Three years after its colorful owner passed away, Antonio's Nut House, Palo Alto's last authentic dive bar, is still open, but its new owners worry their landlord might have other plans for the California Avenue property.
Ownership of the bar has passed into the hands of late proprietor Tony Montooth's children, according to a posting updating the establishment's liquor license. But the Nut House's landlord does not want to renew the lease and has said he plans to sell the land, one of Montooth's sons said.
Now Montooth's family is exploring strategies to either purchase the land or find another nearby location, which, they acknowledge, isn't an easy feat in the current Palo Alto commercial real estate market.
Montooth's estate emerged from probate in Santa Clara County Superior Court in late October, according to court records. The bar passed from his wife, Aloha Montooth, to his children, William "Jess" Montooth, Ginger Atherton and Joseph Montooth, a December 2019 filing with the California Secretary of State shows.
They have "cleaned up" the bar a bit since taking over, but they aren't changing its funky ambiance, Jess Montooth said this week, which includes pool tables, a taqueria, a stuffed gorilla in a cage where patrons can scoop up peanuts and a giant mural on an outside wall with scenes from the bar and a dominating likeness of Tony Montooth.
"The Nut House is the same as always," Jess Montooth said by phone this week.
He's cautious about the bar's future, however, having heard from the landlord, Stanley Gross, that he doesn't want to renew the lease when it's up in December. In response, the children of Tony Montooth are gearing up to save the beloved bar — and their father's legacy.
"We've been here 49 years. We don't have the money to try to make a deal with the owner," but they'll do anything they can to try to preserve the bar, Jess Montooth said. "We're starting a fundraising campaign to fund possibly buying the property. We're looking to our kids to start a media campaign."
A longtime patron of the bar wants to help the family start a limited liability partnership to purchase the property, he added.
Nut House manager Kelley Gorman, who has been there for 20 years and was trained by Tony Montooth, will remain in charge of day-to-day operations, Jess Montooth said. On Wednesday, she said she was also concerned about the potential sale of the property.
"There's been so much change. It's inevitable," she said related to high costs of property and leases in Palo Alto.
Three years ago, Gross told the Weekly that he and the property's other owners, through the entity DH & MA Edwards Co., were happy having Montooth's son Jess and employees run the bar. Gross said at the time that he hoped that Antonio's Nut House could remain.
"It's a dive, but it's the last of its kind," he said in July 2017.
He has not returned multiple calls this week requesting comment.
Gorman is hoping that a well-heeled patron who has frequented the bar will step up. Like the Montooth children, she would do anything to save the bar. "We're a dying breed. I've heard so many people say 'You can't let it go.'"
When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg frequented the Nut House in his business's early days, Gorman said the Nut House shielded him from the multiple daily phone calls and letters that came to the bar from people asking for money from the famed social media mogul. Now to save the Nut House, Gorman finds herself wishing she could ask for Zuckerberg's help.
He doesn't come in anymore, but his company's success has contributed to the predicament the Nut House finds itself in today: Skyrocketing real estate values, boosted by demand from tech and social media firms, that are putting the squeeze on mom-and-pop businesses like Antonio's Nut House.
"Can you buy the building and make it historical?" she said she would ask Zuckerberg now.