Aviator National Dreamland
The live music experience has a lot of usual descriptors, especially at small clubs, but “comfortable” rarely makes the list. So, the first steps inside of Aviator National Dreamland may be confusing to the concert veteran: new-looking couches along the walls, a black onyx bar along the back wall, murals, and art on seemingly every surface.
The task in front of Dreamland is to bring a live music audience back to Malibu on a regular basis, but the venue, as developed by the surfer clothing brand and its founder Paige Mycoskie, seems up to it, offering an experience unlike most in Los Angeles, while also possessing its own interesting history.
Aviator Nation Dreamland may be relatively new, but its space along the Pacific Coast Highway (a short walk from Malibu Beach Inn) dates to the 1920s, beginning as the Anchor Inn. The Malibu Inn, a popular restaurant near the Malibu Movie Colony, moved into the space in the 1950s, but the modern history really starts with its years as the Crazy Horse Saloon. Said to be owned in part by Neil Young, the venue hosted artists like The Doors, Fleetwood Mac, and The Beach Boys (naturally), along with its co-proprietor. But ownership changes and constant tweaking and rebooting eventually made it difficult for the space to hang onto a loyal customer base, and increasing traffic along the PCH made Malibu feel like a further drive for those interested in attending shows in the town (another area music venue, Trancas, also eventually shut down).
That all changed in 2022, when Mycoskie took over the space, which shares a wall with one of her clothing line’s stores. On a trip to Malibu while she was in college, Mycoskie walked across the PCH from Surfrider Beach and ended up in the Saloon on a day where Dicky Betts of the Allman Brothers was gracing the stage.
“I fell in love with the whole California lifestyle on that trip. It’s a historical landmark,” Mycoskie told The Hollywood Reporter in 2022. “I feel like I’m getting to live my passion through this place.”
Previous redesigns had fetishized the past – a 2011 reboot of the Inn featured vintage Playboy covers on the ceiling and wood paneling on some of the walls, according to Eater — and there’s still hints of that here, with music gig posters from bygone eras.
However, there’s a difference between an imitation and, for lack of a better term, a “vibe.” Couches for seating feel like the 1970s, as do the tinted windows that face out onto the PCH (blue, sepia, and red, from left to right). The risers for the stages and the couches even create a mini-conversation pit in the middle of the room, complete with an area rug. But each of these elements feel past-inspired, rather than past-aping. And modern elements, like the cocktail and food menus (with dishes like a Wagyu smashburger and a Korean barbecue pulled pork sandwich) and a massive sound system installed by the team behind major concert venues like The Parish in Austin, mean that Dreamland is much more than retro kitsch.
One tradition has already made its way back to the ex-Inn. During its days as the Crazy Horse Saloon, it was known for hosting shows put on by local musicians – and in Malibu, “local musicians” are often international stars. Dreamland, meanwhile, kicked off September with a performance by Chad Smith, the drummer for Red Hot Chili Peppers and a Malibu resident. If that becomes a trend, if local superstars decide to drop in at Dreamland like they did in the Crazy Horse days, expect long lines and tough-to-get tickets.