Former Location –
A famous punk rock hang-out owned and operated by Esther Wong, affectionately know as the “Godmother of Punk“.
A who’s who of rock and punk-rock musicians played here including The Knack, The Police, The Motels, The Go-Go’s, Naughty Sweeties, Oingo Boingo, Guns N’ Roses, X, Black Flag, Fear, Red Hot Chili Peppers and The Ramones.
The club closed for good in early 1987 and Esther Wong died from emphysema and lung cancer on August 14, 2005 at the age of 88.
Notable Concerts Held at Madame Wong’s West
April 25-26, 1980 – Oingo Boingo
September 20, 1980 – Oingo Boingo
May 2, 1981 – The BusBoys
September 3, 1982 – R.E.M
September 15, 1983 – Fishbone
May 24, 1985 – The Unforgiven
June 28, 1987 – No Doubt
Madame Wong’s West
2900 Wilshire Blvd
West Los Angeles CA 90404
Anbody remember these bands who frequently played?
Does anyone remember great bands from that era such as The Nu-Kats (Freddy Moore & company), Urban Action, Daniel Webster? I used to LOVE going to see those guys back in the day. Especially The Nu-Kats (formerly The Kats). Freddy, Bobbizio, Denny & Al were so damned entertaining!
I was the guitarist for Daniel Webster – the early ’80 were a magical creative time in LA. We had so much fun playing alongside The Motels, Great Buildings, Rubber City Rebels, Oingo Boingo, Bus Boys, Naughty Sweeties to name a few. My mind & soul is still a 24 yr old – life is way too short but at least the memories are there 😉
I played in a band Axcidents, played the same night The Motels played in the West. Those were great times.
Thanks for the memories.
Saw The Police and Pearl Harbour & The Explosions, at the Chinatown club, in 1980.
It was great our band FLANKDRIVE played there many times east and west I remember red hot chili peppers upstairs and I borrowed a drum key from them but it was fun the space dogs does anyone remember them but anyways when I want to go on the radio and Warner Bros. records and then it went through our heads and we never play it again
Flew down from Alaska to see Translator and got the bonus of seeing Cock Robin. Ended up in a tiny room upstairs not more than fifteen feet away from the “stage” (floor level) at a little table drinking peppermint schnapps and Becks. While Translator were ultra hip as the main act, I had never heard of Cock Robin, the opening act. They looked like techie nerds setting up some wierd instruments for someone else. They had no bass player and a strange little keyboard out front, a simple single guitar rig, and a very strange looking tubular frame from which they hung drums. I was not expecting much. And so was completely blown away when what I thought were the geeky looking roadies turned out to be the members of Cock Robin. Kingsberry played bass keys with one hand while belting out the lead vocals and playing synth keys with the other hand. Clive Wright’s guitar… I could not believe he was making those sounds with just that instrument. Lou Mollino’s percussion expertly executed while Anna LaCazio added more synth keys and joined Kingsberry on vocals; I thought, holy crap these guys are good, so why haven’t I, a radio DJ at the time, heard of them? Needless ot say, bought and played their stuff on the air from that point for the next many years. Will never forget my night at “Madame Wong’s West”.
Cock Robin went on to be big in France where Peter still lives.
This was a fantastic era to live in at the time, Los Angeles and Madame Wong’s West was a hot bed for the newest up and coming artists at that time period. You have so many well known, ground-breaking, trendy bands, that are still popular in todays culture, who started out playing Madame Wong’s West. If you wanted a venue of what was next to come in the music world, you would want to be spending your time here.
I saw a band called RedCity for the first time there (today known as LLand). Their lead singer is a fire’y redhead with an unforgettable voice and stage presence. The band, also unforgettable! The lead guitarist is one of the best I’ve ever heard.
Madame Wong’s West was THE place to be back in the day. It is legendary.
Esther Wong, the unlikely “godmother of punk” who showcased such groups as Oingo Boingo at her Madame Wong’s clubs in Chinatown and Santa Monica in the late 1970s and ’80s, has died. She was 88.
At first slow to accept punk rock, new wave and other 1970s music, the colorful and sometimes controversial Wong came to be one its most ardent patrons in Los Angeles.
Her Madame Wong’s restaurant on Sun Mun Way in Chinatown, which she opened in 1970 with her now-deceased first husband, George Wong, originally featured Polynesian bands. But when that music attracted smaller and smaller crowds, she was persuaded in 1978 to book rock musicians for one month.
