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Below the plentiful beach bars, valet parking, velvet ropes, and Irish pubs sits a dark, one-story brick building practically scraping the butt end of Fort Lauderdale. Just south of the Gold Coast Roller Skating Rink's red neon glow on Federal Highway, rockabilly dudes, pinup girls, hardcore and punk kids, pretty women, and dedicated drinkers park their cars out back and swarm the outskirts of what used to be called Zoo Bar.
On a packed night, the free pool table will be unusable and the two-stalled, unisex bathroom will seem less quaint, but the Monterey Club is the only place right now where these subgroups can overlap without thinking, "Why the hell am I here?"
It could just be another birthday party.
2608 S. Federal Highway
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33316
Category: Bars and Clubs
Region: Fort Lauderdale
Typically, a birthday at a South Florida bar usually feels like you come second to the booze, but this place does the opposite. Intimate affairs catered to members of the bar's extended family, local rap acts Protoman and Gaps the Man Beast, and Radio-Active Records' Mike Ramirez all add to the allure of Saturday, November 20. On that date, the bar will throw its most important party yet — for itself. The Monterey Club is already turning 1 year old.
One of the burgeoning spot's successes is Tuesdays at Monterey, organized by Jasper "DJ Sensitive Side" Delaini and featuring guest DJs, live bands, art, album release parties, screen printing, and beat-boxing. Sensitive Side's trademark mix of soul, funk, and dance boogie tunes fills the air as burly Monterey Club owner Rob Stannard stands at the end of the bar, sizing up the room with his calm-after-the-storm blue eyes.
"This is like the Tuesday-night sausage factory," he says with a lingering New Jersey accent. "And, yeah, I like steak." Even though none among the predominantly male crowd tonight shares his personal rockabilly leanings, he's happy to cater to local artists and musicheads (as well as several New Times staffers).
The rest of the space is loaded with retro/rockabilly-themed décor, including an old gas pump sitting in the corner. The club's cushy couches and chairs are a swirl of maroons and golds. The tattoo and low-brow art on the walls is always changing, always for sale — except for the flaming heart and other vivid imagery painted directly on the walls by Kreepy Tiki Tattoos & Boutique owner Jackson Valiente. The bartender has to exit behind the bar and strut past the unisex bathroom to get to the beer fridge, and they don't sell liquor here.
For the Monterey Club's history, Stannard's body is his own PowerPoint presentation. Saints is tattooed on his right wrist, with Sinners covering the blue veins on its underside. The words refer to the exclusive car club, Saints and Sinners, which also counts Monterey Club bartender Bryan Colman and Valiente among its members. The club's meetings were held at the tattoo shop, which is in the same building as the bar.
"Jackson and I were looking in the windows at [Zoo Bar] and wondering why this place was never open," Stannard says. Eventually he spoke to the owners and bought the bar from the Orange County Choppers motorcycle shop in the rear of the building. Stannard's green '49 Mercury Monterey, which is kept parked out front (and inked on his left neck), inspired the Monterey Club's name.
"This place was built because of the cars," says Stannard, noting that the original plan was to cultivate a rockabilly vibe alone, but there weren't the numbers to sustain the place. "So we opened it up to everybody, as long as you're not a dick. And if you're a dick, we will certainly let you know that."
The familial atmosphere is taken seriously when it comes to the lack of attitude at the bar but also the business side of the Monterey Club, with Kreepy Tiki splitting the costs for booking the national acts. "This place wouldn't exist without that friendship," Stannard says of all those who work at Monterey and Kreepy Tiki, who all have their feet in rockabilly, blues, and roots music.
"We're not Hard Rock or Coyote Ugly," says Colman, the charismatic bartender who sports casual clothes and shin-high white socks. "We don't just have DJs. We're not Culture Room; we don't just have bands... It's been a hard road, a hard year. We've tried many different nights."
For a few months, each Thursday was bike night. After all, in daylight, the Monterey Club is the waiting room for the Orange County Choppers. "It just wasn't our scene," says Colman. "Bikers are more Hard Rock, fist-pumping, Ed Hardy."
Amusingly, Thursdays eventually turned into a dance night focusing on '80s industrial jams from Depeche Mode, Killing Joke, Devo, and the Cure. At Monterey, you never know what to expect. One Wednesday, Knoxville, Tennessee, folk act Christabel and the Jons performed after a swing dancing session. Four or five couples stayed after the lesson and danced to the Southern swing tunes. Additionally, Monterey has brought down acts to help stir up the rockabilly scene such as Wayne "The Train" Hancock, Laramie Dean, the Rocketz, and the Red Elvises.
"We agreed that the recognition belongs to the bands and the talent we have here," says Jessica Kross, a feisty spirit who helps book national and local acts. And for the first birthday party Saturday night, locals the Howling Winds, Everymen, and Between Enemies will perform. There will be a burlesque/vaudeville performance by the Millionaire Tramps, with Betty Pickle herself.
Kross says everyone at Monterey shares a similar vision: "This can be the place that says yes to rockabilly, psychobilly, metal, punk, alt-rock, hardcore, etc., and art and the art of burlesque and pinup and the Kar club and the bikes and the whole rockabilly scene. And we are a place that will take a chance on your band from, well, from anywhere! Why? Because we like it."
Without the Monterey Club, area music junkies would be without a Peach Pit, without a meeting place, and without a venue that feels like you're watching a concert inside your own living room. Stannard will tell you himself: "You fit in here." Or if you're a dick, fair warning.