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Big Changes at Viper Room Start Playing Out

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Over the last couple of weeks, the scene at the Viper Room has been changing -- bartenders were let go, one of the bookers is gone, and now the internal publicist and talent buyer announced a seemingly abrupt departure. Former publicist Annie Geyer writes in an e-mail:

As of Friday, June 6, 2008 Melissa Renee Hernandez and I are no longer affiliated with the Viper Room. We appreciate everyone’s support over the last 2+ years and are very proud of the things that we have accomplished for the Los Angeles music scene under the Viper Room roof. We leave the Viper Room with heavy hearts and we will continue our Girl School and Indie 103.1 Check One Two nights very soon at a new venue. Thanks to all the bands, agents, sponsors, and fans for making our nights great.

The Viper Room's fame sits on the shoulders of a troubled past. River Phoenix's death at the club branded it for many, but financial troubles, court documents, an alleged disappearance of a part-owner (during the Johnny Depp era) and new owners all became part of the background drama. Despite all that, the club was a scene, an amazing place to be made possible by a group of dedicated staff that made it home.

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Then, earlier this year, Pink Taco owner, Harry Morton, bought the club (he is the son of Peter Morton, co-founder of Hard Rock Cafe, and his grandfather is Arnold "Arnie" Morton, founder of Morton's Steakhouse Chain. Gossip mongers might better know him as Lindsay Lohan's ex boyfriend). Morton announced plans to expand the Viper Room brand internationally by opening 300-500 seat venues in cities from Tokyo to New York to London. As to the original Sunset Strip club, Morton said he only planned minor changes such as cosmetic touch ups to the building and sound/video improvements. "It's staying what it is. If anything, we're trying to restore it to its heyday," he told Billboard Magazine.

The tone from former employees feels cold, but one person seems upbeat about it. "He is passionate about rock n' roll and The Strip, I was actually impressed" Nic Adler of The Roxy said after an impromptu meeting with Morton at a coffeeshop. "I feel for the employees, I know them all. I hear the way things were handled was sort of cut and dry... But for good or bad, [Morton] wants to come in and create a new scene."

According to a The Viper Room spokesperson, expect to hear formal announcements of new employees and changes prior to the Sunset Strip Music Festival during the last week of June.

Previously:
- There's a Viper in That Pink Taco!
- LA Booker Interview: Melissa Renee Hernandez of The Viper Room
- Go Metro to Rock: Monday's at the Viper Room is Free for Transit Users
- Viper Room, 1994: The River Phoenix Wall