Beloved Bergin’s remains the same. Whew!

| March 4, 2020 | 0 Comments

OPERATIONS Manager Fran Castagnetti and Bar Manager Cindy Trevino can be found nightly visiting with patrons at Tom Bergin’s.

Unlike the little house in Disney/Pixar’s movie “Up,” Tom Bergin’s Irish Pub won’t be at risk of a balloon bouquet lifting it off to the great unknown.

But the Tudor-Revival-style structure, which has weathered several openings and closings in its 84-year history, feels like it’s from another era, being threatened by growth and looming high-rises that flank it on every side. Luckily for Los Angeles, though, the beloved pub re-opened again in December 2019 under new management and new historical status, and it still is firmly planted on a stretch of Fairfax Ave. between Wilshire and San Vicente.

Boston transplant

The new operators, Boston transplants Fran and David Castagnetti, are no strangers to the restaurant business. The brothers’ love of food started at an early age. At 14, Fran was working at an ice cream stand in Boston, then worked in an Italian Bakery for years.

In their two decades in the Los Angeles area, the brothers have found success with Firefly in Studio City, Union in Pasadena, and Michael’s in Santa Monica. They are now thrilled to be entrusted with one of our town’s most cherished and historic restaurants.

“We got a call one day,” recalls a smiling, baseball cap-wearing Fran, “and we were asked if we would be interested in managing Bergin’s… We’ve opened a lot of restaurants, but we felt that the stars aligned and that this was a way to say thank you to Los Angeles for being our home for the last 20 years.”

The number-one thing that Fran and David wanted to change about Bergin’s when they reopened it was… absolutely nothing. The historic shamrocks still cover the cathedral ceiling, the horseshoe-shaped bar is still cocooned within the sanctuary of the original wood paneling, and the famous “House of Irish Coffee” is still serving up its signature drink using founder Tom Bergin’s original recipe.

“This place is such a massive part of L.A. history,” explains Fran, “and I feel that we got the call because we were ready to protect what it is and what it was always meant to be.”

Tom Bergin

Tom Bergin, a former aviator and entertainment lawyer, opened the pub in Los Angeles in 1936. His family, originally from County Kerry in Ireland, ran the Old Horseshoe Tavern in Boston’s Haymarket Square. Feeling nostalgic for his dad’s old haunt, Bergin wanted to open his own Irish tavern in Los Angeles. He was granted a liquor license, reportedly the second oldest in the city, and he opened up on the corner of Wilshire Boulevard and Fairfax Avenue. Several years later, in 1949, he moved a few doors south to the current location at 840 S. Fairfax Ave.

Historic monument

BERGIN’S (along with the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco) claims to have first introduced “Irish Coffee” to America.

After several ownership changes throughout the years, fears grew that Bergin’s might be sold and purchased as a teardown. The Miracle Mile Residential Association (MMRA), the Los Angeles Conservancy and passionate neighbors and regulars joined together to seek official historical status for the venue, which claims (along with the Buena Vista Café in San Francisco) to have first introduced “Irish Coffee” to America. Bergin’s was once frequented by the likes of Bing Crosby, Cary Grant, John Wayne, Glenn Ford and Julia Roberts. As the result of the community efforts, the restaurant was successfully designated an Historic-Cultural Monument (HCM) in June 2019.

“A place like this should be protected,” insists Fran. “It’s great to see growth. Growth isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes it stings, but… if the neighborhood grows, it’s only a good thing. Luckily, the city has protected this place, though. And they’ve been so gracious to us.”

Former owner Derek Schreck has also been a huge part of the transition.
“Derek has been very helpful, and I can’t thank him enough. He put his heart and soul into this place and has been such an amazing and valuable part of this transition,” said Fran.

It’s the people

When I asked Fran what makes Bergin’s different from any of the other restaurants he’s opened, his answer was immediate: the people.

“People absolutely love this place and they have quickly become our friends,” says Fran. “We’re getting nothing but positive feedback. Everyone is so excited to tell us their history and people are saying ‘this is how it used to be.’”

Cindy Trevino, Bergin’s bar manager, agrees.

“People have been incredibly supportive, and we see the same people every day. I just met someone who got married in the parking lot many years ago. They were here with about 15 people, including friends and children.”

Daniel Lugioyo, one of Bergin’s bartenders, feels that he’s landed his dream job.

“The clientele is really special here,” says Lugioyo. “Just today we had a nice couple that met here 55 years ago on a first date.”

And here’s the thing about Bergin’s: whether you’re 21 or 81, this is your place. The young and old, families, children, internet influencers, college students, tourists, actors, museum workers — they all come to Bergin’s to relax in a friendly, low-key environment.

That low-key atmosphere includes more than just drinks. It includes easy, bar-friendly food. Fran and David brought in Firefly’s chef Erik Punzalan to create a pub-style menu to go with the extensive full bar.

On the night of my visit, I tried as much of the menu as my stomach would allow. Starting with the smoked cod dip with malt vinegar chips and house pickles, I then moved on to my favorite small bite on any menu — the Brussels sprouts. Bergin’s did not disappoint. The sprouts were combined with sweet potatoes, mustard and honey for a perfect, crispy, light bite. But I wasn’t finished yet. Not by far.

Next came the fish and chips with tartar sauce and spuds, the fried chicken sandwich on a potato brioche bun with house pickles, house slaw, aioli and spuds, a shepherd’s pie (served in a clay pot with short rib, seasonal vegetables, Reggiano, mashed potatoes and gravy), and last but not least, I squeezed in one last favorite: the ole Reuben sandwich, made with sauerkraut, corned beef, Swiss cheese, mustard, and 1000 Island dressing. Of course, it was an absolute MUST that I wash it all down with not just one Irish Coffee, but two!

St. Pat’s plans

For St. Patrick’s Day, Bergin’s is planning to host its usual celebration, including both food and drink.

“It’ll be the whole, all-day blowout parking lot party,” enthuses Fran. “We’ve been working on it for at least two months. There will be festival-style food, six to eight bars in the tented parking lot, and we’ll be open from 6 a.m. to 1 a.m.”

Bergin’s is a passion project for all of them – Fran, Dave and Cindy. From the day-to-day operations, to meeting regulars and making new friends, to hosting the city’s most celebrated St. Patrick’s Day party, the new managers hope to continue the legacy of the famed pub’s past.

“If everyone who fought so hard to save this place came in and had a drink, we wouldn’t have to worry,” declares Fran. “I want to get the word out and make sure everyone knows that Bergin’s is open.

We are the stewards of Tom Bergin’s, and we’re lucky to bring it back for the City of L.A.”

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