Despite several years of ownership changes, poorly received revamps and unexpected closures, the original iconic shamrock — a piece of cut-up beer box first painted green in 1951 — is still stapled to the ceiling at Tom Bergin's on Fairfax, emblazoned with the faded last name of its first memorialized regular, Bud Wiser (yes, his real name).
The shamrock now rests adjacent to the freshly framed felt Rams championship banner, near the autographed photos of Cary Grant and other old-school Hollywood celebs, and sits among hundreds of other green pieces of cardboard that have lined the bar/restaurant's crowded wood rafters for nearly six decades.
All of this character, personality and homey pride — which has defined the Miracle Mile's “House of Irish Coffee” since Tom Bergin opened the place himself (albeit in its original building down the street) in 1936 — almost evaporated last year when its then-owners unceremoniously closed the institution.
But this New Year's Eve is one to drink to, as Bergin's takes the night to celebrate not only 2015 but the one-year anniversary of its most recent rebirth, which has restored the comfy digs to its proper nostalgic throne. Think: fancy cocktail attire, prime rib, oysters, heavy-handed Irish coffees and a prix fixe menu that'll only set you back $19.36, in honor of the year of the tavern's founding.
“Tom Bergin’s is one of the only true local bars in Los Angeles, and one of the best Irish pubs in the country,” says current owner Derek Schreck, who was a regular before buying the place in 2013. “It’s also called 'L.A.’s Living Room,' steeped in so much L.A. culture and history. Retaining the character and personality are invaluable to me, since many others try to mimic historical institutions or the city gets rid of them instead of giving the tender love and care they need to carry on.”
Since reopening on Jan. 4, 2014, Schreck and general manager Jordan Delp have cultivated a food and drink menu that updates the classics while paying homage to Bergin's rich history. The burger, bangers and mash and corned beef probably are as those there opening day would remember it, but the Brussels sprouts (topped with goat cheese), black kale salad (seasonal, with pomegranate seeds) and West Coast Philly (made with Irish cheddar) are decidedly of the now.
A craft beer selection full of Southern California seasonals and “secret pours” (like Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA) sits alongside classics like Bass and Guinness, and the house beer, Bergin's Brew, is actually Rogue Brewery's Irish Lager, which is available on draft at only a few locations in the country.
For New Year's Eve, Schreck and Delp are planning a classy fête, where customers are asked to dress in their best 1930s attire and reap the benefits of their Depression era–priced prix fixe dinner, which, for less than $20, includes oysters, prime rib and a glass of Champagne. The rest of the food menu will be available until the kitchen closes that night as well, so whether you're craving food, drinks or just a slice of L.A. nostalgia as you send off 2014, the not-so-new new Tom Bergin's has you covered.
“Previously, people came for drinks but never food,” Schreck says. “Under the last ownership, they swung the other way — food was fabulous but it felt very formal. Now, we have the best of both: amazing food and the heart and soul of the original Tom Bergin’s.”
Tom Bergin's, 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; tombergins.com. Openings are still available for the Prix Fixe menu, which will be served from 5 to 11p.m. To make reservations, call (323) 936-7151.