News


Tony Montooth, Antonio's Nut House owner, dies

Veteran drinking-establishment owner presided over Palo Alto's last 'dive bar' for 42 years

He was a California Avenue fixture for more than 42 years, but Antonio's Nut House owner Antonio "Tony" Montooth died suddenly on Saturday at his home, longtime friends said. According to the Santa Clara County Coroner's Office his physician reported the probable cause of death as metastasized lung cancer.

Montooth, 79, was a character known for his jokes, patrons and friends said. His Nut House, with the squirrel plaque over the door and caged gorilla statue where people can get roasted salted peanuts, is a much-loved watering hole where anyone from construction workers to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg were known to hang out.

People come to the bar at 321 S. California Ave. for the cheap drinks -- a margarita is $3 during an extended happy hour and a gin and tonic is just $3.50. They buy space to paint their messages and artwork on the ceiling tiles, and they cover the walls with graffiti and the floors with peanut shells. But mostly, they come there for the unpretentious vibe and camaraderie. The Nut House is a place where people come to talk over their troubles or share a laugh, regulars said.

There was no one more adept at jokes than Montooth. An electronic news ticker or "crawler" even displays some of his jokes behind the bar, longtime friend Tom Brown said. On Tuesday afternoon the scrolling lights scrolled some of his last jokes and sayings:

"So a dyslexic walks into a bra."

"Booze is the answer. Now I can't remember the question."

"Welcome to Antonio's Nut House!! Get a drink and grab your nuts."

On Tuesday, the mood was decidedly muted at the Nut House as regulars sauntered in. Some remembered him with reverence; others did not want to talk about him at all.

"It is too soon," Kelly, a bartender, and some patrons said. Another bartender said the family had asked staff not to discuss Montooth.

But Tom Brown, a friend for eight years, said he met Montooth at the Cupertino Homestead Lanes several years ago and they became good friends, bowling on the Nut House team. Montooth and his wife, Aloha, were on the same bowling team. "Tony had a 170 to 180 average, and it slowly went down from there," he said.

Brown said he always wanted to be on a happy bowling team, and Montooth's Nut House team was the right fit.

"Their shirts said 'I'm on a drinking team with a bowling problem,'" he recalled.

"I always thought he was going to be here forever," said Brown, a moving and storage company sales manager.

Friends said that Montooth was having some difficulty breathing lately.

"I was so upset with him. I said, 'Why aren't you going to the doctor?'" Brown recalled.

Brown remembered how years ago he, Montooth and others in their crowd were drinkers, but since then he and Montooth both quit drinking. Still, Montooth asked why Brown wasn't coming to the Homestead Lanes bar much anymore.

"I told him, 'I quit drinking'. Tony kept saying, 'So did I, but I still come to my bar,'" he recalled.

But after more than 40 years in the bar business, Montooth was starting to think about retirement when his lease ends. Brown was seriously thinking about taking over the business and had talked to Montooth about the possibility, he said.

Now Montooth's family will have to decide what to do with the bar, other longtime patrons said, and they hope it will still be around for years to come.

Mahmood Saljooqi, a piano technician, said that he last spoke to Montooth on Friday when the longtime patron came to the taqueria that serves food inside the bar. He learned about Montooth's death after a friend texted him, he said.

"Tony was a good guy. He was the friendliest guy. He loved his grandchildren and he loved to tell jokes," Saljooqi said.

The late bar owner was originally from Tennessee, Brown said. There are several children and grandchildren between Montooth and Aloha. Before he started the Nut House he owned an Italian family-style restaurant at the location, patrons recalled. But the Nut House, with its wacky signage and decorations, such as bras hanging from the ceiling, soon became the place to hang out.

On Tuesday, patrons tried to recall the history behind some of the many signs and props. The bras got started after a patron felt uncomfortable, removed hers and tossed it up toward the ceiling, a patron recalled.

Saljooqi said that Montooth sold space on each of the ceiling tiles to businesses and patrons, who painted messages and images that go back decades. Patrons would pay $5 or $10 to paint one of the tiles. Charles Anderson, a patron since 1980, pointed to his tile, a work of art that stated his was the "Sportsman of the Year" in 1986, with a painting of a broken nine-iron. It was one of the first on the ceiling, he recalled.

Montooth told the Weekly in April 2015 that he took pride in keeping his bar affordable and down-to-earth.

