Rain couldn’t stop customers from heading to the The Monterey on Wednesday night, where the restaurant celebrated its closing, just five years to the day it opened in Southtown.
Founder Chad Carey often described The Monterey as “the anti-restaurant,” a place that brought people together before bringing in profits. After five years of football games and weekend brunches, the Monty has become an important place for San Antonians to gather, talk, and eat. Carey’s company is currently considering several new ventures, but these future businesses will have a more commercial design and appearance, and thus a higher chance of succeeding.
“I hope that we can convey the spirit of this place, which was to try to find ways to transcend the transactional nature of restaurants, which is ‘I give you food because you give me money,’” Carey said of the restaurant. “I think that there’s ways we can take what made The Monterey special to some people and inject it into our other restaurants. I think Barbaro and Hot Joy have elements of that, but nothing will be like the Monterey – it was just something special.”
When the Monterey first opened, Southtown was still a quiet area of town. The Pearl was just beginning to attract locals and visitors with Chef Andrew Weissman’s new restaurants. San Antonio’s culinary scene has since expanded to include a wide selection of farmer’s markets and eateries like Bliss, Feast and the Alamo Eat-Street Bar. Those restaurants, pop-ups and meet-ups have helped spark new life to their surrounding areas.
“It’s going to get better, there’s a lot of new dense family developments which I think is great for bringing in those people who want to live down here,” Carey said of the area surrounding The Monterey. “I think some people can be persnickety about the design and say ‘Oh I hate high dense housing,’ but reality is you’re bringing thousands more people who love what living in Southtown means, which is really great independent restaurants, bars and, of course, the visual and creative art scene. I think it’s going to be a great place to be for a long time.”
Customers were crowding the bar area to order and share the final plates of Filipino frog legs, grilled octopus terrine and veal sweetbreads. Tables were filled with drinks from the restaurant’s extensive list of wine and mezcales. The menu at the Monty has never been traditional, and it’s one of the reasons people have come back over the years.
The Monterey required longer hours and offered fewer profits compared to other company ventures, but its employees stayed for Carey and the restaurant’s unique work culture.
“San Antonio on a whole has changed a lot, but I think that in this area as things keep coming in like Urth Juice and Francis Bogside, there’s definitely been a resurgence of life,” said Sophie Covo-Gonzalez, who worked at The Monterey for the last two years. “However, I will say that the Monterey has sustained its regular crowd, and the departure of the Monterey will definitely be felt.”
Staff members including Covo-Gonzalez will help Carey in his future ventures, which include opening a new still-unnamed taquería this December in the former Teka Molina on North St. Mary’s Street.
“The Monterey and the people who come here are a family, and even though the Monterey is closing our family will stay together,” Covo-Gonzalez said.
Crowds began arriving at 5 p.m., and continued to trickle in throughout the evening. The Monterey would usually close for business at 10 p.m., but Carey said the celebrations would continue until “Whenever we explode or fall down.”
*Top image: Patrons gather inside and out of The Monterey on it’s last dinner service. Photo by Scott Ball.