Many years ago, I’d reconnected with a high school friend, Tracy — whether it was on Facebook or not, I can’t recall — and we decided to meet for a drink. She suggested Monty’s.
Monty’s is an old school steak and chop house. It still has the same sign in the same groovy Mad Men font from the 1960s. It used to have several locations, and now it’s down to two — one in Westwood, and one in Woodland Hills, where I had arranged to meet up with Tracy.
When we got there on the prescribed afternoon, we were the only ones in the place. It was dark, which was good — we couldn’t see each others wrinkles and looked remarkably similar to our high school selves.
Monty’s was never cool. Or, I should say, if it ever was cool, it was before my time. Perhaps Sinatra and the Rat Pack had martinis there back in the day. In high school, my pal Mike and I were taking dates out for a formal dance. We had rented a limousine, and Mike insisted that we let him plan dinner. He wanted it to be a surprise. When the limo pulled up in front of Monty’s, the rest of us began to laugh. “We’re not going here,” we said as Mike frowned. And we wound up at a Japanese restaurant.
I had actually never been to Monty’s before that drink with Tracy. And something happened in the intervening years between that fateful high school evening and our afternoon beer — though neither the sign out front nor the menu nor the booths inside had changed in decades at Monty’s, times and tastes had. The passing of years and the irony of nostalgia had accomplished something neither chefs, architects nor interior designers had been able to. Monty’s was now kind of cool.
When I say kind of cool, I mean in the kind of way a diner is where there’s still formica on the counter and a waitress named Flo who’s worked there for 50 years and looked 70 even when she was only 30.
Post drink date with Tracy, I found myself in Monty’s again a year or so later. My father was celebrating his 80-somethingth birthday, putting him squarely in the crosshairs of their target demographic, judging from the room. Other than a few happy hour passed hors d’oeuvres that afternoon with Tracy (I seem to recall melted cheese, lots of melted cheese), I’d never eaten at Monty’s. How was the meal? I don’t recall exactly — and anyway, this is an essay and not a restaurant review. I may have had a hamburger. What stands out the most about the evening was my father irrationally losing his cool with the waitress because she forgot to bring him out his gnawed rib bones for the dog.
My father and brothers and I have gone back several times for birthday lunches in the intervening years (exacting promises each time from father that he would not act childish) — most recently, a few weeks back for dad’s latest 80-somethingth. (Not many of those left.) The owner was sitting at a table near us, himself an octogenarian. He laughed with some young Swingers-esque business men sitting at a table nearby, who treated him like an elder rock star. He told them given enough time, they might get plaques with their names on a bar chair, too. This time I do remember what I had — two tall, cold Moretti beers, a good bowl of clam chowder and a fine Caesar salad, despite the $4 extra they charged me for anchovies.
2013. A restaurant several generations past it’s prime. But somehow relevant anew, at least in my own life. Tracy and I picked up right where we left off. And Mike would be happy to know that history has been kinder to his restaurant choice than his friends in the limo were that night all those years ago.