"My prices are like happy hour all the time," he said.

But he also faced frustration from run-ins with the City of Palo Alto. In 2003 the city tried to reduce his hours of operation to midnight on weekdays and 2 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, after complaints about noise and fights, which were mostly caused by the now-defunct The Edge night club, which was located down the street.

"They blame me for everything but the rain," he told the Weekly at the time, expressing irritation about complaints from residents of nearby condominiums about California Avenue bars and restaurants.

Montooth prevailed in an appeal and the Nut House today is open from 9 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Saljooqi said there are occasional fights outside the bar -- that's to be expected when people have been drinking -- but Antonio's has always been a welcome place to hang out.

"The city gave him a hard time all of the time, but this place gives people somewhere to come together. People talk about their problems. I've met a lot of great people here. It's an awesome place."

Montooth saw many changes to California Avenue, particularly in recent years. Many of the small shops that gave the avenue its character are gone now, such as The Bargain Box and Know Knew Books, which were replaced by offices, upscale restaurants and businesses that can pay higher rents.

In 2014, Montooth told the Weekly after the Bargain Box and other small businesses lost their leases that he did not know what the future would bring for the Nut House. He planned to add improvements to Antonio's, including a new floor to replace the worn-out one "where the peanut shells have done their harm." He also wanted to add a patio that would coincide with the city's new streetscaping plans, but didn't want to make the investment if he would later be evicted in favor of a tenant who could pay higher rents, he said.

Brown said he recalled a conversation he had with Montooth's wife.

"She said that Tony will never give up the bar," he recalled. "He loved coming here. He would never sell out the bar. People would come and want to rent out the bar. But Tony would say, 'Where would the regulars go?'"

Montooth's family members are still processing his death and are not ready to speak publicly, friends said.

Brown said a mass is planned for Montooth on June 10 at 11 a.m. at the Darling & Fischer Chapel of the Hills, 615 North Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos.

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Comments

51 people like this
Posted by Bob
a resident of Barron Park
on May 30, 2017 at 10:04 pm

RIP Tony. You had one of the last spots that stayed true to PA and its community.


4 people like this
Posted by Sally
a resident of Menlo Park
on May 30, 2017 at 10:25 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on May 31, 2017 at 1:20 am

I really miss Know Knew Books.


19 people like this
Posted by Steven Kunes
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on May 31, 2017 at 10:55 am

Sweet dreams, my old friend Tony. Thanks for all the great times. Until we meet again ...


25 people like this
Posted by ChrisC
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2017 at 11:42 am

This is truly sad news. Condolences to his family and to his long-time friends. I've always said, and said to Tony, when The Nut House goes, I go. Although I sure hope somebody can keep it going, when he lease is up, I can't imagine any bar owner being able to meet the astronomical rent raise that is certain to come. (I mistakenly thought he owned the property.) I guess I'd better start packing.


18 people like this
Posted by Jonathan Brown
a resident of Ventura
on May 31, 2017 at 11:55 am

Tony, what a ride! Thanks for all of the nutty memories! May your legacy live on as we continue toasting you in your "House" for many years to come.


25 people like this
Posted by Janette-
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2017 at 12:39 pm

Sending much love and peace to the Nut House family. RIP Tony - thanks for all support you gave to the Cal.Ave. community. You will be missed:(


27 people like this
Posted by Casa de Cerveza
a resident of Evergreen Park
on May 31, 2017 at 12:40 pm

Casa de Cerveza is a registered user.

Tony will be greatly missed. He loved cribbage and taught me dealers win 6 out of 10 times. Tony was also proud that Mark Zuckerberg's feature photo in Time Magazine's 2010 "Person of the Year" issue was taken at Antonio's. He made housekeepers, gardeners, billionaires, physicists, students, and riffraff like me, all feel welcome. RIP Tony.


19 people like this
Posted by Nancy Thomas
a resident of College Terrace
on May 31, 2017 at 12:58 pm

Gryphonites will miss you Tony. Thanks for a great place to hang out.


45 people like this
Posted by Teddy
a resident of another community
on May 31, 2017 at 1:04 pm

Hey, Palo Alto: How about honoring both Tony's memory and the history of the Antonio's Nut House by ensuring that it remains just as it is? Any other business/structure at that location would be a full body blow to Cal. Ave.'s character.

R.I.P., Tony.


