The last time Stewart Tanner saw Ron Goldman, Tanner was sliding a bottled water across the Mezzaluna bar to the waiter and making tentative plans to go out with him later, maybe to a place in the Marina.
These days, Tanner is still tending that bar, a laconic if sympathetic listener offering the same unpretentious presence that has made him so popular among Mezzaluna regulars for two years. His casual plans with Goldman made him the keeper of suddenly crucial details of timing. He testified at the preliminary hearing and the trial and bought for himself an extra helping of attention as he went about his work at a restaurant that had become a fixture of notoriety. A tall, husky man with a signature ponytail, the 27-year-old bartender was hard to miss once he'd been seen on television.
He wearily deflects customers' questions about Goldman. "It's just not proper for them to ask." And his own odd TV celebrity left him both irritated and flattered.
"Everybody likes a little attention, likes to feel like they're special," Tanner mused. "At the same time, it always brought up the memory of the event. It's not a positive type of attention." And in a gruesome twist, Tanner was friends with 26-year-old Michael Nigg, a waiter who was shot to death in a Hollywood parking lot last month after struggling with two robbers.
He has watched unhappily as Mezzaluna draws throngs of tourists and the curious.
"People said, 'Oh, business must be going through the roof.' Yeah, we make a couple of extra bucks, but it's our regular customers who pay our bills," said Tanner. "It wasn't the same cozy atmosphere. . . . I used to come in as a customer, and [then as the atmosphere changed] I didn't."
But Tanner said the Brentwood restaurant is slowly turning back into the chummy hangout it had been for Westside regulars. "I never thought of leaving," said Tanner, who is considering opening his own restaurant one day. "I really enjoy my job. Any night I can look up at the bar and know three or four of my customers."
In a business known for turnover, Tanner says, the staff that was there before Goldman's death is mostly still there. The waitress who served Nicole Simpson's party that night is still waiting tables. And the close staff bonded even tighter after Goldman's death--sometimes going on excursions to the beach.
"We miss him," Tanner said.