Another Bloated Steak-O-Gram to End 2009


Perhaps being the proprietor of the Valley’s oldest continuously-occupied structure makes me overly sentimental about the history attached to places and things, to an exaggerated degree beyond the actual value of those places or things. In short, I am a sucker for a good back story. Here are some intertwined stories that share the common thread of a meaningful past.

But first, let’s dispense with those who can’t handle the stressful onslaught of getting eight messages a year from me (at best):

HOW TO GET OFF MY LIST INSTANTLY: If you do not want to receive any
e-mail from me ever, please send me (Michael Monti) a message at
and I will gladly remove you from my distribution group. (See end
of this message for more details.) I write rarely–maybe eight times
a year, and only if I have a story to tell or some good news to
share. I read every response and usually talk back, so think
carefully before you crush me emotionally by requesting to be
removed from the list. Even a thick-skinned guy like me still
struggles with rejection.

So it happens that as November rolled around, I found the opportunity to run my late Dad’s wheezing, sclerotic jalopy–the 1966 Excalibur Roadster that he cherished–in the Veterans Day parade and the Fantasy of Lights parade. Now, this is easier said than done. The car was up on blocks for a decade, and it wasn’t in such great shape when it went into storage in the first place. Two years ago, when I took my first shot at a parade, my poor stepson, Shea, wound up stranded with me (he’s also been stranded with me and the lovely Excalibur at the McClinktock off-ramp on the US60, to give you some idea of how
unreliable the car has been) in the parking lot where all of the participants were lining up. You car buffs will understand this, after 20 minutes on idle the car vaporlocked and stalled just as we were to pull out onto the street. Some intensive mechanical work ensued–a new carburetor, a booster fuel pump, some heat shielding for the fuel line, and a gas tank rebuild. Then, with a little idle adjustment the stalling problem was eliminated–leaving a few other issues still to be resolved.

Dad always contended that the original owner of the car was Adam West (da, da, da, da, da, da, da, da…Batman!), though there was an intermediate owner who, to say the least, rode the car hard and put it away wet. In any case, the Excalibur arrived in Tempe when I was in third grade at Curry school, and I will never forget the thrill of riding in it the first time. It is a very primal vehicle, with few modern amenities–just a big, rumbling engine in a small package, with some rakish chrome lake pipes along the sides that will scorch your legs if you aren’t careful getting out after a drive (ask Shea, he had a burn mark for months). Back in those days, the mid-1970s, the Excalibur may have been the most ostentatious car in Tempe, and Dad always ran it in the local parades, usually with some political hack or a dried-out husk of a B-grade local celebrity riding shotgun. (To be fair, I can only get Eddie and Shea to ride in parades with me.) By the way, in case you’ve forgotten, I’ve written in past newsletters about my Dad’s bizarre treatment and approach to dealing with the conspicuousness of the car.

So now, here we were at Veterans Day 2009, and it was time to try again. My Right-hand man, Eddie Goitia, replete with his Diablo cowboy hat and two bags of candy, joined me in the shotgun position, and we rolled out onto Mill Avenue. It was no small comfort that we were in line behind a beutifully restored 1958 tow truck from Brock Mechanical, as I figured if we pooped out in mid-route the four mechanics riding the Brock truck might help shunt us over to the side. Fortunately, as Eddie pelted the crowd with candy and I nursed the car along, we avoided stalling and only began to overheat as we finished up the route at Rio Salado parkway, allowing me to nip into our parking lot and kill the engine. Here is some video from the parade:

Mine: Veterans’ Day Parade

And here is the Brock Supply video that I found on YouTube:

Emboldened by my earlier success, Eddie and I decided to enter the Excalibur in the Fantasy of Lights parade last Friday. Christen and the kids decorated the car, and we trundled down to the 3rd Street lot to take our place in line. This time, again, things went well. However, the route was different from the Veterans Day parade, and at the end, in the Centerpoint driveway, there were some steep speed bumps. We scraped our way over them, and some rather alarming smoke started wafting up from the undercarriage. Luckily, it dissipated and the car seems no worse for the wear. Parade crowds evidently expect you to honk a car horn loudly at them and, not surprisingly, ours (which used to toot out “La Cucaracha”) doesn’t work. So, long story short, the Excalibur will be back in the shop very soon.



