The Brass Monkey Bar from “Bad Santa”Dec 23rd, 2011 | By Lindsay | Category: Movie Locations
Another Christmas-themed location that I stalked recently was the Brass Elephant bar – the Monrovia-area watering hole that stood in for the similarly-named “Brass Monkey” bar where Sue (aka Lauren Graham) worked in my least-favorite holiday movie of all time, 2003’s Bad Santa. Fellow stalker Chas, from the It’sFilmedThere website, had tracked down the establishment a while back and once I learned that it was located inside of the Aztec Hotel, an extremely unique structure that had intrigued me ever since I first moved to the San Gabriel Valley over eleven years ago, I decided that I just had to stalk the place. And this past Tuesday morning, I finally did just that.
The Aztec Hotel was originally built in 1925, on what was then the historic Route 66, by Robert Stacy-Judd, the English-born architect who also designed the Masonic Temple in North Hollywood, the First Baptist Church in Ventura, and the incredible Atwater Bungalows in Echo Park. The hotel was Stacy-Judd’s first commercial design job in the United States and he credited his inspiration for the project to John L. Stephen’s 1841 tome Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan. Although technically Mayan in design, the architect named the property the “Aztec Hotel” because, as he is quoted as saying in the 1993 book Robert Stacy-Judd: Maya Architecture and the Creation of a New Style, “When the hotel project was first announced, the word Maya was unknown to the layman. The subject of Maya culture was only of archaeological importance, and, at that, concerned but a few exponents. As the word Aztec was fairly well-known, I baptized the hotel with that name, although all the decorative motifs are Maya.”
And while the Aztec Hotel enjoyed immense success and was one of the most exclusive lodgings in the area for a brief period, it fell upon hard times due to both the Great Depression and the realignment of Route 66 and was forced to shutter its doors in 1935, less than a decade after opening. It was sold, by auction, shortly thereafter for $50,000. The new owners renovated the place and it once again became a popular retreat thanks to the proximity of the newly-opened Santa Anita Park race track. Such luminaries as Bing Crosby, Mickey Rooney, Clark Gable, and my girl Marilyn Monroe were all reportedly counted as guests at one time or another. Sadly though, the property fell, once again, into disrepair in the years following and served as everything from a drug den to a brothel. The 44-room, two-story hotel, which was named a National Historic Landmark and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was just recently purchased by new owners who have set about restoring the historic site to its former glory. Amazingly, numerous elements of Stacy-Judd’s original design remain in place to this day, including the tile floor in the lobby, ceiling light fixtures, stained glass windows, several murals, and a fireplace.
Sadly, the Brass Elephant bar, which is located just off of the Aztec Hotel’s lobby, was closed when I showed up to stalk it, but I did manage to snap the above pictures through an open window.
In Bad Santa, the Brass Elephant stood in for the Brass Monkey – the supposed-Phoenix, Arizona-area mall bar where disgruntled Santa Willie (aka Billy Bob Thornton) first met bartender Sue. It popped up in two scenes in the movie – first in the scene in which Willie successfully hits on Sue before getting into a fist-fight with a fellow patron.
And later in the scene in which Gin (aka Bernie Mac) tries to blackmail Willie and his partner-in-crime, Marcus (aka Tony Cox). As you can see in the screen captures above, the Brass Elephant was dressed heavily for the filming, with special booths brought in, walls retouched, and bright lighting installed, and is virtually unrecognizable from its appearance onscreen.
Because the Brass Monkey was supposed to be located adjacent to a mall in Bad Santa, the real life exterior of the Aztec Hotel did not appear in the flick. A fake exterior for the bar was instead created at the Del Amo Fashion Center in Torrance, where the vast majority of the movie was lensed.
The Aztec Hotel was also featured extensively in the 2009 movie Spooner, as the place where Rose Conlin (aka the adorable Nora Zehetner), the object of Herman Spooner’s (aka the even more adorable Matthew Lillard’s) affection, stays for a few days after her car breaks down.
Quite a bit of the hotel appeared in the movie, including the front entrance;
the Aztec Barber Shop, which is an actual place;
one of (what I believe is) the hotel’s real life rooms;
and the Brass Elephant bar. And while I only scanned through Spooner in order to make screen captures for this post, I have to say that it looks like an incredibly cute movie that I definitely need to watch in its entirety in the very near future.
Big THANK YOU to fellow stalker Chas, of the It’sFilmedThere website, for finding this location. You can check out Chas’ extensive Bad Santa filming locations page here.
Until next time, Happy Stalking!
Stalk It: The Brass Elephant, aka the Brass Monkey from Bad Santa, is located at 311 West Foothill Boulevard, inside of the Aztec Hotel, in Monrovia. You can visit the hotel’s official website here and you can visit the bar’s official Facebook page here.