Date of birth: 1902.

Brief history: it began its chequered life as the beacon of Stoll Moss's chain of Empire variety theatres. The BBC turned it into a studio for live audiences in the 1950s; without it, TV history might lack Crackerjack, That's Life and Wogan ... but it gained some cred with the Old Grey Whistle Test. The Beeb departed in 1991, and it lay unlisted for two years until the McKenzie group bought it, along with the Brixton Academy, for pounds 5.4m. Director Ian Howard claimed that the live-music industry was not living up to its potential, with some venues no more than "black boxes with a stage", and aimed to create a more thrilling, aesthetically pleasing environment. The 2,000- capacity Empire is now one of London's most popular mid-size venues, and has been the British Music Industry's Best UK Venue for the past three years.

The building: Frank Matcham was responsible for its rambling design, with the roof peaked on one side and a monastic-style tower.

Uses: an eclectic mix of music and other art forms including gigs by performers from Whitesnake to Beth Orton, comedy from Jo Brand, and anecdotal evenings with Howard Marks. On New Year's Eve, it shakes off its indie-inclinations to host one of the biggest dance parties in the country.

Strange but true: the BBC returned for a live, late-night Comic Relief broadcast in 1997, with MC Lenny Henry arriving in an open-top bus from Television Centre. The Spice Girls were among those appearing for charidee.

Best location: downstairs to jump about, upstairs to sit, look and listen. Make your mind up before buying a ticket - the bouncers won't negotiate.

Where to meet: the Fringe & Firkin - the closest of Shepherd's Bush Green's chain pubs - or there are bars on each level of the venue.

Cost of a glass of wine: pounds 2, if you really want to be seen with wine at a gig.

Upcoming gigs: Finley Quaye is in residence from Sat to 24 Mar (tickets pounds 11), followed by Morcheeba (27 Mar) and the Bluetones (28 Mar). See Rock, right. All bookings on 0181 740 7474.

Getting there: either of the Shepherd's Bush tubes.

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