Well, what a decade of foaming at the mouth and kvetching on my part could not accomplish has been achieved, instead, by Valley Metro Light Rail. After being dragged kicking and screaming into the perimeter of the Block Party for the past ten years, I suddenly find my restaurant on the outside. So, this year, you can drive to Monti’s for New Year’s Eve, as the event’s border will come up only to 3rd Street, to the south of us. Thus, we are offering a nifty little package for those of you who would like to have your cake and eat it, too:

New Year’s Eve Package for Two: $99.00
Gift Certificate to Monti’s for $70.00
One Parking Pass in Monti’s parking lot
Two tickets to the Block Party

New Year’s Eve Package for One: $59.00
Gift Certificate to Monti’s for $35.00
One Parking Pass in Monti’s parking lot
One ticket to the Block Party


December 4-6, 2009 \ 10am to Dusk

Sounds like fun. Come and enjoy it, and don’t forget to eat at Monti’s (you don’t really want to walk around eating food-on-a-stick, do you?) My wife looks forward to this every year so I know we’ll be there:

“More than 400 artist booths line Mill Avenue and the surrounding streets presenting unique, and hand-made artwork that offers visitors a distinctive shopping experience…Live entertainment stages provide musical entertainment…street performers, vendors, sponsor exhibits and entertainment booths.”


As many of you long-time loyal Monti’s patrons know, the Fountain Room was once an outdoor courtyard, and there are some old photos in our lobby that attest to that–assuming you find it difficult to believe me, though I assure you it’s true. Different pieces of the large internal courtyard of the old Hayden House/La Casa Vieja were closed in over a period of years. For example, I recently learned from Ruth Brechan, hopefully you’ll remember her story from my previous newsletter, she’s now in her 90s, that our current bar room was enclosed by her late husband Fred in 1952 and dubbed the “Alaska Room” in honor of the couple provenance.

I also know that the open patio that once existed around the fountain was used for weekly jazz jam sessions on Sundays. Once, a little old grandmother, surrounded by her descendants in a large booth, told me that she had her first
drink–underage–on that patio. And our family friend of many years, Jim Mack, a former state Senator, once told me that back in his undergraduate days he was thrown out by my Dad three times in one night for misbehaving on that patio, It must have been a sight, because Dad, a former prize fighter, was only 5’5″ and Jim must be at least 6’2″.

Even after the fountain was enclosed within a room in 1957, the jam sessions continued, and there is still an old stage door visible, blocked behind a large booth that now occupies the space once used as a stage for the musicians. Interestingly, one name that came up repeatedly when talking with old-timers about the jam sessions was “Pete Jolly”. I finally did some
research several years ago, and tracked him down in California. We spoke on the phone, and he informed me that he would be coming to the Valley to do some recording, so we agreed to meet at the restaurant so I could get some of his recollections of playing here in the eraly 1950s. Jolly was eager to talk about his memories of his early career in Arizona. He didn’t show up at the appointed time, though, so I searched him out again on Google and, sadly, found an obituary dated August 2004. He was a remarkable musician, as you can see from this clip taken from a Clint Eastwood documentary: I will always regret not having had the opportunity to sit down with him personally before he passed away.

Recently we decided to remove the worn-out booths and tables from the Fountain Room, along with the musty old carpet (and in the process found some lurid burnt-orange flooring–think “Brady Bunch”–from the 1970s under the booths. We also found that the lower river rocks of the fountain had been painted atrocious neon colors.) Feeling clever, we had planned to use a contemporary stained-concrete finish in lieu of replacing the carpet–only to discover that the concrete had already been stained black back in the 1950s. So we touched it up to put a fresh sheen on it, and the room will re-open this Friday afternoon. Shortly thereafter we will be reviving the tradition of jazz jams by the fountain on Sunday nights. Also, by replacing the old booths with tables we will be able to accomodate more large groups and family parties. All in all, it has turned out great. This was a completely home-grown job, led by Eddie Goitia and involving lots of sweat equity from our crew and other local talents. We think it looks great, but come in and see if for yourselves and, why not sit down and enjoy a steak while you are at it?


Well, it had to end sometime. Had to. One of our claims to fame here has always been as the birthplace of the late Senator Carl Hayden, arguably the most important figure in Arizona history. Incidental to this lofty status was the fact that Sen. Hayden held the record for length of service in the United States Congress, a combined total in the House and Senate of over 57 years. But why, WHY did it have to be Senator Richard Byrd. AAaahhhrrrggg! “On Wednesday, Sen. Robert Byrd, D-W.V., will mark his 20,774th day on the Hill, making him the new longest-serving member of Congress and robbing Arizona of a longtime political claim to fame.”

And, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t add a plug to encourage all of us to do what we can to support local businesses this holiday season. On that happy note, I would like to wish everyone a merry Christmas, and a happy New Year. (And let’s not forget that Monti’s gift certificates and the “Monti’s and a Movie” package make great gifts for friends and family).

Best regards,



HOW TO GET OFF MY LIST INSTANTLY: If you do not want to receive any e-mail from me ever, please send me
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Monti’s La Casa Vieja Restaurant & Catering
100 South Mill Avenue
Tempe AZ 85281


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