One Last Meal at Tom Bergin's
Tom Bergin's restaurant closes today. The new owners who took over the landmark recently had given it, and its menu, a bit of a going-over. They now say it's just not bringing in enough money, and are closing it down. After my visit yesterday, it's easy to see why.
First some background. I've been going to Bergin's for as long as I can remember. Literally. My dad had been going for years before I was born and knew Mr. Bergin well. The bar had a group of L.A. Rams season ticket holders, dad included, who would meet there and take a bus together to the team's home games at the Coliseum. When I was still in grade school, I joined this group. For years during football season dad and I would have our bi-weekly outing, spending most of Sunday afternoon bonding over friends and football.
But Bergin's was more than just a place to catch a bus to the game. It was the scene of many family nights out. It was the first restaurant I took a girl on a date. It was a place I knew I was welcome because I could point to the shamrock on the ceiling with our family name on it.
So it's no surprise that the sudden announcement of the closing of Tom Bergin's came as quite a shock, and I knew I had to go one last time.
I got there about 11:30 in the morning and sat at the bar, joining the four or five others who were already there. It wasn't quiet, but it wasn't busy either. A lone woman in a corner booth typed away at her laptop. Another did the same with her smartphone.
A few minutes later the bartender came by to asked what I wanted to drink. I asked for a lager and was told "We're out of that." I asked what she had and was told the only draught they had was a strong IPA and a "Heff." I paused to consider, and she was off to help others. When she came back a few minutes later, I decided to go with an Irish Coffee, and asked for a menu. The drink arrived quickly and I was glad I had made that decision. I perused the menu and decided on a corned beef sandwich.
Then the waiting began.
The bartender always had enough time to take drink orders, but for some reason was never ready to take a food order. When a gentleman next to me asked for a menu, she told him to ask for mine. "All our menus are being stolen and I don't have another one" I dutifully handed it over as she darted away. Finally, after about 25 minutes, I was able to get her attention for a brief moment. I ordered the corned beef with Swiss cheese and sauerkraut.
Then the real waiting began.
While I waited for my food over the next 45 minutes or so, the place started to get a bit busy as folk came in to say goodbye. The gentleman with whom I shared the menu had, like me, been coming there since the 60's. Later, we were joined by two other old-timers. The "newcomer" had only been a customer for 38 years. We all sat there swapping stories, all of us waiting for some service.
The stories were many and the memories fond. But it was also bittersweet. It was obvious that these long-time regulars were furious with what they saw as mismanagement and horrible service. It was hard to argue as the bartender walks away from customers mid-order, or food orders are taken and then ignored because the kitchen was "too busy."
Luckily, I apparently placed my order in time and only had to wait for those 45 minutes to get my sandwich. It was actually a fine sandwich, though the bread wasn't sturdy enough to hold it together and much of it had to be eaten with a fork. The beef was thickly cut and very moist. The sauerkraut was okay, though a bit too soft for my taste. The cheese had just enough flavor to cut through the fat. The pickle may have been a bit too sweet, but was still nice.
So it was a good, if ill-constructed, sandwich. I'm not sure it's worth $16, but it was good.
In the end it was sad finish to a long relationship. There is talk of potential buyers, and the current owners have said they are keeping the decor, shamrocks and all, with the hope that a new buyer can come in and reopen it without losing its character. That's a hope a lot of us share. Corned beef sandwich and Irish coffee, about $25.