Going to the Cathay

As a teenager in the early 1980s, I used to take the bus into Hollywood and beyond from the suburbs. While I did get my share of rides from friends that drove, for the most part I relied on the RTD. My fortune was that there were many buses that would easily shuttle me just about everywhere I wanted to get to. I just needed to remember to get on the last bus out of Hollywood on the corner of Hollywood Blvd and Highland Ave by 12:30 AM and I was golden. There was only one time I missed that bus.

I would wander up and down Hollywood Boulevard alone or with friends, looking for other people to hang out with. Meeting new punks was easy. We all just kind of wandered around with whoever looked like us. When I first started going to Hollywood, we hung out at a place we called “the ramp”. It was just an elevated bend in the sidewalk across the street from the Garden Court Apartments aka Motel Hell. This was long before Hollywood was spruced up. People were always talking about what social groups were on what floor of Motel Hell. Punks, bikers, devil worshipers. Runaway kids were always living there. It sounded too terrifying for me to ever venture inside. We would march up and down the “Boulevard” as we called it. Squawking, laughing, yelling, and smoking. We would laugh at the mannequins with mohawks in the window of a clothing store. We would find blank stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and write SID VICIOUS or DARBY CRASH or draw big ANARCHY symbols with a permanent Sharpie. Sometimes if we had a little cash we would grab a bite at Tres Chilis. One night was spent just sitting on the steps of the shuttered Florentine Gardens asking passersby all about their cigarette preferences. Sometimes people would even sit and talk to us. Never causing trouble. Just teens being teens, but punk rock ones.   

It was so easy to get a hold of booze and drugs in Hollywood. Two Rainier Ale tall boys, Olde English 800, Mickey’s Big Mouth, a bottle of Apple Boone’s Farm, Sunnybrook whiskey, blue label Smirnoff. That’s what I drank back then because I didn’t like weed. Usually it was cross tops (small pills of trucker speed, easily had for a buck or two) and the cheapest alcohol I could buy at the liquor store on Hollywood Boulevard and La Brea Avenue. The people that ran the store seemed to know we were under age so if you handed them a $20 bill for an $8 bottle of rotgut they would pocket the change–if you complained they would yell at you to get the fuck out of the store.

Hanging out by the Cathay de Grande Club was where I liked to be the most. Even if I didn’t have money to get in, it was still fun hanging out with others there. At least the music could sort of be heard from the street. Bernie the door guy was always there hollering at us to “Line up against the wall! The cops are here!” to give the illusion that we were queuing up to get in and not just loitering. Two blocks from the Cathay there was a little alley tucked between a couple buildings where many people quietly drank. The cops caught on and started checking that spot. We were like rats scurrying around and the cops and neighbors hated us. I just wanted to be a part of the punk rock scene no matter what gross alley or vile basement club I was in. 

It wasn’t long before the religious people found us. They would hang out at the parking lot across the street and try to woo us with doughnuts and bagged lunches. It was great! Free food! We would take their Chick tracts and their brochures that said “Jesus loves punks” and “God is punk”. We found this hilarious and we mocked them behind their backs. I went to catholic school; if the penguins and priests couldn’t convert me the parking lot preachers wouldn’t either. 

Then there were the Scientologists. They were always lurking around Hollywood and Ivar. You knew them by the blue polo shirts they wore. One night I was walking around with a girl named Maryann, aka Skinner. Yes, she had a shaved head. She was on acid. I was on methadone. (My mother had succumbed to cancer but I made sure I swiped her pills before they got cleared out of the medicine cabinet.) A man on the street cornered us and  asked if we would like to take a personality test. “Sure why not.” So for about 30 minutes we sat in an awful room lit only by a horrid fluorescent tube while he droned on about this and that and wrote nonsense on a chalkboard. We told him we could consider learning more as he handed us a brochure. Then we got up and walked out. A few steps later Maryann and I both confessed we couldn’t remember a word he said because we were so high. We laughed and bopped off to the Cathay. 

There was only one time I missed my bus home from Hollywood. When I realized it was after 12:30 AM I desperately tried bumming a ride off of anyone. That didn’t work. As luck would have it, a man driving by saw me and offered me a ride. I said “no thanks.” But I unfortunately knew I wasn’t going to get any kind of ride home, and there was NO way I was calling my dad. He would have been extremely angry and I was fearful of his wrath. So I got into a car with a total stranger.  The driver made awkward small talk. I remember his name was John and that he was a youth counselor and that if I ever needed anything to call him. He handed me a card with his number on it. Much to my surprise he dropped me off safely at the end of my block. I was scared shitless and vowed to never let that happen again. 

The last night the Cathay was open in 1985 was bittersweet. The night was one of the most packed nights ever in that club. Bands were playing upstairs. I saw John Doe of X sitting in a booth and I took a pause looking at his most striking blue eyes. Decry was the only band I caught that night. I gave the infamous Snickers a hard time for wearing sunglasses in a dark stairway and he told me to fuck off. I was such a 19 year old little snot and I deserved that! I saw great bands there like Crucifix, bands that freaked me out like the Mentors, and bands like Social Distortion that seemed to play every other weekend. I am glad I was able to cut my teeth in such a beautiful/ugly place of what is now part of Hollywood’s punk rock legend. 

-Stephanie Silk, April 19, 2022

[From Brenda Perlin’s upcoming book of punk rock essays. Edited by Danny Gromfin. Photo by Gary Leonard, 1984]

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