The switch immediately increased her nightly crowd from as few as a dozen to about 350, and she declared the restaurant a stage for rock, punk and new wave bands.
“Before, I didn’t think I’d ever like rock music,” she told The Times in 1979. “Now I can turn it on, and it doesn’t bother me.”
At Madame Wong’s, which closed in 1985, and Madame Wong’s West in Santa Monica, which operated from 1978 to 1991, she proved a staunch supporter of new and local groups. Besides Oingo Boingo, her stages presented the Police, X, the Motels, 20/20, RedCity, the Knack, the Know, the Textones, the Go-Gos, the Plimsouls, the Kats, the Nu Kats, the Bus Boys, Plane English, the Naughty Sweeties, and others.
She opened the Santa Monica club, she once told The Times, because there were too many worthy groups seeking bookings for her Chinatown club alone to accommodate. And she closed each club as new wave and then other forms of rock lost popularity.
Wong chose the groups by listening to audition tapes – although she had to give up playing them in her car.
“I got a very bad temper,” she told The Times in 1980. “When there’s a bad tape, I throw it outside the window. One day I almost hit the Highway Patrol car that was right next to me.”
A no-nonsense businesswoman, Wong was disparaged by some bands for her temper. She once stopped a show until two members of the Ramones cleaned up graffiti they had written on the bathroom walls.
She limited clientele to those over 21, eliminating the huge younger rock audience, to the distress of several bands. She all but banned female singers, calling them “no good, always trouble.” And she regularly patrolled her establishment during performances, sniffing for marijuana smoke.
Wong could be jealous and vindictive – refusing to book or rebook any group that played at a rival Chinatown venue, the Hong Kong Cafe.
But she was also beloved by many of the bands as a favorite patron or godmother, not only for giving them a venue but for her payment policy. Each group split the entire admission fee.
“I like it because you get paid by your popularity,” Gary Valentine of the Know told The Times in 1979. “That’s the place we’ve made the most money in L.A.”
Jeff Green, co-manager of the Naughty Sweeties, The Kats and Nu Kats, also praised Wong in the heyday of her clubs, telling The Times in 1980: “Quirky she is, but she offers the best opportunity in this city to groups who can attract paying fans. Sure, she’s difficult at times, but a lot less difficult than other local club owners.”
Born and educated in Shanghai, Wong grew up traveling the world with her importer father. She moved to Los Angeles in 1949 to escape the Communist regime and worked for two decades as a clerk and trainer of clerks for a shipping company before opening her restaurant.
SOME WONG TIDBITS:
“Chinatown was the hip place to hang out in 1977 when punk music made its way to Los Angeles. Entrepreneur, Paul Greenstein talked Madame Wong (of ‘Madame Wong’s West’) into opening its doors to live music and the nearby ‘Hong Kong’ restaurant did the same thing. All types of bands came to Chinatown to check out the New Wave acts like: the Police, the Knack, the B-52s, the Busboys, the Kats, the Motels and others. Business was so good that Esther Wong opened a second Madame Wong’s in Santa Monica.” –Arrow97.
I did the music in between bands in the early ’80s there. She fired the regular guy because she didn’t want to pay him the $30 a night so I made a deal with her. If she would let me into the place for free, (the cover was $10 in the early ’80s!), I would provide cassettes of all the ’80s type music at the time. It cost me more buying the records than it would have cost me to get into the place, haha. But I enjoyed it and I used to bring friends with me also and they would let us all in. I remember Esther sitting in that big wicker chair like on The Addams Family, halfway up the stairs to the second floor. I was actually dating the sister of the keyboard player of their house band, The View. So I would be there every Tuesday and Saturday nights doing my thing. It was sad when the place burned down.
Madame Wongs’ Legacy
George & Easter Wong were two of my favorite people ! They were both extraordinary people & I miss both of them, very much. Individually, each of them displayed incredible warmth & compassion. They both contributed an incredible energy to my life, that I still feel to this very day !!!!!
The main flaw in the story above is the fact that my band, “The Mixed Nuts” , had innumerable female vocalists & Easter was very nice to all of them.
Whatever happened to Leroy And The Lifters?
Don’t know what happened to Leroy or his Lifters but, what ever happened to The Fizzies. They used to play upstairs as the house band.
I saw the Surf Punks there sooooo many years ago!!! Cheers!!! Tyrone Powerchord.
