At Dan Tana’s Restaurant, the Loss of Dabney Coleman Hits Hard: ‘He Was Larger Than Life’

The venerable West Hollywood eatery Dan Tana’s is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year while also mourning possibly its most loyal customer, Dabney Coleman, who died last week.

The “9 to 5” actor was a fan of the star-studded yet homey Italian spot for decades — the restaurant’s signature dish, the New York steak, is named for him — and it’s what he invariably ordered.

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“It’s the best New York saloon in L.A.,” Coleman told the New York Times in 2005.

There are still plenty of Hollywood regulars — on a recent night Chris Pine and J.J. Abrams were at a center table in the main room — but there will likely never be anyone quite so faithful as Coleman.

“He would always sit at table one,” remembers Alison Martino, Vintage L.A. founder, Spectrum News contributor and longtime friend of the restaurant. Martino said Coleman was a big fan of crooners like her dad, actor and singer Al Martino, and in the ’90s and after, she became part of Coleman’s gang that often included Harry Dean Stanton.

“There was a lot of smoking in there, Harry Dean and Dabney sort of held court at this table one from 10:30 at night till closing — back then people people would eat later, everything was different,” she remembers.

In fact, Coleman tried to move to New York a decade or so ago, but Martino remembers that he only lasted three weeks before returning to L.A. “I asked him what brought you back here, and he answered ‘Dan Tana’s,'” she recalls.

The restaurant’s regulars are still mourning bartender Mike Gotovac, who died of Covid in 2020, and Coleman was no exception. “He was very close to Mike. It was really hard for him,” says Martino.

Bartender Raffi Anoushian, who like the other old-timers called Coleman “DC,” remembers the actor’s favorite cocktail as mixed by Gotovac.

“Mike knew Dabney for about 45 years. But Mike was famous for his martini which had two parts gin, one part vodka. Shaken and poured. Dabney would come in and hold up two fingers and say “Los Dos” — which was the famous martini plus a shot of espresso on the side. He would sip the martini and then sip the espresso.”

Martino explained the clubby spot’s appeal for Coleman and the other habitués: “You know the waiters. They know what you like, they know what you want, they know where you sit. Your friends can find you there five nights a week. I don’t think Dabney ever picked up the phone and said, ‘Come join me.’ They just knew they could find him there.”

“He liked to talk — he liked to hold court, he liked to tell stories. He could talk about sports, he could talk about politics, he could talk about movies. He sort of led the conversation,” she says.

Martino paints a picture of Coleman and his gang that sounds straight out of a movie by Quentin Tarantino or Paul Thomas Anderson. “Sean Penn would sit down with them, Al Pacino, Joey Heatherton sat with us a lot. She was so adorable, she would get up and show us dance sequences in the small little restaurant.

“Harry used to bring the guitar and they would bring a harmonica and then sometimes people would join in… he would he would sort of heckle back and forth with Mike at the bar… it really felt like a family.”

One of Dan Tana’s managers, Daniel Miller, says, “I waited on Dabney for eight years. It kind of meant the world to me because I was 8 years old when ‘Cloak and Dagger’ was released. He always greeted me by saying, ‘Daniel,’ and extended the kind of handshake that made you feel like a kid shaking hands with the coach of the town’s high school football team. And when his daughter Quincy came to dine with him, he would say, ‘And you know Quincy,’ and you couldn’t help but feel that his chest was expanding because his heart was bursting.

“He was amazing in film at playing the hard ass that got sentimental in the end and that seemed to be his legend at Tana’s as well. He was larger than life and will be deeply missed.”

Dan Tana himself, the Serbian actor who turned a former burger joint into a 60-year success story starting in 1964, sold the restaurant in 2009. It’s now run by Sonja Perenčević.

A lot has changed over the past few decades: patrons eat earlier now, there’s no more smoking inside, and fewer rock stars carousing after a show at the Troubadour. One thing that hasn’t is the food: from Veal Cutlet Milanese alla George Clooney or Chicken Romano, Michael De Luca, the menu is six decades of hearty Italian American cooking combined with who’s who of Hollywood.

Dabney’s New York steak, of course, comes with a generous side of marinara-topped spaghetti in the traditional Italian American way. That marinara, by the way, can be purchased by the jar, along with the zippy arrabiata and the rich Alfredo, at the restaurant and Bristol Farms, for those who want to recreate an intimate Italian meal at home.

One thing that’s sure is that without Coleman holding down his usual booth, an evening at Dan Tana’s will be just a little bit different.

(pictured at top, Clarence Williams, Dabney Coleman and Harry Dean Stanton)

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