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NIGHT LIFE

The high dive

Monty aims for a gritty kind of polish off Westlake's beaten path.

November 11, 2011|August Brown
  • Bartender "Miyuki" pours a drink at Monty.
Bartender "Miyuki" pours a drink at Monty. (Barbara Davidson, Los Angeles…)

Years before the new bar Monty became a rare outpost of refined-divey night life in Westlake, it was a topless club. Lore has it that after several transgressions, it lost its license for toplessness. So the owner tried a work-around.

"He was like, 'We're going all bottomless,' " said Rio Hackford, Monty's new owner and operator. "That didn't last long either."

Audacious? Sure. But not much more so than the ambitions of the team of top-shelf night-life investors that backed Hackford, a group including downtown bar giant Cedd Moses and called, appropriately, Bottomless LLC. This is their first project.

Hackford is a fixture in New Orleans and San Francisco bar scenes, but Monty is his long-awaited first venture into L.A. The train-terminal-sized saloon a few hundred yards west of the 110 Freeway fills a hole in downtown for something hip, less refined and off the beaten path -- not as wan as the King Eddy but also not a destination for the "Jersey Shore" crowd.

It's a quiet acknowledgment that the Historic Core has become a bit of a madhouse on weekends and that the types who flocked to Moses' pioneering downtown bars in the early aughts might head to Westlake for a little sanity.

Hackford, an L.A. native, actor and Hollywood hand (his father is the film producer and director Taylor Hackford and his stepmother is Helen Mirren), grew up in the city's bar culture. His early gig bar-backing at Three Clubs led to his acquaintance with Moses; his father produced a documentary on L.A.'s most famous lead-wrister, Charles Bukowski; he played Skully in "Swingers," one of the great movies about L.A. boozing.

"I remember my dad taking me to Nickodell's in Hollywood as a kid and I'd just stare at all the naked-lady paintings," he said, laughing. "That was a huge influence for me."

Hackford's other bars, including One Eyed Jack's and Pal's Lounge in his home base of New Orleans and Homestead in San Francisco, all play off a similar nostalgic, manly decadence (vintage erotica is, not coincidentally, a common theme).

But Monty is his biggest venture. On a skulky corner of 7th Street, the plastic white-and-red sign suggests the sort of place where past-due bar tabs are repaid in broken thumbs.

But past its swinging saloon doors, Monty has a musty grandeur. A 20-foot vaulted gold ceiling gives it an almost churchly resplendence, one leavened by a taxidermied buffalo head mounted on the wall, low lights and lots of wood and black leather. Monty's monolithic bar top -- driven down in pieces from San Francisco after Hackford found it on Craigslist -- is long enough to pick up some wiseacre by the collar and drag him down it.

The 3,500-square-foot space never feels oppressive even on crowded weekends, and the music hits a sweet spot of girl-group pop and well-seasoned strains of indie rock.

Monty's location doesn't exactly offer a sylvan street scene to encourage the curious. The last effort to put a gentrified bar in that swath of Westlake, Blue Velvet, died unceremoniously.

But the 7th Street building (and its coveted Type 48 liquor license) first caught Moses' attention years ago. After finally securing it, he offered it to Hackford for his first project in L.A., a hole in his resume that Hackford has long wished to remedy even given his "Bayou-coastal" commute to California.

The location is "definitely more of an asset," said Moses. "When I reopened Cole's, people said it was on Skid Row; they thought Golden Gopher was on the sketchiest block of downtown. But you'd never want to go to a bar at the Grove. If it feels too safe, who wants to go?"

Along the way, Moses and Hackford picked up a veritable Traveling Wilburys of downtown and Eastside night-life investors, including Dave Neupert (the Short Stop, Footsies), Joe Baxley (Broadway Bar) and Raub Shapiro (Hackford's partner in Homestead).

Bottomless is an especially interesting project for Moses, whose 213 fiefdom has defined the downtown landscape for nearly a decade but whose bars such as Seven Grand and Golden Gopher have seen their staple scenes evolve alongside the increasingly gentrified and party-hearty neighborhood.

Monty already has the lived-in feel of a place where dudes who run bars for a living hang out when they're off the clock. Bottomless hasn't set any plans yet. But true to the space's legacy, it's already taken Monty's crowd a little further than they anticipated.

"I used to shoot pool around here, I know the neighborhood's been rough at times," Hackford said.

"But that it's just a few blocks away [from downtown] gives us this huge room. I know some people are intimidated by it, but I'm a big, tall drink of water and I'm glad I don't have to hunch."

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august.brown@latimes.com

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Monty

Where: 1222 W. 7th St., L.A.

When: 8 p.m.-2 a.m. Mon.-Sun.

Info: (213) 228-6000; montybar.com

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