They are surrounded by girls, girls with just as much eyeliner and tighter clothes and bigger hair and giant boobs. They raise their glasses over and over in an eternal toast. The girls giggle and fall all over them, occasionally landing lipstick kisses on their planar cheeks.

Twisted Sister! I think, thrilling — my favorite video, hands down, is "We're Not Gonna Take It," especially the part where they throw that stupid blowhard dad out the window. But that can't be right. They're too lithe, too young, too pretty.

A shiny man comes over to our table and whispers to my father. "That's Whitesnake," my dad tells my mother and me. "It's his birthday."


QUAALUDES AND ESCARGOT

"It must have been a good one, as I have absolutely no recollection of the event, whatsoever . . ." Whitesnake's singer and only remaining original member David Coverdale writes me in a bolded, italicized e-mail. He couldn't talk on the phone, his publicist said, owing to the fact that he's saving his voice for a tour that will bring him to US casinos and South American amphitheaters.

"I do, however, treasure all my other memories of the Rainbow," he continues. "It was an Oasis of Pleasure, Fun & Frolics. . . . Lovely people who took wonderful care of all the gypsy musicians who staggered in from all corners of the globe & were made to feel welcome & at home . . . God Bless the Rainbow Bar & Grill . . ."

Then, as now, the Rainbow was the world's only Italian family-style restaurant where six-year-olds could consort with hair-metal royalty in various states of drunkenness, or God knows what else. I wasn't there by accident: my dad worked the door for a spell. After leaving Chicago in 1961, he fell in with the other expats from Chicago's Northwest Side that ran the Strip. One of them, a mob-tied ex-Chicago cop named Elmer Valentine, owned the Whisky A-Go-Go. He opened the Rainbow the year of Jim Morrison's death.

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