Last week, one of Los Angeles’ most uniquely atmospheric club venues, the Monte Cristo, announced that it will be closing its doors after 19 years. The ornate, gothic manor–like locale was in many ways a breeding ground for L.A.’s goth and dark nightlife scenes, thanks to its dramatic décor, speakeasy-style entryway, spacious dance floor, great sound and lush mood lighting.
According to owner Michael Anthony Pecina, he bought the space on the eastern edge of Koreatown in 1998, after it had been shut down for at least eight years previously due to underage drinking and problems with the police. The original owner, Cyrus Karubian (aka "Mr. K"), told him he’d have to “pull a lot of favors and make friends with a lot of people” to get the place open — and he did, but it wasn’t easy.
“Back then I had about 200 bucks to my name, just enough to open a business account. But Mr. K loved my ideas about reopening the club, and fully supported me,” Pecina recalls. “The city was not so kind, especially the police. Getting my dance permit was a living hell. And then after supporting the councilmen, and bugging them daily, they finally gave me a CUP [conditional use permit] to open the club five days a week. It took me an additional nine years and two more CUP hearings at $25,000 a shot, to finally be allowed to run seven days a week.”
In the early 2000s, Salvatore Santoro, whom Pecina says helped him with the decor and vibe early on, brought the first of the Monte Cristo's dark-minded events there. Sator was an intimate, escapist, all-black affair that would inspire many more dance nights to come. One of the most memorable to follow was the vampiric gathering called the Fang Club, which started elsewhere but found its perfect home in the candelabra-adorned space. Red wine, corsets, powdered faces and serious teeth accessories made it a fantastical, fiendish fête.
“When we stepped into the space, we were transformed into another world. The decorations and ambiance were so old-world and decadent that I immediately fell in love with the space,” remembers Fang Club’s Jack Dean. “Michael had incorporated the exact ambiance for the projects I had in mind. At first I teamed up with Sal and the Sator crew to develop a new club, Grimoire, taking advantage of the occult and supernatural flair that Michael had incorporated into the Parlour area. ... When that ran its course, I immediately discussed the idea of resurrecting the Fang Club. This was clearly the only space decorated and themed for something as decadent, and I brought Xian Vox on board as my main DJ. The rest, as they say, is history.”
The Fang Club came to a close at the beginning of 2005, and a few months later Pecina asked Vox to try her hand at club promotion. ”I was flattered but I turned him down. I felt it would be in poor taste to open a club so soon after one I had been a part of closed down,” she recalls. “But the phone calls persisted. Michael said he had full confidence in me and was determined. After several more months, I finally capitulated.”
Vox asked fellow DJ Amanda Jones to be her partner and, in June 2005, Malediction Society, which she touts as "the world's first steampunk-themed nightclub," was born. Originally spinning darkwave and industrial on a single dance floor on Sunday nights, Malediction eventually spread onto two dance floors, with Jason Farber and The Baron spinning modern and classic goth, synth-pop and indie tracks in the Parlour, and Jones and Vox spinning the harder, bass-heavier sounds of industrial, EBM and electro in the main room.
“Soon after Malediction Society opened, I created LADEAD in the fall of 2005 as a base brand to tie together all of my parties,” Vox recalls. “At its inception, this included Malediction Society as well as my monthly rollerskating night, Wumpskate (since 2003). But I eventually came to start Hex Halloween in 2005, the Darkroom in 2006, Disko.Nekro in 2006, Ruin Hollywood in 2007, Mode:M in 2011, Warlok in 2011 and Gallow Dance in 2016 — all of which either began at the Monte Cristo or ultimately found a home here.”
Nightlife followers may remember that the Monte Cristo went off the radar back in 2013. Pecina contracted the space out to someone else for two years and some of the legendary décor was removed. (Dean says he bought a bunch of it at that time and it now embellishes his home.) But it wasn’t long until the owner missed the dark dance crowd that put the place on the map.
“Ultimately he terminated that contract early to bring us back. It was a big mistake, he would say. … 'Never again. I missed you and your crowd too much,’" Vox says. “And by the size of the homecoming parties for each of the clubs, you could tell that feeling was mutual.”
For the past year now, Vox has been running two to three nights weekly at the location, usually using both the dimly lit, chandeliered ballroom and the smaller Parlour room. “While I’ve worked with other venues over the years, and have taken efforts not to put all my eggs in one basket, the Monte Cristo has truly been a home base, if not a home, for the past 12 years I have run clubs there. Fifteen years, if you count the time I spun at the Fang Club," she says.
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From the spiral staircase entry and outdoor patio, where smokers and chatters caroused in their black finery, to the dance floor where patrons often took up the entirety of the space with highly interpretive movements, Monte Cristo provided a special and unique sanctuary every week. The goth gaggles that haunted the place during the past decade and a half made it what it was. It might be hard to create the same alchemy for Xian Vox's array of offerings somewhere else, but she's up for the challenge — though she's not happy to say goodbye.
“There's also no doubt in my mind that my ability to run so many parties at the same venue is because it's the Monte Cristo,” says Vox, who tried to help Pecina keep the venue open. “Michael has invested so much time and money to provide the best sound and lighting systems. The drinks are poured heavy and priced reasonably, and the security has taken the time to get to know most of the regulars by name. We have made so many memories and connections. I will be truly at a loss once this great venue closes its doors for good, and I can only hope the fates are kind in my search for a new home.”
The final event at Monte Cristo before it closes, Last Rites, will meld all of LADEAD's club nights and DJs from over the years on Saturday, April 15. For more on all the remaining events at the Monte Cristo, visit LADEAD's Facebook page.