When the 25-year-old West Hollywood restaurant Dan Tana's burned down in 1980, faithful customers pinned signs to the front door, saying: "Please build it back just the way it was."
So they did.
Of course the customers had to do their part. To get enough empty Chianti bottles to hang in bunches from the ceiling as before, they had to drink a lot of wine, very fast. So they did.
Dan Tana's is a Hollywood institution that, due largely to its regular customers, has changed very little since the early '60s. The interior, which has been featured in several films, is dark and romantic; small tables with red-checkered tablecloths and flickering candles, dark recessed booths and rich red-fabric wallpaper set the tone.
The restaurant bears the name of its Yugoslav founder, former actor-turned-producer Dan Tana, who now spends his days winging between London, Belgrade and Los Angeles. During his acting career in the '50s Tana played character parts such as the tough torpedo engineer in the 1957 movie "The Enemy Below," with Curt Jergens and Robert Mitchum, and regularly appeared on the popular TV series "The Untouchables."
"I always played gangsters, and I usually got killed," Tana said, "but once I killed the mayor of Chicago!" "The Enemy Below," he said wryly, won an Oscar for best sound effects.
If the name Dan Tana sounds familiar, like maybe he was in Aaron Spelling's TV movie and later series, "Vega$," well, he was--but in name only. Spelling, a regular at the restaurant, asked if he could use Tana's name for the lead character in the film, Tana recalled. An agreement was reached--although he did not formally agree to its use in the series--and to this day there is often confusion over who is the real Dan Tana.
Dan Tana's Old World atmosphere is enhanced both by the courteous Yugoslav staff and by the rich garlic and oregano smell of Northern Italian cooking that pervades the dining area. It is a quiet, intimate spot.
But don't get the impression this is a snobby or exclusive establishment. Not at all. In fact, upon entering the restaurant the first thing that strikes one is the friendliness of the staff. Maitre d' Jimmy Cano, a 10-year veteran of Dan Tana's, greets everyone at the door.
And 20-year-veteran Michael Gotovac is the consummate bartender: warm, friendly, confidential.
At Dan Tana's one can get a full meal until 1 a.m. every night. The chef is Mate Mustac, whose specialties include savory Northern Italian dishes.
The menu is large and varied. Entrees range from $12 for pasta with salad to $30 for a New York steak. But you must make reservations if you plan to eat between 6 and 10 p.m. Late at night, your chances of just walking in and immediately being seated are better, but it's advisable to call ahead. It's a small establishment of about 20 tables. Valet parking is available in front.
Dan Tana's, 9071 Santa Monica Blvd.; reservations, (213) 275-9444.