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The House of Irish Coffee • Est. 1936
Tom Bergins Exterior Night

On February 11, 1935, a lawyer drove to a tudor building located at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, unlocked the door, and tacked a liquor license to the wall. The lawyer, Tom Bergin. The place, Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe Tavern & Thoroughbred Club. The license, now the second oldest in Los Angeles County.

Now nearing our 80th year as LA’s perdurable local, we seek to continue that great tradition set forth by Tom Bergin that February 11, where a welcome spirit is compulsory, and success is measured by the chatter between strangers and old friends.

Tom Bergin

On February 11, 1935, a lawyer drove to a tudor building located at the corner of Wilshire Blvd. and Fairfax Ave. in Los Angeles, unlocked the door, and tacked a liquor license to the wall. The lawyer, Tom Bergin. The place, Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe Tavern & Thoroughbred Club. The license, now the second oldest in Los Angeles County.

It’s little wonder that despite a law degree from Boston University, Bergin found the call of opening a pub irresistible. His long established Boston family owned the Commercial Brewery as well as the very famous Old Horseshoe Tavern in Haymarket Square, established 1806. So after serving in WWI as one of the country’s first naval aviators (pilot #232) and hanging up his attorney’s shingle in Los Angeles in 1921, Bergin decided to open a pub just like his father’s, and Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe was born.

Drawing on his family roots (from County Kerry), Bergin sought to create an authentic pub, defined by warmth, great food, and exceptional hospitality. So great was his success that in the early years, friend and fellow sportsman Bing Crosby asked Bergin to take control of the fine dining at the newly opened Del Mar race track. But the endeavor left Bergin stretched too thin, and he ultimately relented in favor of focusing on his tavern. Despite a move down the block in 1949 to the larger space we still occupy, Bergin’s exists as it ever has.

Crosby and Pat O’Brien would make the Old Horseshoe their regular haunt, and soon after, the rest of Hollywood followed. Names such as John Wayne, Kiefer Sutherland, and Julia Roberts can be found nestled among the thousands of shamrocks affixed to the ceiling commemorating friends and loyal regulars. Cary Grant had his own booth (his shamrock sits framed above it to this day), President Ronald Reagan received his Bergin’s Shamrock in a ceremony in the Oval Office on St. Patrick’s Day, 1983, and regular patrons the Charles brothers utilized the famous Horseshoe Bar as inspiration for their TV show Cheers.

Far from just an industry hangout, Bergin’s has long been a nexus for the Los Angeles community. Sports fans gather to watch their teams play under the myriad vintage pennants which adorn the rafters. Or to visit the original 1951 Los Angeles Rams World Championship banner, which was gifted to Tom Bergin by Dan Reeves as thanks for hosting the Ram’s championship dinner. Theater and art lovers drift down from the Miracle Mile, and couples and diners gather in our fire lit dining room to enjoy music on a peaceful evening.

After 37 years, Tom Bergin decided it was time to retire and passed stewardship of the tavern to Mike Mandekic and T.K. Vodrey. Both were dedicated regulars, and their varied backgrounds meshed perfectly with the tavern’s operational needs. After graduating from USC, Mandekic went into the restaurant business with his father as proprietors of Cole’s famous P.E. Buffet beneath the sidewalk at the Old Pacific Electric Building at 6th and Los Angeles streets, now the oldest bar in the city and a Historical Monument (No. 184). Vodrey, a Princeton graduate, hailed from an Ohio newspaper family which owned 12 dailies and 15 weeklies throughout the country. He came west in 1960 to run the San Gabriel Valley Tribune, and after his family sold their print properties, produced educational films for Visual Dynamics. By 1972, the pair were looking to open a tavern together similar to some of their favorite intimate spots in New York. One night, as they were sitting around the bar at Bergin’s, they decided that this was it. And, coincidentally, for the first time since 1936, Tom Bergin gave serious thought to passing the Shillelagh. The tavern would thrive for the next 39 years, until, at the age of 79, Vodrey sold Bergin’s to restauranteur Warner Ebbink.

Owner of three celebrated LA hot spots, Ebbink undertook a painstaking restoration of Bergin’s from 2011 until mid-2012. After 63 years of hard use, the charming pub at 840 S. Fairfax was in a dire state of disrepair. Calling on top craftsman and cutting no corners, Ebbink reopened Bergin’s doors, complete with a new menu from award winning chef Brandon Boudet, in May of 2012. Despite the magnificent work done, the immense restoration costs were difficult to overcome, and after 13 months, Bergin’s closed it’s doors.

Prior to the closing, however, a friendship was struck between former manager Jordan Delp and regular Derek Schreck. Delp, a native of sunny Florida and veteran manager of top restaurants in New York and Los Angeles, began discussing with Schreck, an actor and native Las Vegan, ideas for a bar concept he was hoping to open in Venice. After discovering that Schreck had similar ambitions, as well as a knack for design, Delp asked if Schreck would consider designing the space for his concept. Schreck agreed. However, one afternoon while Schreck was sitting at the Horseshoe bar, he was told by one of the staff that Bergin’s was going to close. He immediately called Delp, and in a transaction similar to that in 1973, two devoted Bergin’s familiars picked up the torch and became stewards of this LA icon.

Tom Bergin's History

A chef by the name of Joe Sheridan invented Irish Coffee at the Shannon Airport in Ireland. It was in the old days of flying boats landing at Foynes – 1938 to be precise – and the passengers would come in by launch, shivering from the cold.

“Surely,” said Sheridan, “we must invent a stirrup cup for the poor souls, and them not able to put their shivering hands in their pockets for a shilling to pay unless we warm them. What is more warming than Irish Whiskey, smooth as a maiden’s kiss. To take the chill from their poor shaking hands we will fill the glass with coffee, black as Cromwell’s heart. We will top it off with a floating inch of Irish cream.”

Shortly after its invention, famous San Francisco columnist Stanton Delaplane brought the recipe from Shannon Airport to Tom Bergin’s, and we’ve been known as the House of Irish Coffee ever since.

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