‘IT’S A FAMILY THING’
Although none of the employees at Monty’s Sports Bar have any blood relation, they have created a bond that is stronger than anything that can be whipped up behind the bar.
“It’s like home,” said Mike Merenbach, who recently celebrated 20 years working at the Goleta watering hole. “This is where I started off and I get to work with my friends. We’ve all come up together, we all love each other — it’s a family thing.”
The bar employs a smaller staff, with four or five regular bartenders.
Susie Crawford, who has worked at Monty’s for 25 years, said the people who frequent the bar keep her coming back.
Every Thursday, the sports bar located in the Magnolia Shopping Center hosts karaoke night.
On a recent Thursday evening, patrons played pool in the back of the bar as regulars shuffled in — many exchanging hellos and well wishes as they got set to start the singing.
The performances on this night struck two different tones. The group was celebrating Mr. Merenbach’s birthday, as well as remembering their dear friend, Wendell Lovett, who recently passed away.
Barstools were at a premium as the music began. Some wore buttons that read “Karaoke Love” that were dispersed last Valentine’s Day. Though there are no formal rules, Mr. Merenbach said the crowd is advised to be as welcoming as possible to all of the singers.
“Most important thing is we just want people to have fun,” he said. “It’s just a nice way to enjoy the night life.”
The bar was purchased by the current owners in July 1975. It has taken on several different iterations over the years, including a pharmacy, a taco stand, and other ventures, before becoming a sports bar in 1993.
The bar is named after former pro golfer Monte Sanders, who for a time was a minority owner.
Pat Swift has been with Monty’s since 1978. He is originally from northwest Missouri and has been on the South Coast since 1977.
“It’s just a little, small neighborhood bar. We’re sort of in between here, in no man’s land,” he said during a recent interview. “This is No-leta after all.”
Mr. Swift has worked various jobs over the years, which helps him connect with many of the customers who frequent Monty’s. He has been tending bar for quite some time.
“The basics of it, you don’t really have to think about it,” he explained. “Dealing with customers is always different though. It makes it more interesting because there’s always different dynamics and such.
“And then, of course, the stupidity can be quite entertaining,” he said with a laugh. “It’s not too often that I see something new anymore.”
After singing Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven,” Ed Foley spoke with the News-Press about his late friend.
“We were so close that we not only cooked together, we drank together, we sang together — it all just came together,” he said. “Right place and right moment and here we were.”
Mr. Foley recalled Lovett’s signature departing line — “in a minute.”
“It’s always been a good family and now we just all come here,” he said. “It’s always been a show. Everybody can sing, and everybody can sing well.”
Many of the songs performed were some of Lovett’s favorites.
Monty’s has a loyal customer base and many of the patrons know one another by their first names. Over the years, Monty’s has been a destination for construction and utility workers in the Goleta area. Every so often, newcomers will stumble in to experience one of the few traditional dive bars in the Goleta area.
“We’ve been coming here for years — at least 20 or 30 years,” said Jim Neal, of Goleta.
What brings him back after all this time?
“The good service and the drinks are fair,” he said. “And the people are nice.”