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Finding the Right Seat with Longtime Bartender Michael Gotovac of Dan Tana's

For Classics Week 2015, Eater is looking into iconic L.A. restaurants and talking with some of the people who made them famous.

Michael Gotovac
Michael Gotovac
Dan Tana's
Farley Elliott is the Senior Editor at Eater LA and the author of Los Angeles Street Food: A History From Tamaleros to Taco Trucks. He covers restaurants in every form, from breaking news to the culture, people, and history that surrounds LA's dining landscape.

Michael Gotovac is no stranger to the spotlight. As the longtime bartender at West Hollywood’s iconic Dan Tana’s restaurant, Gotovac has seen his share of bright stars and flashing paparazzi bulbs. The unblinking septuagenarian has certainly witnessed just about everything, considering he’s been slinging inside the 50 year old restaurant for going on 48 years.

Michael chatted with Eater about some of his favorite longtime customers, why where you sit matters and how adding a late night dinner service likely saved Dan Tana’s forever.

How long have you been working behind the bar? I’ve been at Dan Tana’s since 1968. There’s always something happening, every day. It goes by generation, you know? Every generation is different.

How was business the year that you started? At that time it was quiet, a little slower. We used to close at midnight. Well around 1970, there were all of these clubs around that would do two shows a night, an 8 p.m. and a 10 p.m. And so people were looking for a place to eat after the shows, and the owner decided to stay open until 1 a.m. That’s when the place became a big hit. People would come for the shows and want to eat afterwards.

What was the crowd like back then? Mostly regulars. When it became more popular, people started to come and just drink at the bar. The Eagles started there. They wanted to talk to all of the other music people in the room, and so that was their beginning. Elton John would come, The Byrds, the Monkees, Guns & Roses.

Any funny stories from those times? Oh, lots. Gene Clark, one of the Byrds, was always a little different, you know? He’d always get in trouble, get drunk. He owned a Porsche, and one night he just drove the Porsche right up on to the sidewalk in front of the building and blocked the door! People couldn’t even get out of the restaurant.

Johnny Carson would come in all of the time, Liz Taylor. Of course, we would try to seat them right away, but sometimes even the movie stars had to wait.

It must have been tough for you to manage all of those egos from behind the bar. Well, yes and no. Nothing ever got too crazy, but mostly the problem is where people want to sit. People have their special tables, they want to sit in that spot. Same with the bar, everyone has a special chair. It’s nice, though — new people come in, and everyone knows that the chair they’re in belongs to someone before them. So if that person came in, they’d get right up!

So nobody tries to push their weight around inside Dan Tana’s? You can’t! We are a small restaurant that seats only 65, and we might do 180 dinners a night. John Travolta walked in once, went to the maître d’ and asked for a table for two. He was told that there would be a two hour wait, and so Travolta says, you know, do you know who I am? And the maître d’ says: "I don’t need to know who you are, I need to know if my boss knows who you are." Well, Travolta ran out of the place! Then he comes back in, apologizes for saying those things, and sure enough he got a table right away.

What’s the scene like now at the bar? There’s lots of new people coming now. Great-grandkids coming in, in some cases. It’s a younger crowd.

I only work two days a week now. I’m 72 years old, and still physically strong, but I get tired mentally. I have my grandkids, and it’s nice to slow down. I used to work seven days a week, then six, then five. Now I’m down to two, Thursdays and Fridays. It’s nice that way.

Dan Tana's

9071 California State Route 2, , CA 90069 (310) 275-9444 Visit Website