Mike Gotovac, legendary Dan Tana’s bartender, dies from COVID-19 at 76
Miljenko “Mike” Gotovac knew a thing or two about Los Angeles. As a bartender at West Hollywood’s iconic restaurant Dan Tana’s for more than 50 years, he was the one constant amid an ever-changing sea of actors, rock stars, barflies and dreamers.
Until his hospitalization March 16, he remained one of the oldest working bartenders in L.A. He died from complications of COVID-19 on May 14 at the age of 76.
“Mike was a piece of iron in this city,” said Craig Susser, owner of Craig’s restaurant and Gotovac’s longtime friend. “No matter what happened in your life or what happened in the world, Monday through Friday, he was there.”
Gotovac was born in the village of Lećevica, Croatia, in 1943. As a young man, he joined a wave of Croatians who traveled to Germany to escape the poor economy of what then was Yugoslavia. In 1967, he landed in L.A., where he quickly became part of the city’s tight-knit Croatian community, and became the bartender and resident curmudgeon at Dan Tana’s a year later.
“I learned my work ethic from Mike,” Susser said. “He would say, ‘Any idiot can pour a vodka on the rocks. Can you take care of that person? Do they want to see you? Do they want to come back? Are you part of their lives?’”
Gotovac met the woman who would become his wife of 47 years, Milojka, at a friend’s wedding in 1973. She lived in Croatia at the time, and after a month of exchanging letters, he flew overseas to retrieve his bride — and to pick up the 1969 Mercedes that sat in front of the restaurant most days of the week. He had three sons, Matija, Domagoj and Milian.
Over the years, Gotovac saw the city churn. He watched young assistants grow into powerful producers; he gave the Eagles free drinks after their first show at the Troubadour; he saw a baby Drew Barrymore get her diapers changed on the bar. The restaurant hosted, in the words of the late Jonathan Gold, “more famous people per square inch than anywhere else in town.” Yet, despite Gotovac’s position as its de-facto ringleader, his sons said he couldn’t tell a movie star from a customer off the street.
“He liked old cowboy westerns and he enjoyed sports, so what did he care if you’re an actor or actress in the highest grossing movie of the year?” said Domagoj. “That was one of the reasons a lot of these famous people really liked him, because it was really the only time they got treated normal.”
So many customers relied on Gotovac’s steadfast presence that toward the end of his career, he showed up as much for them as he did for himself, his sons said. It wasn’t uncommon for him to bring some of the bar’s customers home for the holidays because they had nowhere else to go.
“There were a lot of lonely people in L.A., and he did have a soft spot,” Matija said.
Although Gotovac belonged to that old school of bartenders — the kind who anticipate your needs and pour accordingly — he was never a pushover. In time, he became known as much for his no-nonsense persona as for his martinis.
“Rich, famous, poor, not famous: you got the same cantankerous, quick-witted, smart, funny Mike,” Susser said.
When Gotovac wasn’t at Dan Tana’s, he was the consummate family man. He was a parishioner at St. Anthony Croatian Catholic Church, an avid soccer player and longtime president of San Pedro Croat Soccer Club. His idea of a good time was dinner and dancing with his wife, or doting on his granddaughters, Emelia, Iva and Beatrix, who became his greatest joy. In the year leading up to his death, Gotovac also did the grocery shopping and cooking for some of his elderly neighbors.
“He took care of people like nobody else,” said Christian Kneedler, manager of Dan Tana’s. “He really was one of a kind.”
Friends and family are heartbroken at the notion that after five decades of hard work, he will never get the chance to put his feet up and relax. But they’re also careful not to get too sentimental. After all, Gotovac wouldn’t have allowed it.
“People would do silly things at the bar,” Susser recalled, “and Mike would shrug and say, ‘It’s a bar, not a church. You’re supposed to be able to let your hair down.’”
In addition to his wife and sons, Gotovac is survived by a brother, Ivica; sisters Anka and Dragica; and numerous grandchildren.
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