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“a woman walks into a bar…” at Dan Tana’s

on 30/03/12 at 3:11 pm

a woman walks into a bar..., BoozeBlog

This is how I got to Dan Tana’s, one of LA’s oldest Hollywood hangouts, still going strong where who-knows-what went on in the dimly lit old-school booths, safe from paparazzi and curious snoops. It’s like stepping right into the screen of a Hollywood movie where everyone from Hollywood powerbrokers to pawnbrokers, the rich, the famous, the wannabes gather in the shadowy, raucous atmosphere of everyone’s local Cheers.

But first, I walk into Barney’s. You know, Barney’s, that bastion of hip ‘n chic right in the middle of Beverly Hills where t-shirts can cost a few hundred dollars more than the same thing (or reasonable facsimile) at Costco…and the first thing I can’t help noticing is how awful the nose jobs are on these artfully put-together fashionistas. Scooped out noses where, presumably, obtrusive honkers once dominated…please, you could have checked out a top plastic surgeon on Yelp before you picked some ‘butcher’. Ok, there’s no guarantee Yelp’s docs are the best but there is no excuse for bad plastic surgery in 2012 in Beverly Hills in Barney’s. What, you ask, does this have to do with walking into a bar? Absolutely nothing.

So, as I walk past the seductive cosmetic counters with their glittering array of lipsticks, creams and make-up designed to remind you what a deadbeat slob you are, when one of the cosmeticians stops me to read my big-ass 3″ button that says SMART WOMEN VOTE OBAMA. BTW, this button starts lots of conversations but I didn’t expect this at a cosmetic counter. Fiona and I have an extended chat about politics and makeup and, finally, drinking. It’s almost closing time and she invites me to go to Dan Tana’s with her. How can I refuse? She’s cool and Tana’s has been on my bucket list so, of course, I jumped at the chance.

What more do ya need to know? Sez it all!

Dan Tana’s is nestled in West Hollywood right between The Palm restaurant and the legendary club, the Troubador…an auspicious location. Easy for hopscotching around to visit your various luminaries. The quiet exterior belies the action that’s going on inside. I open the door and am not disappointed. Hey, there’s even a seat at the bar. Fiona’s not here yet so I sit down and order my Manhattan from the legendary bartender, Mike.

Mike sez what kind of a bartender he was in the old days: "I was like a bullet!"

He shakes it with Jim Beam Devil’s Cut, sweet vermouth…”the only one, Cinzano”, he says, bitters and an old school cherry. He’s as old as the bar. Mike owns this place. He’s like a champion skater whizzing from here to there with a bon mot for everyone. OMG, is that James Garner? It can’t be…he’s a hundred. But this guy is a deadringer for Garner the Younger. Uh oh, he just turned his face. Jim Garner not so much…but from the side…

Ok, so here’s my Dan Tana story. I had dinner at Tana’s, oh, many years ago, and there was Fred Astaire in the corner booth. See, I told you it was a while ago! As he gets up from the table, his white napkin drops to the floor. He looks down, kicks the napkin into his hand and sets it on the table. I had just witnessed the awesome Fred Astaire execute the most elegant back kick you can imagine. I was ferklempt. Imagine scenes like that, over the years, at Tana’s. What I’ve missed.

Back from my reverie, Mike yells to a regular, “How’s your sex life?” then laughs, “Me? So long ago I forgot about it!” There probably isn’t a detail Mike doesn’t know about you. The guy next to me spends his entire time staring at his dumb phone, no talking, face a blank slate, staring staring. He and Mike have a go ’round about the pronunciation of ‘salumi’ (guy) or ‘salami’ (Mike). Mike always wins. Here comes this gigantic plate of salami and cheese…slices all neatly folded in overlapping triangles. How the hell is one person going to eat that entire plate? Mike hands the guy a big cardboard drawing with NCAA brackets on it. Guy bets his 15 bucks without a word.

Fiona arrives, friends air kiss all around and her friend, Glitter, tells me her great bar joke. Herewith: “Bartender has a rule. First timers drink for free if they guess the word of the day – mooseballs. Guy comes in and bartender tells him the rule. Guy sez, ‘Can you at least give me a hint? Can I eat it?’ Bartender sez, ‘I guess so.’ Guy, ‘Is it mooseballs?'” LOL! Love it!!

This place is like an Italian grandma’s living room. Mike picks a piece of salami off someone’s plate…the bar belongs to him. A regular walks in, hands Mike his Christmas present. So what if it’s almost April? She hasn’t been here for a while, moved away. Mike duly notes her cleavage, “Is that a water bra?”

Sonny Donato comes in. First walked in in ’77. He’s chatty, tells me amazing stories of people he’s met here over the years. In fact, he just wrote a book of poetry about all the bars and celebs he’s friended. Called “A Poet’s Guide To The Bars“. Read it.

After being schooled by Sonny, I figure that’s it for soaking up Hollywood history for the night. People pouring in, a comfortable hum of familiarity reigns. These folks are just getting started but I say my goodbyes, happy I finally made it to Dan Tana’s. And, you can be sure,  I’ll be back.

Here’s a review of “A Poet’s Guide To The Bars”: Sonny was fifteen when he met Jack Kerouac at Murphy’s Bar in his hometown of Northport, Long Island in 1964. Later, he hitchhiked and jumped boxcars across thousands of miles of America. At the end of the rainbow in California, Doug Weston hired him to tend bar at the Troubadour, where he hosted musician barflies such as Tom Waits, Rickie Lee Jones, David Lee Roth, Gene Clark, and Glenn Frey. Nights off he drank and traded poetry with Charles Bukowski at the No Name Bar on Yucca and Vine. Kenneth Sonny Donato lives in Hollywood. Dedicated To: Harry Dean Stanton and Mario Maglieri “The Pope Of Sunset Strip” “ ‘A Poet’s Guide To The Bars’ has a strut and clarity of image and language which is a welcome vacation…A double shot of imagery with a water back in the face.” – Michael Ironside

If you want to read a terrific article about Dan Tana’s, Jonathan Foreman wrote what’s gotta be the quintessential review: http://www.jonathanforeman.com/dantanas.html. While some things have changed…Craig, the maitre d’, has now opened his own place, Tana’s still burns bright in the Hollywood galaxy.

Dan Tana’s
9071 Santa Monica Blvd
West Hollywood, CA 90069

(310) 275-9444