After nearly 80 years as L.A.'s house of Irish coffee, flannel carpets and shamrock-covered ceilings, Tom Bergin's is finally adding something new. But in order to get to it, you have to walk through an old coat closet door next to the hostess stand, up a wooden stairwell and into what is essentially the attic of the Mid-Wilshire bar and restaurant.
Here, in a series of rooms that once functioned as the actual Tom Bergin's office, you'll find Vestry, owner Derek Schreck's members-only whiskey club, education center and functioning museum, which will open by the end of the summer. Though attached to Bergin's, Vestry is not merely an extension of the iconic Irish bar. Like the Varnish in the back of Cole's and the Exhibition Room behind Roxanne's in Long Beach, it has a separate identity and concept. Decorated with restored booze memorabilia, comfy old armchairs and swap-meet finds, the place looks more like your great-grandpa's apartment straight out of the 1920s than a new-age speakeasy.
"Were trying to build an homage to American distilling, because we believe we should be a lot more proud of our whiskey industry than we are," Schreck says. "People are only now starting to appreciate what the American bourbon industry is capable of."
For Schreck and Bergin's general manager, Jordan Delp, this means putting their obsessive knowledge of American whiskey to use by sourcing not only the specialty bourbons you're used to seeing at L.A.'s other single-spirit bars, such as Seven Grand and Blind Donkey, but digging deeper for smaller producers and vintage bottles.
The final lineup includes 198 North American whiskeys representing 22 states and Canada. It includes both current and old production spirits of all flavors and price points. Ask Schreck about any of them — such as the Old Hickory 20-year bottled in 1948 or the hard-to-find Watershed bourbon from Ohio — and he'll enthusiastically rattle off facts about the distillery's history and how water quality affects their wash. He can even make a case for why Canadian whiskey deserves respect.
"What's special about the list is you're never going to find all of these bottles in one place," he says.
Vestry memberships will be available starting this summer.
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Editor's note: A previous version of this story said that memberships would be available starting June 1. The date when memberships will become available has not been determined yet.
Tom Bergin's, 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Mid-Wilshire; (323) 936-7151; tombergins.com.