By Elena Kadvany
Palo Alto's last dive bar, the beloved Nut House, calls it quits for now. 'We just can't afford it anymore.'Uploaded: Aug 21, 2020
Barely two months ago, the 49-year-old Antonio's Nut House reopened triumphantly after a monthslong closure with a new outdoor patio, new chef in the kitchen and hope for a reimagined future that included food pop-ups.
But amidst the economic losses of the pandemic and uncertainty about when the California Avenue dive bar will be able to serve people inside, the owners have decided to close the Nut House again, at least for now.
The Nut House's last day of business for the foreseeable future will be tomorrow, Saturday, Aug. 22.
Antonio's Nut House reopened at 321 California Ave. in late June with new outdoor seating. Photo by Elena Kadvany.
"We're losing a lot of money. It's just too difficult to conform to all the regulations and maintain our pricing," said Jess Montooth, who took over the dive bar with his siblings after their father, Tony Montooth, died in 2017. "Our only hope of returning the business is if indoor dining or indoor bars are approved. Other than that, we're done."
Montooth said outdoor dining has been going OK, but that business has fallen due to the summer heat wave (and now, poor air quality). Construction work on a parking lot behind the bar also negatively impacted business, he said. They ran through a $80,000 federal loan through the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) quickly, he said.
When the dive bar reopened in late June, the owners brought in Darius Johnson, a self-taught chef and Palo Alto native, to run the kitchen. Johnson, for his part, said he's going to go back to selling food out of his home, which he did before getting the gig at the Nut House.
The lease on the 321 S. California Ave. bar expires in December. The Montooth siblings had been hopeful they would extend the lease or find a new home for the Nut House before then, but the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic feels too great.
"If we knew in three months you can open back up, we'd stay open," Montooth said. "We need the money. Just with the forecast being, no answers for anybody — it's hard."
Antonio "Tony" Montooth pours out some of his special margarita mix for a patron in April 2015 at his eponymous bar in Palo Alto File photo by Michelle Le.
If indoor bars or dining is allowed to resume before December, Montooth said they'll reopen.
If the Nut House doesn't return, it will mark the end of an era for Palo Alto's last dive bar, known for its cheap drinks, peanut-strewn floor and unpretentious, colorful vibe. Montooth said he spent most of Thursday, after making the final decision about closing, in tears.
"Everyone that knows and loves the Nuthouse knows we are fighters," he wrote in a Facebook post announcing the closure. "Hope to see you when or if we can open our doors again."