A cockeyed sort of promotion it was when they dragged the quarter horse up to the bar at Tom Bergin's, and Chris Doyle remembers it well.
"Oh, the horse! Oh, yes!" he said in joyous memory, thinking back to the glorious St. Patrick's Day in 1978. It was some movie people, then, that were making a horse-race picture with Walter Matthau called "Casey's Shadow," and they figured they'd just drop by with the horse. "We poured a couple of bottles of Guinness into a bucket, and the damned horse loved it," bartender Doyle said. "He wanted more. We had to drag him away from the bar."
It gets like that on St. Pat's at Bergin's. It's a ferocious thirst that rises in the throats of the faithful on that day, and hundreds of them can't call it a proper day for the beloved saint without lifting at least one pint in what co-owner Mike Mandekic claims is the oldest Irish watering hole in Los Angeles.
Irish Band Marches
"Last year," Mandekic said, "there was a developer from Newport Beach who hired a limo and drove up here and while the limo was parked outside, a whole Irish band marched right through the car.
Since 1949, hundreds of thousands of drinks have been pushed across the well-worn oval wood bar and millions of the world's past, current and future problems have been settled once and for all in the cozy dimness of the place, mostly over an Irish coffee.
The Irish coffee is Bergin's most famous drink, modeled faithfully after the revered libation brought from Hannon Airport's bar to San Francisco's Buena Vista Cafe by newspaperman Stanton Delaplane. In fact, the full name of Bergin's is Tom Bergin's House of Irish Coffee. (Important drinking note: The cream is floated on the top of the coffee, not frothed to a swirly peak. The hot coffee is meant to be sipped through the cold cream and the two are never, never stirred together. When customers do it, the bartenders wince.)
On St. Patrick's Day, Mandekic said, the Bergin's bartenders will likely serve more than 5,000 Irish coffees. They'll also crack open nearly 1,500 cases of Harp, an Irish lager, along with enough Guinnness and Bass ale to float a team of horses out the door.
'It's a Madhouse'
Bergin's is not merely crowded on St. Patrick's Day. "It's a madhouse," said Doyle, a native of county Wexford who's seen 10 March 17ths come and go in the bar. "You just put your head down in the ice, as we say, and serve, serve, serve. People are so crowded together, they can't even fight."
And no one, manager Jim Donohue said, seems to want to. "We never have any difficulties whatsoever," he said. "But you never know how people are going to show up. They'll arrive in kilts, with bagpipes, with their hair dyed green. One time one of our bartenders, Art Doyle, came with his hair dyed green. He's 70. Everyone loved it."
The place usually opens at 11:30 a.m., but the doors will open at 5:30 a.m. on St. Pat's to accommodate a remote radio broadcast by Steve Morris of KRTH-FM in the dining room. Breakfast will be served from 6 to 10 a.m. and a special St. Patrick's Day menu will be served from 11 a.m. until 11 p.m.
There is a small parking lot adjacent to the restaurant, but most patrons on St. Patrick's Day will likely park at metered spaces on Fairfax or on adjacent residential streets. Some can look forward to a bit of a walk, Mandekic said. Everyone's best advice: Come early, be patient. And leave the horse at home.
Tom Bergin's House of Irish Coffee, 840 S. Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles; (213) 936-7151.