The Eat Sheet: Actor Rio Hackford on His Under-the-Radar Downtown L.A. Bar

Taylor Hackford enjoys the Irish whiskey at Monty, while Helen Mirren prefers the gimlet.

Actor Rio Hackford (Toby on HBO’s Treme) -- who appears next with Vince Vaughn and Bruce Willis in Stephen FrearsLay The Favorite, which screens at Sundance in January -- may just be the ultimate L.A. barfly. His father, director Taylor Hackford, hung out with Charles Bukowski -- and often so did he. (“My earliest memories, as a kid, were being at the [race]track and the dives downtown with the two of them.”)

Before he was legal, Hackford was working the door at the Three Clubs, which turned 20 earlier this year and was at the vanguard of reviving Hollywood as a viable neighborhood. He soon fell in with a group of friends, including Vaughn and John Favreau, and ended up playing Skully in the most memorable evocation of the city’s after-dark scene, Swingers.

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Hackford eventually moved to New Orleans, opening nostalgic neo-dives Pal’s Lounge and One Eyed Jack’s, as well as another outpost of a similar sensibility in San Francisco called Homestead. Now he’s returned to L.A., backed by downtown bar baron Cedd Moses (Seven Grand, the Golden Gopher), and has recently completely renovated what he describes as a former "down-and-dirty pool hall” known as Monty west of the 110 freeway into a grand old-timey saloon where the soundtrack runs from Merle Haggard to Curtis Mayfield and the most appropriate drink order is simply a whiskey—straight up.

THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER: What was it about Monty that made you want to take on the project?

Hackford: When it was still a pool hall, before we got it, you could feel how many people had been stabbed in the place. I mean, it was just gnarly in there!

THR: So where did you see the potential?

Hackford: When I kind of crawled up in the rafters, above the drop tiles, I discovered this crazy vault ceiling. It was completely ravaged but I could see what it could be, and that became the basis for this idea of a grandiose, off-the-beaten-path saloon.

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THR: Well, it’s not that off-the-beaten path. Los Angeles Center Studios is just a few blocks to the northeast.

Hackford: Yeah, a lot of the Mad Men guys have been coming in when they get off of work. It’s a safe haven. Nobody bugs them.

THR: Who else has been in?

Hackford: Vince. My dad and step-mom. He and Helen [Mirren] were just in last weekend.

THR: And what do your dad and step-mom order when they come to their son’s saloon?

Hackford: My dad likes good Scotch and Irish whiskey and she’s a big fan of the gimlet.

THR: Speaking of actors in bars, you played a downtown L.A. bartender in Strange Days.

Hackford: We shot that scene in a cool old place that doesn’t exist anymore. That reminds me: When I was doing research on Monty, I found out that it was used as a location in that Alien Nation flick with James Caan and Mandy Patinkin. There’s a whole scene with punk rock aliens hanging out in the background -- with leather jackets on! So great. This was the late ’80s.

THR: Perhaps your most enduring credit is for Swingers, which glamorized a certain joie de vivre of bar-hopping that arguably no film has since come close to matching.

Hackford: What you have to remember is that that movie came directly out of a specific time and place in this city’s bar culture. A golden age when the Three Clubs, Burgundy Room, Small’s and Olive were so important. There was a Frank Sinatra-slash-Charles Bukowski vibe that was out there then that isn’t what it’s all about now, when everything is really based around velvet-rope clubs and bottle-service. But that’s why places like Monty are important. I want to bring that back.

1222 W. 7th St., L.A., 213.228.6000,