The space dates back to 1913. It was once a strip club and--at some point--a Latino pool hall.
The massive bar, all Douglas fir, rising mirrors and a bottle for every day of the year, likewise comes from an earlier era--Chicago in 1905.
It's a monument to two-fisted drinking, and a time when that was the only entertainment to be had.
The owner is tall and lean, with a toothpick in his mouth and bags under his eyes. This is not his first bar. Neither, it could be argued, is this his first city.
OWNER RIO HACKFORD RUNS THREE OTHER BARS
In fact, Rio Hackford is having an affair with three different towns. The other two are New Orleans and San Francisco. This place, Monty, on West Seventh Street at the edge of the Westlake district, is his love letter to L.A., as well as the return of a prodigal son, who grew up “”looking at naked lady paintings” in assorted Los Angeles dive bars while his father filmed a documentary on Charles Bukowski.
Hackford, 44, the son of director and producer Taylor Hackford, and a film and TV actor, left Los Angeles for New Orleans 14 years ago. He opened two thriving bars, rebuilding one that had been flooded and looted in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in September 2005. He proudly counts himself as a local.
He says he felt he knew more than he wanted to about his birthplace, Los Angeles--a place where it seemed time stood still. Which was why he left.
Time and re-discovery have both changed his outlook.
Hackford sits on a raised stool at the Monty bar and gestures around him. “Look at this building and its bones,” he says. “It’s beautiful.”
“There’s a violin shop next door–it used to be a movie theater. All of this stuff, all of those buildings–it ain’t a strip mall. It’s the real Los Angeles.
“That’s the culture of the city that L.A. has just denied, forever.”
Hackford made his name in the hostelry business as the developer, owner and midwife of One-Eyed Jacks, a rock music bar, and Pal’s Lounge, both in New Orleans, as well as Homestead, a bar in San Francisco’s Mission District.
MONTY WANTS TO BE A NEIGHBORHOOD BAR AND A DESTINATION
Although a 150-capacity performing space is under construction at the rear of the premises, Hackford wants Monty to be both a neighborhood bar and destination for those heading to nearby venues like LA Live or the Staples Center.
The little enclave just below Good Samaritan hospital is neither Echo Park nor downtown. It's waiting to claim its own identity in a neighborhood where hookers still stand on the corner and the LAPD keeps a watchful eye out.
Monty’s presence on Seventh Street is announced by a single sign above the steel-shuttered entrance. But as with any evolving neighborhood, the closer you look, the more you see.
The rolling shutter hides a pair of saloon doors, which in turn reveal a vast, revelatory space, outfitted in late Western bordello, a style Hackford first put to use in New Orleans.
The bar, 60 feet wide, if it’s an inch, was found near San Francisco, through an ad on Craigslist. A mounted buffalo head and framed paintings of reclining nudes decorate the wall opposite the bar, under a high, vaulted ceiling. The second-floor VIP room sits under a lower, curved ceiling; gold and red flock wallpaper predominate.
The lease is long and the rent is cheap. The place, so far, is a money pit, Hackford says, but his investors are also his friends, and the signs for the future are promising.
SIGNS OF PROMISING CHANGE IN THE AREA
Late one recent Tuesday night, the stretch of Seventh that runs past Monty was closed for roadworks. The next morning, two new bicycle lanes were stenciled into the tarmac. The bar had become hipster-adjacent.
Glendale Boulevard is a short, bumpy drive away up Lucas Avenue. Figueroa Street is a 15-minute walk to the east.
Taylor Hackford’s initial misgivings have evaporated. He had a nice vodka on the rocks, his son said, and loved it. “My stepmother as well.”
Or, as the world knows her, Dame Helen Mirren.
Monty is located at 1222 W. Seventh St. 90017 Hours are 8 p.m. - 2 a.m. 7 days a week.