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Celebrating 50 years at Dan Tana's with 47-year bartender Michael Gotovac

Celebrating 50 years at Dan Tana's with 47-year bartender Michael Gotovac
Head bartender Michael Gotovac. (Jenn Harris)

If you've stopped into Dan Tana's, the red-sauce Italian restaurant on Santa Monica Boulevard, anytime in the past 47 years, chances are head bartender Michael Gotovac has served you a drink. He's the man in the red jacket with the neatly trimmed mustache and a Croatian accent.

On Wednesday, the restaurant celebrates its 50th anniversary, and the 70-year-old Gotovac has stood behind its bar for most of his life. Over the decades, George Clooney has used the restaurant to throw a private post-Oscar bash, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton made Dan Tana's a popular dinner spot, and the staff watched Drew Barrymore grow from a baby to punk teen to America's sweetheart. 

"It feels like being home," said Gotovac, looking stoic in that jacket with the Dan Tana name stitched into the front. It's the same style he's been wearing since he started. "I think I belong here. Great owners, great customers, great food, great drinks and good money," he adds with a laugh.

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FOR THE RECORD

An earlier version of this post said Gotovac's accent is German. His accent is Croatian. In addition, the post mispelled Daryl Hall's first name as Darryl.

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Dan Tana, a former soccer star from Yugoslavia, opened the restaurant in 1964. Gotovac was in his early 20s when he started a few years later. Back then, he says they would close the kitchen at 11 and he'd often be home by midnight. It was steady, but not busy.

That all changed in the '70s when the Troubador nearby began booking big shows with Elton John, Van Morrison and Cat Stevens, drawing a crowd to the area.

With no other late-night eateries open close by, Dan Tana's became the place to go after a show.

"When it comes to the crowd, you have someone who looks like a homeless person sitting next to a movie star next to the richest guy in America and they all have a fun conversation, enjoying the food and drinks," said Gotovac, who has seen four generations of some families come into the restaurant. 
"In the old days, a lot of actors would hang at the bar and have a drink. Later they would want to have a table right away. They don’t like to hang with the crowd."
Some of those famous faces include Clint Eastwood, Daryl Hall and John Oates, Steve Martin, Leonardo DiCaprio and a slew of athletes. 
Current owner Sonja Perencevic, who purchased the restaurant from Tana six years ago, says they are known for their discretion when it comes to celebrity clients. 
"Our customers know not to bother the celebrities," said Perencevic. "And if someone doesn't know, we tell them, and make sure the celebrities are not bothered." 
Chef Neno Mladenovic, who has run the kitchen for the past 27 years, believes his consistent menu has also contributed to the restaurant's longtime success. He's never changed the Bolognese recipe, making it the same way his predecessor made the sauce.
The restaurant is known for its spaghetti and meatballs, chicken Parmesan and calamari fritti. It still features the red-and-white-checkered tablecloths, hanging bottles of Chianti and countless photos of its celebrity clientele on the walls. An old-fashioned cash register remains behind the bar. 
And with more than four decades as a bartender, Gotovac says the drink orders may have changed over the years, but not by much. 
"In the old days, everything was a gin martini, Manhattan; ladies liked Bacardi cocktails, Pink Ladies," said Gotovac. "People switched from gin to vodka and Manhattans and Scotch slowed down. Everyone started drinking vodka. 

"In the '60s and early '70s you couldn't sell anyone a bottle of wine."

His favorite drink to make? Scotch and soda. And when Gotovac is drinking, it's shots of Pelinkovac, a Croatian bitter liqueur.

If you want to buy him a shot, you'll have to catch him on Thursday or Friday nights. He has cut down over the years to working just two nights a week.

"People come in, regulars and they say, 'Thank you, thank you,'" Gotovac said with a grin. "I say, 'Yes, yes, you can thank me with a cash tip.'" 
I like my martinis extra dirty. Follow me on Twitter @Jenn_Harris_
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