In January, Los Angeles drinkers were shocked by rumors that Tom Bergin’s, the iconic 82-year old Irish pub on Fairfax Avenue, just south of Wilshire Boulevard, would close.
Owner Derek Schreck was quick to clarify that the bar was not closing, but would close its kitchen and greatly reduce its hours. Regardless, many regular customers were still concerned about the bar’s fate. Although there are no plans for Bergin’s to permanently close, many feared that this year’s St. Patrick’s Day celebration would be the bar’s last.
With this knowledge, I went to Bergin’s on Saturday, St. Patrick’s Day, to experience the celebration from opening at 6 a.m. until close at 2 a.m. This is what I saw, as I experienced it:
5:55 a.m. I arrive at Bergin’s while it’s still dark out. Although the doors haven’t opened yet, 12 people are already waiting. At the front of the line is a man named Harry. He’s been coming since the mid-1960s and has been the first in line for over 20 years. He used to live in the neighborhood, but now lives in Simi Valley and despite living an hour from Bergin’s, he drives out every St. Patrick’s Day to be first in the door. He says the Bergin’s party is like a family reunion. “All of us old timers wish each other happy new year,” says says. He’s heard the bar has fallen on hard times, but he’s hoping that he’ll be back at Bergin’s for many St. Patrick’s Days to come.
6:00 a.m. Doors open. Irish music is playing as Derek Schreck stands at the entrance in pajama bottoms, passing out buttons commemorating this year’s celebration. Everyone orders an Irish coffee.
There’s a bachelor party here from the San Gabriel Valley.
6:30 a.m. Most of the people who are here this early have been coming here for years and all have stories from past St. Patrick’s Days. A man named Scott has been coming for 35 years and fondly remembers the morning of 2014. That was the day of the so called “Shamrock Shake,” when an earthquake struck at 6:25 a.m. “A hush fell over the crowd for one to two seconds, then everybody went back to talking,” he says.
6:50 a.m. Sunrise over Bergin’s.
7:05 a.m. Andrew, who works for LAUSD, says he always makes sure to get St. Patrick’s off when they make the school scheduling calendars in April so he can come to Bergin’s. He recalls that “one year when I was a provisional employee, I was on the news. My boss saw me and was like ‘What idiot calls in sick and then gets on the news.’ Then his supervisor told him ‘Don’t worry, he got the day off.’”
7:12 a.m. The whole bar cheers as the bartenders do a round of shots.
7:49 a.m. There’s a bachelor party here from the San Gabriel Valley. How’d they find Bergin’s? They just googled “St. Patrick’s Day L.A.” They drove out here at 4 a.m to get here by opening.
8:30 a.m. The music has shifted into a party mix of R&B and funk hits. Two women are singing along to the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back,” with accompanying choreography.
8:45 a.m. I’ve never done St. Patrick’s Day at a bar before and I’m pretty surprised by how low-key it is right now. It’s probably because these are largely the “professionals” who come here every year, as opposed to the amateur hour drinkers who make it a mission to get as drunk as they can for St. Patrick’s Day, indifferent to the venue. As I dig into my Irish breakfast (eggs, toast, bacon and beans) and sip my first beer of the day, I suspect that those kind of drinkers won’t show up until later in the evening.
9:00 a.m. I meet a man named Michael who’s been celebrating his birthday (which is today) here for 12 years. It started when his friend’s attempted what he calls “Shamrock Shenanigans.” “We were out from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m. and tried to go to every Irish pub in L.A. We started here and now we keep coming back every year.” He got here at opening and his friends have filtered in throughout the morning. Their plan is to hang out, grab lunch at a reasonable hour, then call it a day.
As far as I know, I’m the only member of the media at the bar.
9:46 a.m. I’m talking to a man named David who’s been coming for over a decade. He says this year feels sadder. “It’s a smaller crowd and usually the TV news comes around and we get to watch ourselves on TV.” As far as I know, I’m the only member of the media at the bar.
10:53 a.m. The bar’s parking lot serves as a closed off beer garden today. Outside, the party’s starting with people sitting and drinking at big wooden picnic tables and a DJ playing celtic punk music.
11:04 a.m. I know it’s St. Patrick’s Day, but it’s still weird that I’ve seen multiple people wearing Boston Celtics jerseys in the heart of Laker Land.
11:19 a.m. An older gentlemen just started singing “When Irish Eyes Are Smiling” by himself.
11:37 a.m. A woman at the bar just jokingly told a bartender she’s angry that Bergin’s is closing because she was going to have her 40th birthday here. She says she’s now refusing to turn 40. The bartender reassures her the bar will be open and she can still celebrate the “19th anniversary of her 21st birthday” here.
11:53 a.m. I just met Mary, a woman with a long history with Bergin’s. Her grandfather tended bar here in the 1960s, so she’s been coming here since she was a young girl. She says today’s way less busy than normal, which she blames on the confusion over the closure/slowdown reports. “Usually, there’s a line down the block,” she says, adding “there was one year where the fire marshal had to close us down.”
12:25 p.m. There’s a simple food menu in the parking lot: barbecued pork or chicken sandwiches with coleslaw, grilled cheese sandwiches and pub pretzels, all prepared on a grill outside under a tent.
12:32 p.m. There are a lot of fascinating wardrobe choices here today. The most puzzling costume choice may be a fuzzy hat shaped like a Viking helmet, with fake blond braids, but covered in shamrocks and/or the colors of the Irish flag. I’ve seen three of these already and I’m confused by the origin of this piece of multi-level whiteness.
1:11 p.m. Every St. Patrick’s Day, Bergin’s hands out unique buttons celebrating the day’s festivities. Veterans of past years wear these buttons with pride in many different ways. I’ve seen them covering whole suit coats, on hats, on ties and even on a Boy Scout merit badge sash.
