What are your favorite memories of Monti's? - East Valley Tribune: Get Out

What are your favorite memories of Monti's?

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Mandy Zajac writes and edits arts, entertainment and lifestyle content for the Get Out section of the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6818 or azajac@evtrib.com

Posted: Friday, December 23, 2011 3:00 pm

Think on it a moment, and you can probably come up with one: a time you ate or drank at Monti's La Casa Vieja, the steakhouse at Mill Avenue and Rio Salado Parkway in Tempe.

The restaurant, which turns 55 this year, is as much a Tempe landmark as Hayden Butte or the Hayden Flour Mill - and not because it's long been a place for East Valley folks to gather for happy hours, work lunches and milestone dinners.

La Casa Vieja actually is "the old house" its Spanish nickname implies. It's the oldest continuously occupied structure in the Valley and the oldest remaining building in the Salt River Valley, according to the Tempe Historic Property Register.

To celebrate its anniversary, the restaurant is asking you for your Monti's memories. In Febraury 2012, they'll hold a party honoring the top three storytellers.

It's fun to imagine what tales might come of out of the woodwork from locals who have been here long enough to know of, or maybe remember first-hand, latter portions of the building's 140-year history.

The adobe hacienda at its core was built in 1871 by Charles Trumbull Hayden. From it, he established a flour mill and ferry service across the Salt River, which flowed yearround back then not far from the hacienda's front door.

Later, the Haydens operated a hotel, blacksmith shop, post office and general store out of the home, and Carl Hayden - a prominent figure in Arizona history - was born there.

When the Hayden family moved to a new home in the 1890s, the hacienda earned its "old house" nickname and became a restaurant until the family sold it in the 1930s.

The current steakhouse opened in 1956, two years after the building was purchased by Leonard Monti, who had run a 13-stool diner in Chandler since the mid-1940s. Today, his son Michael runs the place.

The property was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1984.

When I recall Monti's dim, mazelike corridors, its thick walls, wood beams and tiles, I remember reveling before, during and after Sun Devils games with my college crew. Nervously sharing a get-to-know-each-other-dinner between my parents and a new boyfriend. Stopping in, years later, with that boyfriend's out-of-state family - once he had become my spouse and we had settled on the East Valley as the place to make our new life.

Winning stories, they're not, but I'm surprised to realize, as a transplant to Arizona, that even I have somehow woven this fixture of our community into my own story unfolding here.

Someone with a much better tale will receive, at the party on Feb. 12, a two-night stay at the El Tovar Hotel at Grand Canyon, $300 cash for trip expenses and $400 in Monti's gift cards. They'll also have a booth in the restaurant named after them, and their story and picture will be hung above it.

Second and third place storytellers will get $300 and $200 in Monti's gift cards, respectively, and restaurant booths dedicated to their memories.

Stories are due, via email or postal mail, Jan. 3-31, 2012. Send a maximum of 350 words on your "Most Romantic Monti's Memory," "Best Family Gathering Story at Monti's" or "My Best Monti's Story" to

mymontisstory@gmail.com or Monti's La Casa Vieja, 100 S. Mill Ave., Tempe, 85281.

Details on the contest are at (480) 495-3806 or www.montis.com.

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