Secrets of the Townhouse Bar
What mysteries are hidden at the oldest bar at Venice Beach?
Founded in 1915, the Townhouse Bar is the oldest bar west of Downtown Los Angeles. There is a secret behind this vintage bar that the locals don't even know about. See the video below and discover the mysteries past of the Townhouse Bar.
This video will show you the little known history of the Townhouse Bar. Locals refer to the Townhouse as the evening hot spot at Venice Beach, but most patrons are not aware of the interesting story behind the Townhouse Bar.
History of the Townhouse Bar
By George Czarnecki
The Townhouse bar at Venice Beach is the oldest bar on the west side of Los Angeles and you would need to go to downtown Los Angeles to find another bar of this vintage. This bar was originally built in 1915 by a man named Caesar Menotti, and was called Menotti's Buffet, a name which is still inlaid in the tile near the front door. Caesar Menotti was clearly a "connected" guy, and when Prohibition was enacted in 1920, he laid out groceries in the upper bar and moved his real bar operation downstairs, which he ran as a speakeasy until Prohibition was repealed in 1933. There were no stairways down to the basement bar during those speakeasy years. You got down to the bar through trapdoors with little two-person, rope-operated elevators. You had to know the bartender, and you had to behave.
In those days there was a huge pier here at the end of Windward Avenue called the Abbot Kinney Pier, much bigger than the Santa Monica Pier is today. Abbot Kinney established the Venice of America in 1904 to be a replica of Venice, Italy and be a cultural center of Southern California. During the Prohibition years the territorial waters of the United States only extended three miles. Caesar Menotti had liquor ships, mostly coming down from Vancouver, Canada, which would stand off beyond that three-mile limit and send small boats loaded with liquor underneath that pier. From the base of the pier there was a big steam and utilities tunnel which ran through the basement of Menotti's Buffet. Abbot Kinney's entire downtown Venice was serviced by those tunnels. Menotti's people would bring the liquor through the tunnel and stock the downstairs speakeasy. The north side of Windward Avenue was one solid wall of hotels, from Pacific Avenue to the Boardwalk, on the comer of which stood Kinney's cornerstone, the Saint Mark's Hotel. It's said that the local powers-that-be had an interest in seeing those hotels were stocked first-cabin, meaning with liquor. So after stocking his bar downstairs Menotti would run case lots of liquor across the street to the hotels. It seems the police were persuaded to turn a blind eye to this arrangement, and this old saloon became the conduit through whereby the liquor came into Venice all through Prohibition.
After the Probations Repeal in 1933 the downstairs speakeasy was run as the Club Del Monte and the bar went through several ownership changes. In the 1950's the name of the bar was changed to Grady's Townhouse. Frank and Annie Bennett took over operation of the Townhouse in 1966 and Frank put in the present stairways to the speakeasy in 1968, using it as an entertainment venue, where he had music seven nights a week and matinees on Saturday and Sunday.
Louie Ryan, who knew Frank Bennett and knows the historical significance of this old saloon, took over the operation in June of 2007 and has done extensive renovation to the place, especially restoring the old speakeasy to an underground elegance reflective of the best of the Prohibition period. Louie plans for a very special experience with the speakeasy. You'll have to dress up a little to get in. The music will be small groups and cool jazz, and an access to what was, historically, a more sophisticated side of the cocktail culture. The Townhouse would like to provide the kind of venue where, should Caesar Menotti himself step back into his speakeasy, he'd feel right at home.
Photo credits: Tom Anderson, historian from Venice High School provided the photos from the school's collection