On April 4, 1974, Van Halen took a major stride forward in their early career evolution, playing their first gig on the Sunset Strip at a club called Gazzarri's.

The band already had plenty of gigs under its belt, having cut their teeth playing backyard parties, school events and any other show they could find. Still, Gazzari’s represented a significant step up in weight class, and no one in the band was more enticed by the glittering lights of Hollywood than David Lee Roth.

“I started heading out to Hollywood to go to dance clubs, the most important being Gazzarri’s on the Strip,” the frontman recalled in his autobiography Crazy From the Heat. “I would say, ‘Man, this is even better than backyard parties. I wanna get in on this. This is great! This is where all the heat’s comin’ from, this is where all the light’s coming from.’ And (club owner) Bill Gazzarri had all these dancing girls, the Gazzarri dancers, go-go girls. I determined that hey, this was the next step, my entree to Hollywood.”

READ MORE: All 75 David Lee Roth-Era Van Halen Songs Ranked

By Roth’s count, 19 other clubs had turned Van Halen down. Initially, Gazzarri’s looked like it would be more of the same.

“The first time we auditioned at Gazzarri’s, they said, ‘Man, you guys look like you’re out of Hicksville!’ Because I was wearing a t-shirt and jeans,” drummer Alex Van Halen noted (reprinted via the Van Halen News Desk). “I was like, ‘So what?! You don’t like it? F you.’ On top of that, they told us to turn down five times, and then they kicked us out! They had a cattle call for musicians. Five bands would be lined up, and you’d have five minutes to set up your equipment and then start playin’, pal!”

Van Halen's Gazzarri's Debut Had 'Four People in the Audience'

Gazzarri's rejected Van Halen three times before finally booking them. As was typical at the time, the band’s April 4 set was made up entirely of covers. The lineup featured Roth, Alex, guitarist Eddie Van Halen and bassist Mark Stone. According to Alex, the crowd was a far cry from the sold-out stadiums his band would later play.

“The first time we ever played there, there were only four people in the audience,” the drummer confessed. “And those four people were our friends. And we paid to get them in! Gazzarri wouldn’t even let us park in the parking lot.”

READ MORE: 12 Landmark Eddie Van Halen Shows

Despite this inauspicious start, Van Halen became a steady presence at Gazzarri’s. They played more than 50 shows at the club in 1974, serving as the official house band. More shows followed in ‘75 and ‘76, but it soon became evident that the group had outgrown the club’s confines.

Van Halen would go on to play almost every notable venue on the Sunset Strip before eventually taking their powerful brand of rock to the rest of the world. Still, Gazzarri’s – which closed in 1993 – will always hold a special place in their history, serving as the launch pad for one of the greatest bands of all time.

Sunset Strip Bands

More From Ultimate Classic Rock