What does it take to become a “regular” at a restaurant? It takes a commitment to frequently and consistently attend the establishment. It takes the ability to say, “I’ll have the usual” enough times that the bartender knows exactly what “the usual” is. It takes knowing the names of the bartenders, hosts, waiters, waitresses and owners, and it also takes being known by all of those people. However, at Tom Bergin’s, the Irish pub located on Fairfax Avenue, there is one extra step that must be taken before one is truly seen as a regular: putting your name on a four-leaf clover cutout that is then stuck to the wall or ceiling. It is a tradition that began when the pub first opened in 1936, and now the interior of this historic L.A. haunt is covered with the names of its most devoted customers throughout the years.
About a year ago, Warner Ebbink and Brandon Boudet bought Tom Bergin’s, adding to their list of other L.A. restaurants including Little Dom’s and Dominick’s. After acquiring Bergin’s, Ebbink and Boudet decided to restore the old pub, which had not been physically revamped since its second owner purchased it in 1973. In their restoration of Bergin’s, Ebbinks and Boudet took on a challenge similar to the one faced by the creators of the Harry Potter films: to construct something new, but still stay true to the original source in order to keep the fans happy. Thus, most of the updates in regards to the atmosphere inside Bergin’s focused more on refurbishing instead of restyling. For instance, in order to restore the ceiling, all of the glued-on four-leaf clover cutouts were removed and then put back after it was repainted.
The next challenge to tackle was revamping the menu. They did this by using higher quality ingredients to create cherished Irish staples such as the cottage pie, Irish stew and fish & chips. Furthermore, with options such as the 100% grass-fed beef baseball steak and the Wagyu New York strip steak, the updated menu also stays true to the old days when businessmen would go to Bergin’s to stuff their stomachs with steaks while discussing the latest numbers, a tradition that continues on to this day. There are also some appealing vegetarian options on the menu, such as the portobello steak, which is marinated with garlic rosemary, and the “Colcannon” salad, which has kale, grilled potatoes and a roasted spring onion crème fraiche.
There are a couple of dishes at Bergin’s that are a definite must. Firstly, no individual should leave the restaurant without tasting the Bergin’s version of corned beef and cabbage. The meat is cooked so tenderly that it is easily pulled apart with a fork, so there is no need for a knife. The juicy meat combined with a delightful cinnamon flavor will cause the corned beef to disappear from the plate faster than a golden pot does at the end of a rainbow. Another worthwhile dish is the Irish breakfast, which is done in true Irish fashion and includes two fried eggs, chicken sausage, rashers, roasted tomato, sautéed mushrooms, grilled soda bread and a very tasty black pudding that even a native Irishmen would try to replicate.
In order to revamp the cocktail menu at Bergin’s, Ebbink and Boudet got the help of Marcos Tello, the mixologist for popular downtown bars like The Edison and Seven Grand. One of the most popular drinks is the Irish Maid, which has mint, cucumber, Bushmill’s whiskey, sugar and limejuice. The combination of flavors in this cocktail makes it a very refreshing drink, and establishes an unlikely way to drink whiskey. For those who want to enjoy a more traditional pub drink, Bergin’s also has a wide range of beer on tap and a large selection of Irish whiskeys. And, of course, they have the classic Irish coffee, which is always a pleasant way to finish off a hearty Irish meal.
Though the paint is renewed and the copper on the U-shaped bar has been replaced, Bergin’s still carries the atmosphere of a historical place that has lasted through many years. The faded, tobacco stained clover cutouts on the walls represent the old regulars from the restaurant’s rich past, and the brighter green clover cutouts represent the new regulars who eat there today. Overall, with its rich history, tasty pub food, and the luck of the Irish on its side, it looks like Tom Bergin’s has a promising future.
Tom Bergin’s is located at 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles. For more information, call (323) 936-7151 or visit tombergins.com.