21 people like this
Posted by Resident
a resident of Fairmeadow
on May 31, 2017 at 1:37 pm

Sad, but also kind of nice that he passed before he had to witness the very large public safety building and parking garage going up on the lot next door. They are going to do to the Nuthouse what that huge San Antonio development has done to the Milk Pail.


17 people like this
Posted by Little_Pig
a resident of Mountain View
on May 31, 2017 at 2:36 pm

The world is a lesser place without him. So long Tony, my friend.


11 people like this
Posted by Bob Prochnow
a resident of another community
on Jun 2, 2017 at 10:05 am

I was shocked and saddened with the news of Tonys passing. I played cribbage with him and Aloha from time to time at tournaments...He was always some one who brought a smile to faces...He was just a great person and I will truly miss seeing him. I will miss his jokes and fantastic personality.


Like this comment
Posted by Joshua Selker
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Jun 2, 2017 at 3:00 pm

[Post removed.]


8 people like this
Posted by Grieving
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 6:20 pm

The Palo Alto Lifestyle is officially dead.

Once the lease comes due for re negotiation, no one will be able to pay the 500% increase the owner is bound to want.

Some creep developer will buy it, tear it down, and turn it into more stack 'n packs.


17 people like this
Posted by Grieving
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 2, 2017 at 6:21 pm

The Palo Alto Lifestyle is officially dead.

Once the lease comes due for re negotiation, no one will be able to pay the 500% increase the owner is bound to want.

Some creep developer will buy it, tear it down, and turn it into more stack 'n packs.

Millennial, give up your dream-- the lady of it passed with Tony.


2 people like this
Posted by Nina
a resident of another community
on Jun 4, 2017 at 6:13 pm

I was deeply saddened by the news of Tony's passing. My heart felt condolences to his family.


9 people like this
Posted by Candice C
a resident of another community
on Jun 5, 2017 at 1:55 pm

We'll miss you Gpa Tony! Your spunky personality, silly jokes and good times! You were such a giving individual that loved your classic cars, grand kids, life and wife :) Thank you for the card tricks, getting me water skiing on the delta after many years and good food and company. Your Memories will go on and your legacy. So sad we didn't get to say good bye...Love you, and Aloha! xoxo


3 people like this
Posted by A Former Nut House Regular
a resident of Midtown
on Jun 22, 2017 at 6:21 pm

RIP Tony. The Golden Era of the "Nut' was around the late 1980s to about 2000.
Pool league, open tables for $.50 a rack, $3.00 call drinks and the scruffy-looking 20-something Gen-Xers made the place a cool and fun hang-out. I recall Barbara/Melinda/Monica/Andy/Kelly as the regular bartenders and a host of colorful and interesting patrons like Van, Gene, Moe, Teddy and Michael, Jim the Bowler, Kasey, Dave M. and Paul S. Tony M.+ countless other recreational pool players and younger regulars.

Those were the days, before the Gen-Xers and Boomers got older and the Millennial crowd took over. Totally different today. Tony the owner flowed with the changes.


4 people like this
Posted by Waving Goodbye
a resident of Mayfield
on Jun 24, 2017 at 10:02 am

A very astute businessman who hired all women bartenders (and paid them above scale) in an ongoing effort to reduce the number of potential altercations that can often occur in a rowdy bar environment. The Nut House outlived all of the once noteworthy bars in the Palo Alto/Menlo Park area including The Winery, Talbot's, The Island, Class Reunion, 442nd Street, Henry's, Emerson Street Bar & Grill and BBC while carrying on the tradition of Mayfield's once colorful and seedy past. By keeping drinks reasonably priced and providing an atmosphere of total escape, TM created a money-making machine that will never be equaled again. Had he actually owned the building (and his heirs willing to continue the business), The Nut House could have ventured into a perpetual state of timelessness (much to the chagrin of local residents who sometimes complained of the evening bar noise).

As it stands, the next time I venture into the California Avenue area a complete redevelopment process will invariably have taken place with The Nut House eventually replaced by a new office building or upscale restaurant completing the city's quest towards total gentrification. As one bar patron commented decades ago...when Tony's gone, the Nut House will cease to exist.


1 person likes this
Posted by Back to the Future
a resident of College Terrace
on Jun 24, 2017 at 11:49 am

Would love to see Kelly G. assume the GM duties of the Nut House while delegating the on-site bar-keeping duties to a new group of women bartenders reflective of her unique style and vision. The male bartenders simply don't cut it and are non-traditional at best.


