Part experimental film festival, part pop-up restaurant, part dinner theater, Monkey Town is a hard thing to describe to someone who hasn’t been there.
Started by Montgomery Knott in 2003, the veteran dining experience has now landed in Los Angeles. Featuring films from established video artists like Shana Moulton and digital media artist Takeshi Murata, there are several standouts from the diverse program. One such is Johanna Billing’s 2009 piece I’m Lost Without Your Rhythm which follows a university dance class in Romania throughout a semester. Billing’s film—sountracked by an eponymous choral composition—builds slowly, starting with the basic elements of movement, (walking, running) before reaching a crescendo where you can feel the dancers getting it. It’s an uplifting and powerful piece.
“[When] I started this there was a confluence of a lot of things happening.” Knott explains to us about the event’s origins, “Technology was a part of it. I wanted to do something with video art, performance, and food. I had seen a piece called Quartet, that had a synchronizer that made that work, which was key. At that point you had to have four industrial DVD players that all got synchronized, and the trays went in at the same time.”
Part I: Kefir Lime Cocktail
Arriving at 111 w. 21st street—a former upholstery fabric warehouse in the weedy edges of DTLA that still feel industrial and friendly, we meet Montgomery Knott—a tall friendly man, with an easy-going Texas drawl—the founder and proprietor of this food and film experience. We are shown inside a waiting room that might be from a more dismal scene in Mad Men, and given a tart herbacious drink while we wait for all the guests to arrive.
Part II: Cured Hamachi [kohlrabi, dashi, cilantro]
“I had been doing film and music at the time, and I also was disappointed with the New York food scene,” Knott recounts, “so I thought, ‘I want to bring some Texas here.’” As many people have done, he had an idea that he sketched on a cocktail napkin. Unlike many people, Knott put his idea into action, finding out that putting strangers into a cube where they watch experimental film in 360º while eating Michelin-quality food was something of a magic bullet.
Part III: Heirloom Tomato Salad [roasted torpedo onion, baby zucchini, wakame]
Monkey Town stayed in Brooklyn for five years, featuring some of the most innovative filmmakers in the business, as well as Michelin-starred chefs who were willing to moonlight in exchange for the chance to do something with more creative freedom. After Brooklyn, Monkey town went on the road, making stops in Knott’s hometown of Austin, Denver, and Barcelona.
Part IV: Fresh Cavatelli & Chicken Confit [cauliflower, almonds, ricotta salata]
Knott claims this Los Angeles run of Monkey Town will be the last. After so long he is ready to work on personal projects. ”I’ve been doing this for thirteen years, so this is, for me, a finale. I’ve loved going through each of these cities, but it’s time for a little hiatus, maybe permanently.” So far the recent run is gaining momentum quickly. With 40-person seatings, the atmosphere is busy enough to feel anonymous, but not so much so that it loses intimacy.
Part V: Red Wine Braised Short Rib [roasted radish, crispy shallots]
Each week features a different performance coupled to a visual. Dallas ACID—a synth-heavy dreampop trio—will perform through this Sunday alongside a film called, very fittingly, Beamers & Bloody Marys by Tina Rivera.
Part VI: Toasted Rice Custard [cherries, shiso, sesame brittle]
It would be easy to let the food slide a bit, but Knott consistently seeks out some of the best chefs in the cities that he chooses. Los Angeles-based chef Nick Montgomery—formerly of Momofuku Saam and Chicago’s Blackbird—has created four and five course menus for this series including vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free options. Montgomery’s menus are set to change periodically as seasonal ingredients become available.
The beauty, perhaps, of Monkey Town, is how full of an experience it is. Each component—the films, the performance, the five-course meal—would be enough taken on their own. When they are combined, the richness is disorienting.
Monkey Town will be here through September, with seatings Tuesday through Sunday 6:30PM and 9:30PM
Purchase tickets here