The restaurant world has changed dramatically, and we will be covering it in different ways. This is the first in an ongoing series highlighting our editorial team’s experiences at reopened restaurants.
I kept running through different scenarios in my mind. What if I walked in and immediately felt uncomfortable? What if the photos had been misleading? What if I completely panicked and went screaming into the streets?
I wasn’t walking into a high-stakes job interview or grabbing a drink with someone I met on a dating app. I was going to dinner with my boyfriend at a restaurant I’ve been to 100 times. Welcome to the world in June 2020.
I’ll be honest, 24 hours before I walked into Dan Tana’s on June 12th, I had no plans to dine-in at a restaurant anytime soon. My weekly routine of takeout, delivery, and scattered home cooking sessions had become a well-oiled machine, and with COVID cases spiking, I saw no reason to risk it. That changed when Dan Tana’s posted photos of their new back patio.
Like many people in LA, Dan Tana’s is a second home to me. Some of my favorite memories - including a few I can’t quite remember - were formed inside this legendary Italian restaurant, and its impact on me and my profound love for this city is undeniable. Staring at those photos of the patio, with its freshly rolled red astroturf and copious amounts of space between scattered tables sent me spiraling into a mental place I wasn’t expecting - I knew I wanted to eat there.
Upon arrival, we were immediately approached by the doorman. His job wasn’t to check IDs, but to take our temperatures with an infrared thermometer. Cue mild panic. Is this when I find out I’m presymptomatic? Or that I walked too fast getting here and my body temperature foils the night before it begins? Thankfully, we were both cleared, and appreciated the extra step taken.
With masks on, we were ushered through the largely empty interior (no one was sitting at the bar, and each occupied booth neighbored an empty one), and made our way to the back patio. Seeing one of LA’s great dining rooms half-full was certainly a bummer, but it was the giant framed photo of “Mike” leaning against the bar that brought this whole experience into an even greater focus.
Mike Gotovac, one of the most iconic bartenders in the city and the face of Dan Tana’s for over 50 years, died in May due to complications from COVID-19. This isn’t just a restaurant trying to recover from the repercussions of a national shutdown, it’s a group of people still mourning the loss of one of their family members.
To say we arrived at our table more somber than when we walked in would be an understatement, but my lingering guilt and anxiety were minimized with the arrival of our waiter. Wearing a n95 respirator mask, gloves, and a face shield, he walked over to the table, looked us point-blank in the eyes, and asked, “Do you like my new look? I’m from the future!”
We laughed. And just like that, I relaxed a bit.
From there, our dinner largely played out like many previous ones here. We ordered our usual - Nika’s Caesar, fried ravioli, and chicken parm with a side of Bolognese. We ate table bread like it had just been invented, and cleaned our hands every ten minutes with the sanitizer we brought from home. There was regular conversation, cracks from the waitstaff about how we all were eating in a driveway, and several rounds of gin martinis. It was only when the check came that it finally hit me - despite the face shields, temperature checks, and diligent sanitization procedures throughout, our night was spent largely not thinking about COVID-19. Dinner at Dan Tana’s still feels like dinner at Dan Tana’s - and that’s to the credit of every person working there who made us feel safe and comfortable throughout the entire night.
As far as everyone else on the patio - there were seven other tables - they were enjoying themselves, but behaving themselves. There seemed to be a clear, mutual understanding that if you dine at a restaurant that’s taken as much care as Dan Tana’s to get things right, then that respect needs to be reciprocated. You might be thinking this is obvious adult protocol, but it takes one quick stroll through West Hollywood to realize Dan Tana’s is an outlier in that regard.
If you’re not comfortable dining on a patio right now, that’s understandable. If you can’t see yourself eating at a restaurant until a vaccine is available, that’s also understandable. But if you’re trying to figure out which places are taking the necessary steps to ensure a safe and comfortable experience for their guests, while also still having some fun in the process, look no further than one of the most unapologetically old-school restaurants in town.
Dan Tana’s - where snagging a table still requires picking up the phone, and whose reservation book looks more like the Dead Sea Scrolls than a functioning system of operation - is also the place that’s created a blueprint for how a restaurant can reopen successfully and responsibly. Our waiter might’ve said that he was from the future, but I beg to differ. The future is already here, Dan Tana’s is just ready for it.