1 person likes this
Posted by Carnivore
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 24, 2017 at 3:42 pm

Who's going to be coordinating the steak barbeque/potlucks in Tony's absence?


1 person likes this
Posted by I Had My Own Barstool Once
a resident of Southgate
on Jun 24, 2017 at 5:47 pm

I would love to see a return of the afternoon lingerie shows as well.


1 person likes this
Posted by Stanford MBA
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 25, 2017 at 11:29 am

Just got back from an overseas business trip and heard the news of Tony's passing. My heartfelt condolences. I grew up without a father and during the course of some casual conversations at the bar, Tony advised me on how to relate to women in general. His infinite wisdom and insights were priceless and in retrospect, I avoided a costly separation/divorce by breaking off an engagement with a suspected gold-digger. RIP Tony and may you find peace in the next world.


3 people like this
Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Jun 25, 2017 at 12:57 pm

Different but related topic, any news from Alpine Inn?


2 people like this
Posted by Online Name
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jun 25, 2017 at 1:04 pm

What's happening with the Alpine Inn? I'm almost afraid to ask.


3 people like this
Posted by It's Another Bad Year
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Jun 25, 2017 at 1:20 pm

Alpine Inn's Owner died recently!


3 people like this
Posted by Jason B.
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 25, 2017 at 6:04 pm

While Antonio's Nut House is often billed as a dive bar, it really wasn't one. The d├ęcor just made it look that way and Tony made sure that anyone who wasn't buying drinks or food did not belong in his tavern. When I first set foot in Antonio's (around 1990), the free peanuts were dispersed by the bartender who would give them to you in a plastic hamburger basket. Years later, the peanuts were out in the open and I recall a time when Tony caught a homeless African-American woman helping herself to some complimentary peanuts. Since she wasn't buying any drinks at the bar, Tony became infuriated and he accosted her, issuing a lifetime '86'. He also confiscated the peanuts!

The Nut House had some riff-raff clientele but in order to remain a customer in good standing, one had to be a paying customer and the peanuts were only free to those who purchased cocktails or beer. Tony made sure of that.






Like this comment
Posted by Barry Lyons
a resident of another community
on Jun 25, 2017 at 6:14 pm

I first met Tony at a black-tie party at the Sheraton about 15-20 years ago.
He was accompanied by a woman and after we were introduced, I added, "Nice to meet you Mrs. Montooth." Tony just laughed and said, "This is my mistress.'
He was quite the cad.


2 people like this
Posted by Paul
a resident of Barron Park
on Jun 25, 2017 at 6:19 pm

That was his mistress at the time! *LOL*


Like this comment
Posted by T. Rex
a resident of Ventura
on Jun 25, 2017 at 6:34 pm

Sad to hear. Does Tony's passing mean my permanent 86 has been lifted? The newer bartenders don't recognize me but you never know.


Like this comment
Posted by Kristen T.
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 25, 2017 at 6:38 pm

QUOTE> Would love to see Kelly G. assume the GM duties of the Nut House while delegating the on-site bar-keeping duties to a new group of women bartenders reflective of her unique style and vision. The male bartenders simply don't cut it and are non-traditional at best.

Some Millennial customers might beg to differ with your recommendation.


Like this comment
Posted by Craig B.
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Jun 25, 2017 at 8:01 pm

In the event of an upcoming closure, hopefully someone will post the info here. I have since moved to LA (Malibu) but would come-up for one last 'Lost Weekend' at Antonio's. Hopefully some of the regulars from the 1990s will be there as well. Rehab went reasonably well as I am down to only 12 drinks a day and no longer riding the rails.


Like this comment
Posted by Brian Roberts MD
a resident of Stanford
on Jun 26, 2017 at 11:11 am

Only twelve drinks per day? Where did you go for rehab...The Leaving Las Vegas Center for Alcohol Dependency?


1 person likes this
Posted by Yesterday's Gone
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jun 26, 2017 at 5:55 pm

I used to spend about $15.00 a night (3-4 cocktails/tips + some loose pool quarters) at Antonio's 'back in the day'. At 4-5 nights per week times 50 weeks over a period of 8+ years or so, my eventual expenditures/outlay must have exceeded $30K+ over that time period. Amazing how the countless hours and money flew by at The Nut House.


Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

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