Barfly - Tom Bergin's Tavern
When it comes to doing things like the Irish, Americans are decidedly banjaxed. We still can't drink like they can, we never could clog like they can, and even when our most talented thespians give it a go, we still haven't been able to master the Irish accent (i.e. Brad Pitt in "The Devil's Own"). One thing we keep trying to replicate that almost always fails is the Irish pub, as evidenced by the fact that there are more immigrants from south of the border than there are from the emerald isle in Los Angeles, and yet far more Irish pubs than there are cantinas – very few of which ever attract any actually Irish clientele. But, every once in a while, we get it right (i.e. Brad Pitt in "Snatch"), so for an Irish pub experience that makes even the Irish feel at home, leg it to Tom Bergin's Tavern. I walked into Tom Bergin's expecting to find the usual Irish pub fare: a dimly lit, tightly packed space crowding a polished wooden bar filled to the hilt with whiskey and scotch and taps that included Harp and Guinness. I expected the walls to be littered with historical Celtic knickknacks including maps of all the Irish counties, and highlighted by glowing neon shamrocks. And I expected food. So initially, Tom Bergin's met all of my expectations. But then I bumped into a group of singing, drunken Irish imports, at which point Tom Bergin's far and away exceeded what I'd come to expect from a west coast Irish pub.
"It really feels like a proper Irish bar," said an Irish native who asked not to be named, only described as "a buxom redhead aged 28."
"It's in a whole other league," she added, singing and laughing amidst a group of close friends, who each chimed in with their favorite aspects of the bar:
"Their onion rings is whatcha need to know about."
"It's a bar you can hear each other in."
"It's great craic here. A whole basket of chips – a whole basket."
One of them was on a first name basis with General Manager Lesa Parsons, and introduced her to me so I could aske her about the hundreds upon hundreds of cardboard shamrocks that covered the ceiling, each painted with a name.
"You used to have to be invited to get a shamrock – Cary Grant is up there," Parsons said. "Now you just have to get a card, and you get a stamp every time you visit." It takes 15 stamps to be immortalized with this tradition, which has been going on since the bar opened in 1936. My new friends from across the pond were sitting directly beneath their clover trophies.
"It took us about two years to get our shamrocks," said the buxom redhead, aged 28. "I actually love coming here, with my old friend Danny Boy…" at which point the entire group erupted into song, without the slightest hesitation.
"Danny Boy" – who also preferred to go by a moniker and had his own shamrock – made himself a regular at Tom Bergin's because "There's no rope outside – I hate that shit. But it's so neighborhood. Sometimes there's some Hollywood people, but they never last too long. And there's never a line. I can come in any time. It's just easy to come here."
Tom Bergin's is more than a bar, offering a full menu until 10 p.m. on weekdays, and midnight on weekends, and while a $9 hot dog seems like a far cry from fair, their happy hour menu has eight items for under five bucks. Happy hour also includes drafts and wells for $4 and $4.75, respectively, and if you have a hard time getting to Fairfax and Barrows between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. on the weekday, you can come in pretty much any time Saturday or Sunday (or both), when happy hour lasts from 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m.
So maybe we can't hold our drink as well as they can, and maybe we'll always be out-céilí-ed, and maybe we just don't have the linguistic dexterity to make the word "turbo" into four syllables and the phrase "come here I want ya" into a single word, but thanks to Tom Bergin's Tavern, we can at least attempt all three in a place that feels as Irish as, well, drinking, dancing, and trying desperately not to sound English.