At Dan Tana’s, every night feels like Saturday. Regulars sit shoulder to shoulder at the bar, tables are filled with couples and friends relaxing after work. It’s standing room only, what little there is of that.
Few things have changed since the restaurant opened in 1964. The red-checkered tablecloths are the same, as are the hundreds of wine bottles hanging from the rafters. The room still seats only 75 people, who continue to order the famous steak. Mike, the mustached bartender, has been here for 37 years. It’s hard to tell that, for decades, this has been a celebrity hot spot.
The restaurant’s legacy began when Dobrivoje Tanasijevic, a young soccer star, emigrated from Serbia in the late 1950s. After Anglicizing his name to Dan Tana, he began a brief acting career.
In the early ’60s he purchased a hamburger joint on Santa Monica Boulevard called Ringer, removed the bench seating and sawdust-covered floors in favor of red booths and flowers, and opened it as a more upscale eatery.
Tana says he expected the business to survive three years before it was bulldozed for a Beverly Hills freeway. When those plans fizzled, he stuck around. By the mid-1970s, Tana’s was a Hollywood staple. “In 41 years, I think we have served everybody who is somebody,” Tana says.
Booths have been occupied by Orson Welles, George Clooney, Jessica Simpson and rocket engineer Wernher Von Braun. Reservations are essential, but celebrities are put on the same list as everyone else, which can keep them waiting for over two hours on a weeknight.
Like any legendary hangout, Dan Tana’s has had its share of controversy. John Belushi stopped by the night of his drug overdose. Phil Spector ate a meal here the same evening he allegedly shot Lana Clarkson.
Stories tell of cocaine lines at the bar, sex in the wine room — so many tales that it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction. Don’t expect any help from the staff. “We all have very short memories,” Craig, the maitre d’, says with a sly smile.
Tana says he’s had more than 40 offers to buy the company, some exceeding seven figures, which he admits far exceeds the market value. Though he briefly considered selling, he demurred when the employees begged him to stay.
“I think I’ll retire when I die,” he says. “There’s a great satisfaction in making people happy, and we’ve made many people happy. And we make many people happy every night.”