Marco Cordova: My uncle and dad bought 1st Billiard’s in 1969, opened up the bar in 1970, and picked up another location downtown called 5 Star. He always took me under his wing so I would barback & help out when I could. I was 12 or 13 years old when I started dropping by.


My dad got ill in 91/92’ and I was asked to take over. I didn’t plan on it but it was something that I had to take in. The bar scene around 5 Star was very chaotic. I would go to Al’s bar to unwind when I found out bands would play there too (Located in the Arts District, at the American hotel, down in the basement).

My first time there, I was in awe of how grungy and cool it was with the bands playing and I thought about having the same at 5 Star one day. I was approached by a few promoters around ’98 who were interested in possibly doing something – that’s when I brought in a stage and sound and let it evolve after that. Once people found out I was doing shows it just snowballed.

Blazing Eye. @jerryskid1

We removed 2 pool tables to create space and Norwood Fisher, a founding member of Fishbone, let me borrow some gear when I first got started. He noticed I had a loft upstairs and he suggested it would be a great idea to keep a green room up there for bands. I followed through and we had a DJ/green room upstairs and stage downstairs.

The marketing was a completely different scene. I knew a lot of bike messengers down there, one of my closest friends started the first bike messenger service. A lot of musicians worked as couriers during the day.

Barroom Blitz. @brokencamerasforever

5 Star was two doors down from The Smell but years prior to the Smell, there was a bodega there. The past owners would sell heroin & crack cocaine out of there and in between us both, there was a blood bank. So in the early 80s, people would drop by to sell their blood and go next door to 5 Star to spend blood money on drinks and pool. Or they would pick up their dope from the other side. I remember being a kid walking over for chewing gum or candy thinking it was kinda weird seeing nothing on the shelves. 

I liked what Jim was doing at The Smell, the difference was that it was all ages and they didn’t sell any kind of alcohol. But we did collaborate on a comedy festival called Riot LA. For 2 or 3 years, it was the Five Star, The Smell, and the Independent Theatre in collaboration, put together/created by Abbey Londersaid.

Lysol. @glasscathedral666

5 Star and 1st Billiard’s were open at the same time, and 1st Billiards was a pool/sports bar until 2018. We started bringing in live music around that time. 5 Star would only hold a maximum of 100-150 people, and knowing 1st Billiard’s was much bigger, we said why don’t we bring a stage in?

It was an easy transition because I met some really good promoters having the 5 Star. Those are the only ones I work with here. It was comfortable because they’d shown me what they’re capable of. 


There was not much to balance between having a sports bar and music venue in one because the people who were coming to play pool didn’t have a problem hearing music. Matter of fact, a lot of them liked that it was a different crowd coming in. It was livelier.

Enzyme at Lie Detector. @jerryskid1

With music, you gotta make sure your calendar’s up to date. Last thing you want to do is double book. I make sure the promoters and the venue are all on the same page. I only work with a handful of promoters: Nothing Less Bookings, SOS Bookings, Concrete Jungle, Lie Detector. I have a couple sound engineers I work with but my mainstay Charlie has been with me for 10 years now. 

If you want to run a venue, location is really important. Gotta have the right people involved. There’s a lot of people out there who aren’t in it for the music – they’re in it for money. When you’re doing things for money, things can get very difficult.

Naked Aggression. @watershipdown66

The Subhumans were here at 1st not too long ago. We also hold a pre – C.Y. Fest. C.Y. Fest was created by Nacho, he holds it every year at the Belasco and brings bands out from all over the world. There’s a lot of Ska bands I like here too. Another promoter Austin (Lie Detector), he plays in multiple bands – Blazing Eye is one of them, I really enjoy seeing them play too.

Having the right sound is also really important. A long time ago I was told that live music in a club or a bar needs to be at the right level; if it’s too high it generates stress. But above all, what makes things run the smoothest is having the right bands. Certain bands give showgoers an idea of what to expect. 

Pre-CY Fest. @ocho8jos

Before coming into the family venues, I used to host gigs DIY. I would find a spot like a warehouse and bring everything – soundgear, a bar, a stage, staff – and rent out spots for the day. That is something entirely different than hosting events in-house with everything up and running already.

At the 5 star, we had a secret backroom which was basically an empty warehouse. It used to be a crossfit, that’s where the blood bank was at. Leading through the back hallway door, on certain nights, I would rent it out from the landlord and run art shows & concerts back there. I had a separate stage and sound equipment. It was a lot of work, for probably once every 3 months. 


What you get at 1st Billiards is a location with history that’s upheld by the local community. First-timers usually don’t expect it to be so large inside. It’s a space with good vibes for everybody to enjoy themselves. 

By Valerie Gonzales.

Edited & curated by Hector Zaldivar.

 1906 1st St, Los Angeles, CA 90033

By Hector Zaldivar

Professional magician. @hexzald