Remembering Miss Gazzarri’s dance contest by G-SPOT!
The late Bill Gazzarri & Lita Alpenia Miss Gazzarri’s 1989 by Gerry "G-SPOT" Gittelson
Looking back on the prime era of the Sunset Strip, there was nothing better than Sunday nights at Gazzarris for the weekly Miss Gazzarri dance contest.
It was a great concept – four or five top headliners playing 20-minute sets, and in-between a bunch of beautiful girls would strut their stuff to “Welcome to the Jungle” or “Smooth Up in Ya” – plus a group of VIPs would judge the winner for a $300 prize.
The weekly winners would eventually compete to be Miss Gazzarri for a whole year, and their picture would be painted on the side of the club – 20 feet high.
Vince Neil, Nikki Sixx, Tommy Lee, Axl Rose, C.C. DeVille, Sam Kinison, Ron Jeremy. Those were some of the judges who showed up most frequently.
Rich Bartle, an ever-charismatic figure whom everyone liked, used to promote the shows – he always invited me to be a judge back in the day – and we’ve remained great friends through the years.
No surprise, he has fond memories times 10.
“I absolutely loved it. It was the best job on the planet,” Bartle said. “It was a wonderful time to be me. The Miss Gazzarri contest was absolute decadence and mayhem ensuing.”
Axl Rose & Rich Bartle
Back in the day, I was good friends with two of the top dancers, Lita Alpenia and Heather Torrance, and they were both wild and crazy as you can well imagine. Alpenia earned Miss Gazzarri honors for 1989, and Torrance eventually drifted into the porn industry and has not been heard from in a long time.
As for Lita, who “dated” many of the biggest rock stars of the day, she eventually worked as a professional stripper in Hawaii and Las Vegas – she probably made a million dollars or more through the years – and these days works as a bar manager and animal-rights activist.
She lives in Northern California, but we’ve kept in touch through the years and even met for lunch at the Rainbow last year – and yes, Lita Alpenia still looks great.
Looking back, Alpenia says she never once felt like she was being exploited.
"All the memories are awesome, of course. I can remember people chanting my name — what girl could ask for more than that?" Alpenia said. "I felt totally at home at Gazzarri’s."
Alpenia has a clear memory of the night she was crowned Miss Gazzarri 1989.
"I honestly though this other girl was going to win, but then she spilled beer all over herself and her fake tan wasked off," Alpenia said. "So I was shocked when I won."
The names kind of blend together, but some of the other top dancers I remember were Janet Planet – god, the things she could do with a chair – and Janie and a few others.
Bill Gazzarri died in the spring of 1991, and the Miss Gazzarri dance contest went with him.
“I learned everything about the business of rock and roll from Bill Gazzarri,” Bartle said. “The only time we would kind of go back and forth was when a Sunday would fall on a holiday, and he would want to try to double or triple the rent for the night.”
Oh, the memories. For Bartle, they came streaming back as he looked through some old photos.
“Bill liked to have celebrities around, and I remember he appointed Sam Kinison as the official costume inspector,” Bartle said.
“Basically, he would backstage with all the girls and make sure there was no nipples showing because that was the rule. He really liked that job a lot. One time, he pulled out a big bag of pot and had a joint-rolling contest to get the competitive juices going. All the girls had to roll a joint for him.”
Bartle had a rule that bands could only account for one vote no matter how many members in the band.
"That was because one or two bands could really sway the voting for one of their girlfriends," Bartle said.
Bartle evolved and eventually formed B.I.G. Productions one of the top staging companies in Southern California. He has run stages at Ozzfest, the Monster Energy tour and the Sunset Strip Music Festival. He kept his connections and has remained tight with members of Ratt, Warrant, Guns N’ Roses and others.
“Dizzy Reed, all the Ratt guys, all the Warrant guys, they’re all good buddies,” Bartle said.
The years fade, and so do some of the memories, but not of the Gazzarri’s dance contest. I still think about those crazy Sundays nights every time I drive down Sunset Boulevard.
-By Gerry Gittelson