On February 11, 1935, a lawyer drove to a tudor building located at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue 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.
Surpassing our 80th year as LA’s perdurable local, Tom Bergin’s Public House seeks to continue the great tradition set forth by Mr. Bergin, himself, where a welcome spirit is compulsory, and success is measured by the chatter between strangers and old friends.
It’s little wonder that, despite a law degree from Boston University, Tom Bergin found the call of opening a pub irresistible. His long established Massachusetts family owned Commercial Brewery of Boston, as well as the very famous Old Horseshoe Tavern in Haymarket Square, established 1806.
So after serving in World War I as one of the country’s first naval aviators – pilot #232 – and hanging up his attorney shingle in Los Angeles in 1921, Bergin decided to open a pub just like his father’s, and Tom Bergin’s Old Horseshoe Tavern & Thoroughbred Club was born.
Drawing on ancestral Irish roots – 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 pub’s early years, personal friend and fellow sportsman, Bing Crosby, asked him to take control of the fine dining at the newly opened Del Mar Race Track. However, the endeavor left Bergin stretched thin, and he ultimately relented in favor of focusing on the tavern. Despite a move down the block in 1949 to the larger space we still occupy to this day, Tom Bergin’s Public House exists as it ever has.
Mr. Crosby and Pat O’Brien would make the Old Horseshoe Tavern their regular haunt and the rest of Hollywood followed. Names like John Wayne, as well as Kiefer Sutherland, and Julia Roberts, can be found nestled among the thousands of shamrocks affixed to the ceiling, commemorating friends and loyal regulars over the years. Cary Grant famously had his own booth – his shamrock sits framed above it to this day – and former president Ronald Reagan received his shamrock in a ceremony in the Oval Office on St. Patrick’s Day, 1983. Regular patrons, the Charles brothers, utilized the Horseshoe Bar as the inspiration for what would become the iconic TV show, Cheers.
Far from merely an industry hangout, Bergin’s has long been a nexus for the local community. Sports fans gather to watch their teams play under the myriad vintage pennants adorning the rafters, or, to visit the original 1951 Los Angeles Rams World Championship banner, gifted to Bergin by Dan Reeves as a thanks for hosting the team’s championship dinner. Theater and art lovers drift down from Miracle Mile, and groups and couples diners gather in the fire lit gaming lounge to enjoy music and conversation on a peaceful evening.
After a spectacular 37 years, Bergin finally decided it was time to retire and passed stewardship of the tavern to local entrepreneurs, Mike Mandekic and T.K. Vodrey. Both were dedicated regulars, and their varied backgrounds meshed perfectly with the tavern’s operational needs.
After 63 years of hard use, however, the charming local at 840 South Fairfax was in a dire state of disrepair. After an immense restoration by dedicated LA restauranteurs, Tom Bergin’s closed its doors in June 2013.
Prior to the closing, however, one regular’s interest in the business was piqued – actor and native Las Vegan, Derek Schreck, himself possessed of ambitions to own a bar, immediately picked up the shillelagh to become steward of the indomitable LA icon in 2014.
Currently, Schreck is bringing Bergin’s back to the consciousness of a new generation of bar-goers. Along with the management team of Jason Dechert and Joe Tower, Schreck is opening Vestry in July 2017, a one-of-a-kind bar and whiskey lounge built by hand into the intimate pitch-roofed attic of the famous Irish cottage.
Although the metropolitan market expects reinvention, the mission of the Original Horseshoe Tavern remains: a spirit is compulsory and success is measured by the chatter between strangers and old friends.
Tom Bergin’s Public House. Legendary. Reinvented.
As the story goes, a chef named Joe Sheridan invented Irish Coffee at the Shannon Airport in Ireland in the 1940s. It was in the old days of water taxis landing at Foynes, County LImerick, 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.”
Shortly after its invention, famous travel writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, Stanton Delaplane, brought the recipe from Shannon Airport to Tom Bergin in Los Angeles, and the public house on Fairfax has been known as the House Of Irish Coffee ever since.
“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.” –Chef Joe Sheridan