We open for the Chili Peppers a few times. Anyone on this thread remember Monopoly ?
Man, I played (upstairs) there in ’85, which didn’t have half the vibe downstairs did, but a pretty decent club in the day. I very much remember Esther’s ground rules being pretty rigid, but we were all business, unlike a lot of the acts who had proceeded us.
Unfortunately, our lead singer’s wife was killed by a drunk driver (leaving him kids to raise), our drummer joined WASP, and after enough years of deal-hunting, fell back on session work and songwriting. Cool memories, though.
Madame Wong’s(Chinatown) L.A. also featured Blues: Saw “Charlie Chan Blues Band” there Charlie Chan(Gary Wong),vocals, Harmonica;Mitch Oda,bass; Mongo, Keyboard; Dave Pepin,Guitar;J.J.Jimmy James,drums. They had real nice sound “raw and very earthy”. 1984
Seen good photos… wish I had the music!
I photographed for the Charlie Chan Blues Band from about 1989-1990. I hung out with Mitch Oda but lost track of him. Just heard from Mitch last November (2021) but he was quite ill. I still have negs & proof sheets.
I went to Madam Won’s in the early 80’s I saw a band, their name, The Splinters. I have not seen or heard of them since.
I remember The Splitters but not The Splinters. The lead singer posed in Playboy I think. She used to make her entrance being carried in on something like from the old Egyptian days. They were a very good band.
I played there a bunch of times. I was the bass player in a band called Vizual Hytes. Weird name for a band, now that I think about. I made some great friends though. Anybody remember Unstoppable? I was right with those guys. Yeah, that’s my era- 1985-88. Last gig I played there was in June of 1988 and then the band went belly up. Sad. I thought we had a cool sound, sort of edgy influenced Stealy Dan thing going on-rock, Jazz, soul joint. But Grunge was becoming the rage slowly right near the end of my time, so there was no room for a sound like ours. Those are fine memories for sure. I can’t believe how long ago it was. Now I’m 59-9-9-9-9…echos like the ghost of Jacob Marley. Dang!!!!
My buddy and I Were at Madam Wong’s Chinatown around 1982 to see the Fibonaccis. They were getting some airtime on local radio KROQ, which played mostly new wave music, some of it local talent.
Got there early, before doors opened. We were around the door waiting for it to be opened when some other guys came up to look through the window. We asked if they were there to see the Fibonaccis, since there were a couple of other bands scheduled, and they replied that they ARE the Fibonaccis. It was 3 musicians I believe, plus an Asian American female singer, Magie.
A splendid time was had by all.
I used to play there with The Story So Far in 87 and 88. My favorite memories of all time. I used to bring in a Hammond B3 and Leslie and the sound guy told me I was crazy. After our set he came up and apologized and told me it sounded really good. Later that night I was loading the Hammond into the trailer out in the parking lot and some drunk came walking across the parking lot singing one of our original songs at the top of his lungs. 2 hours later. Good sonic memory.
Two bands I played with, “The Primal Scream” (from Salt Lake City – not the famous English band) and “The Reptilian Space Dogs” AKA “The Space Dogs”, played Wong’s West several times in 1985. The Space Dogs’ last show ever was at Wong’s West. Lots of great memories. One band I still remember as being amazing but now long vanished was “Filet of Soul”. I would love to reconnect with any of the member of that band.
I played there many times with Roach and the White Boys. Esther Wong was always willing to give new bands a chance. I was really sad to hear the China town club burned. Esther told me that it had taken three generations to carve out of wood.It was spectacular with dragons and lions . In my opinion “Madame Wong” has never gotten the credit she deserves for helping to launch some of the greatest bands of the era.
I remember being stationed at George Air Force base during the early 80’s working a 9-5 Monday through Friday and then on the weekends heading to LA and hanging out at Madame Wong’s all weekend. Saw a lot of great bands there that were just starting out. Nothing else compares to that experience to this day. The times I spent there were some of my fondest memories.
Does anyone remember “Brian Wild and Live Wire” ? There is a scene in the movie “Longshot” (1981) of the band performing at Madam Wong’s
i played Wongs West with a few different bands, lucky to always be in the “upstairs” caliber of bands there…you really could feel the vibe in that room. i loved walking around the empty club after sound check and taking it in. One of those bands was Duncan Faure from the Rollers and much earlier with Red Ranch both bands had a good following and Ester loved us…she was so cool! Vic Baron