In 2002 I designed and built a bar/clubhouse on the Fox Studios lot in Mexico while doing the Art Department Graphic Design on the film Master and Commander. Called the Monkey Bar, it was designed as a place for the key actors to relax and spend their downtime during a long shoot, far away from their native England.
Looking back it seems like a bygone era - one of largess and expansiveness.
Even at the time it captured peoples’ imaginations; we were all working hard to pull a big film together but the Monkey Bar became a focal point of creativity & excitement. Many crew members from different departments donated their time and expertise.
A Quonset hut was purchased by the head of the studio; the design unchanged since WW2 – basically half a tin can. Most of the furniture was flea market finds, gathered on a weekend road trips to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. Leftover windows and the ornate ironwork lift doors from the movie “Titanic” (filmed on the same lot) customised the space. Down the back was a pool table and a cage with a parrot, on loan while his owner was away.
As Art Department Graphic Designer I had been looking for someone who could do naive and charming drawings for one of the characters. I’d distributed some A4 sheets with monkeys up the top, asking people to redraw them. This took off in an unexpected way – suddenly there was a deluge of unique and wonderful drawings on my desk. Evidence to the claim that inside every one is an artist just dying for the opportunity to come out. The ‘winner’ was Raul, an ex Mexican wrestler from the Set Decoration department. The rest of the artworks were coated with shellac and framed, lining the bar like portraits of Hollywood stars.
Entry point: the monkeys on the left, opposite a wall of maps and naval charts.
Although it was over 10 years ago there is little I would change. It still works – the white painted wood panelling, the beaten up furniture, the aged wooden patinas and the wall of maps in the entry way. Best of all was how personal it was & how much human energy went into it.
Booths that were used in The Titanic, the exterior with naval flags and ships lantern
When I caught up with one of the actors several years later:he bought it up- “It’s strange” he said, “of the six months I was in Mexico, all my memories are of time spent in the Monkey Bar.”
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