1:15 p.m. A woman just announced a “beer bounty” to the first person who can find the ceiling for her relative “F. Bass” on the ceiling because she can’t. The ceilings and walls of Bergin’s is covered in green cardboard shamrocks honoring loyal customers and friends of the bar. Tommy Lasorda, Julia Roberts and Cary Grant are among the more famous names to receive this honor.
2:00 p.m. A group of ten guys ordered Car Bombs a few minutes ago and are still sipping on them. Guests on the other side of me are quietly criticizing how slowly they’re drinking. You’re supposed to drink a Car Bomb quickly, otherwise the acidic stout beer will make the Irish cream curdle.
2:16 p.m. More shocking than the sight of multiple Celtics jerseys is the sight of a guy in a vintage Kevin Durant Seattle Supersonics jersey.
2:32 p.m. A party bus just pulled up to the bar, depositing a group of twelve, leading one bartender to flash a unique mix of concern and intrigue across her face.
3:11 p.m. You can tell someone’s never been to Bergin’s before because they crowd around the entrances trying to get a bartender’s attention, not realizing there’s a full 360-degree bar.
3:38 p.m. A woman just casually walked through the bar carrying a green lightsaber.
4:04 p.m. To give you a sense of how busy it is, a group of seven people just celebrated the fact that they were able to get two members of the group a spot at the bar to order drinks.
5:02 p.m. Two strangers, both with handlebar mustaches, just walked past each other and said “Nice mustache” before moving on.
5:20 p.m. Two men are exchanging dating advice. They’re apparently strangers and one of them is only here because he was driving for Uber and the women he dropped off told him to join them at the bar.
5:32 p.m. The conversation continues between the two men. The one who hasn’t been driving says that this place is going to be busy on St. Patrick’s Day. The driver corrects him saying “You mean today?” The other man stands firm, “Nah, tomorrow’s the real St. Patrick’s Day.” The driver does not challenge this.
6:15 p.m. There’s a man named Josh here wearing a green Sam’s Club uniform vest, complete with name-tag. I ask him if it’s his. It is, he adds. “Hey, I thought it was easy.”
6:40 p.m. There was reportedly a flasher in the men’s bathroom, so Eli, a big, burly bartender stormed in to tell the guy to get out. Minutes later, Eli emerges from the bathroom, carrying the alleged pervert out of the bar and onto the street.
7:11 p.m. The brave woman walking around the uneven parking lot with crutches is my hero.
7:34 p.m. In the hopes of getting a bartender’s attention at the now very busy bar, one guy has started waving a green glow stick.
8:15 p.m. Ty, a film producer in his early 40s, used to come here when he was younger. His wife just had a baby and he hasn’t been here in five years but he had to come today. “I knew I had to come down since this could be the last one.”
Garcetti has made it a tradition to come here annually late at night to pour drinks.
9:00 p.m. The bar isn’t too busy, possibly because the parking lot has turned into a dance party. The DJ is spinning throwback hits like the Spice Girls’ “Wannabe.”
10:15 p.m. I was in the middle of a conversation with a customer named Sean about how laid back the bar feels when, ironically, a drunk guy went running into a column. He appeared to be unaffected, but made motions indicating he was about to throw up. The man ran out the door to the street. Sean leaves, adding “Yeah…now, it’s a college party.”
10:25 p.m. A guy sees me writing in my notebook and says “I don’t know what you’re doing, but it can’t be as messed up as the drugs I just did in the bathroom.” He refuses to elaborate.
10:53 p.m. With the end of the night in sight, bartender Lori and I compare notes on what we’ve seen. Earlier in the day she escorted a passed out woman in the bathroom. After waking her up and getting her out of there, Lori texted all of the woman’s friends until she contacted one who was at the bar who would take her home. Also, apparently a couple drunk guys tried to climb the walls outside the bar until a security guard pulled them down.
11:05 p.m. I took a whiskey shot a few minutes ago and suddenly there’s a new bartender on shift, Mayor Eric Garcetti! I briefly thought it was a booze- and exhaustion-fueled hallucination, but other people saw him too. Since he became mayor, Garcetti has made it a tradition to come here annually late at night to pour drinks.
11:50 p.m. “I asked for vodka, but they said they don’t have it,” says a woman to her friend. Despite the large signs showing the limited St. Patrick’s Day menu, I’ve heard multiple people unsuccessfully attempt to get off menu orders.
12:07 a.m. The closing of the beer garden leads to a mass exodus into the bar.
12:21 a.m. The man next to me claims to work for Run-DMC and that Jam Master Jay is coming to pick him up. Jay died in 2002, so either I’ve inadvertently been told a music industry secret or …
12:47 a.m. Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” was playing on the bar’s soundsystem, until it cut out. That didn’t stop patrons from continuing to sing it.
1:12 a.m. A group of four people just walked into the bar: A man in a marching band uniform, a woman in a corset, a man in a rhinestone covered suit jacket and a woman in a tutu. I asked where they came from and the rhinestone man says “Home.” The woman in a tutu adds they were having a costume party.
1:34 a.m. Last call!
1:45 a.m. The bartenders turn up the lights and tell everyone it’s time to go home. I am exhausted, though the last three hours went by fairly quickly, thanks to the seven drinks I’ve had over the day. I’ve been on my feet for nearly the whole time and I know in the morning my legs will feel like I played ten seasons as an NFL running back. When I get home, I’ll pass out the minute I hit the pillow. I get in the backseat of the car waiting for me and finally head home …
Throughout the day, I’ve seen a vivid cross-section of L.A.; all races, genders and ages united in making this their watering hole for the day. Here’s hoping Bergin’s will pull through this rough patch and will celebrate St. Patrick’s Day next year and for many years to come.