To understand the Tam o’ Shanter’s place in L.A. restaurant history, you might start by reading a proclamation from Councilwoman Jackie Goldberg that hangs on the Tam’s foyer wall. It offers up congratulations to “the oldest restaurant in Los Angeles in the same location under the same ownership and management.”
It’s a statement that’s basically true. The restaurant is still owned by descendants of the Van de Kamp and Frank families that started it (as well as Lawry’s and Van de Kamp’s bakeries), and it still sits on Los Feliz Boulevard (across from Costco in Atwater), where it was first built. But that’s not to say it hasn’t changed.
When the restaurant opened in June of 1922, on what was then a country road connecting Hollywood and Glendale, it was called Montgomerery’s Country Inn. Co-owner Lawrence Frank told the designer he wanted it “to look like something from old Normandy.” When the restaurant failed to thrive, a friend of the owners suggested a name change. “You could call it the Tam o’ Shanter after Robert Burns’ famous poem,” he suggested, “and put the waitresses in plaid costumes to carry out the idea.” Later, in the ’70s, the restaurant did a stint as the Great Scot.
The menu, too, has changed over the years. The original had things like country-style frankfurters and chicken-and-waffle dinners; later it became known primarily as a burger-and-spaghetti joint. Now the dining-room menu tends toward prime rib and steak.
Today, the real draw is the bar, with good British beers on tap, more-than-adequate chili, televised sports, and sandwiches made from the previous day’s left over prime rib. And if you can take the excess of plaid in the dining room, you can get perfectly fine beef and Yorkshire pudding.
Of his poem’s hero, Burns wrote, “Kings may be blest, but Tam was glorious.” Tam the restaurant, if not glorious, is at least a taste of history. 2980 Los Feliz Blvd.; (323) 664-0228.
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