The email to Bill and copied to several others was an appeal for help: "...dwyer just informed me that bergins is about to be no more...and asked me to salvage our beloved decades-old weathered glory-days shamrocks... i'd love to oblige, but alas i'm visiting my daughter in krakow!...now we know youre there every night anyway -- or at least in the 'hood -- and are wondering if we might prevail upon you for this rescue mission..."
The writer was Jerry Lazar, an old friend and colleague from my baby editor days on the staff of several inflight magazines. The magazines' offices were located in the building that now houses Variety, mere blocks from Tom Bergin's, the 77-year-old tavern that closes Sunday.
I didn't drink at Bergin's often enough to be awarded one of the cheesy shamrocks bearing my name and glued to the wall presumably to spare the owners the cost of real décor. But as a young, impressionable editorialista seeking to bond with my new magazine colleagues, occasionally I did indulge with them after work. It was at Bergin's where I got my first lesson in how truly awful it is to be knee-walking drunk.
Bergin's changed hands a couple of years ago, and I haven't been there since autumn. The food was heavy, mediocre and overpriced. But the bar looked the same as it did 30 years ago, and both Jerry and our old friend Ed Dwyer, who hasn't lived here in at least a decade, apparently have parked a piece of their youth in a tacky bit of cardboard they were desperate to reclaim.
Ed emailed: "If I was still in LA, I'd be over there on Fairfax this weekend with a staple remover."
I get it; I still have clothes from college that help me believe those were good years. If Bill wasn't able to drop by Bergin's to peel a Jew's shamrock off the wall, I would volunteer. And Ed's, too, even though he lives in Philly by way of D.C. by way of L.A.
Jerry emailed a photo of the grotty-looking shamrocks and a description of where they were located on his last visit--his was over the last booth before you enter the main dining room, and Ed's was between the hostess booth and the kitchen.
Then he launched into an only-in-L.A. tale about the night at Bergin's he and some buddies had a Seminal Celebrity Encounter, which you may enjoy here.
Like everyone else in the email loop (well, the ones I know anyway), Bill no longer gets buzzed at Bergin's. "They never did learn how to pour a Guinness," he wrote. "Since 1930 something and not a bit of improvement." He's either a very good friend or he owes Jerry money. Saturday he walked over to get the shamrocks.
With a writer's eye for detail and a journalist's standard-issue cynicism, he reported: "Armed with the photos of their shamrocks sent to me by Jerry Lazar and Ed Dwyer, as well as their directions on where to find their shamrocks, I marched over to Tom Bergins shortly after they opened for business this morning to start my scavenger hunt."
The joint was packed, but he located and tried to harvest the clover. An elderly couple occupied the booth under Jerry's, and Bill was loath to disrupt their heavy, mediocre, overpriced meal.
Ed's shamrock was more accessible. "...as waiters and customers scurried by, I surreptitiously grabbed the shamrock off the wall, and wedged it between all the papers I was carrying."
He asked the manager to liberate Jerry's when the couple departed, but was told they were not allowing any shamrocks to be removed from the building or the premises in order to preserve the property for any film companies that might want to shoot the joint before it was crushed into cloverettes in the next few months.
"This struck me as utter bullshit," Bill wrote. He pressed the manager about why Bergin's was being closed on such short notice and was told that since the new owners took over, the place has been losing money. "He said that the restaurant needed to do at least $45,000 a week to keep the place afloat, and that they were barely making $30,000.
"I prevailed upon him to let me have Jerry's shamrock because Lazar's drinking budget back in the day was certainly in the $45,000 a week range, and helped keep the place buzzing back then. But clearly, this brute was not a fan of ancient history."
Bill has a theory why Bergin's is closing. The property of a Hebrew school down the street abuts the Bergin building. The neighborhood recently was alerted that the school property had been bought by a developer who plans to turn the land into a multi-use commercial property including the school and 240 apartment units.
"Since I don't need an umbrella to tell me it's raining," Bill wrote, "I'm guessing (and the journalist in me compels me to say I don't know this as fact) the developer made the owners of the Bergin's property the proverbial offer they couldn't refuse."
The manager professed ignorance of any such plan.
So Bill has the shamrock of Ed--who would rather be in Philadelphia than drinking at Bergin's--and said that Jerry's and everybody else's are facing "imminent liquidation."
As keen as he was to secure his little dusty wall flower for posterity, Jerry sees the irony of throwing himself on the mercy of "poor bill, who practically lives next door, to do a raid on entebbe mission to salvage silly slabs of cardboard we've long-ago forgotten about!... and have now taken on monumental importance... kinda like bergin's itself -- 99% of the bemoaners and groaners, wailing about its demise, haven't set foot inside in years, ..."
Kinda like, he said, the statue of Adam Mickiewicz that stands in the main square of Krakow. He was a Polish national poet who was heavy into Lithuania and who never set a living foot in Krakow, although his remains were moved there from Paris in 1890, 35 years after he died.
Jerry recalled what a local tour guide had told him. "the poles hated the statue... even more hilarious is the fact that, after the nazis destroyed the statue, the poles demonstrated and marched around the empty area where it once stood, demanding it back, because nobody takes anything away from poland!... and then after the war, the poles rebuilt that stupid statue -- bigger and badder than ever... and still hate it... but by god it's THEIRS... i'm not irish, managed to avoid bergins for decades despite living within walking distance... and now i'm frantically pestering pals to salvage my damned shamrock, go figger!..."
* Editor's note: On July 7, Lazar posted on Facebook that his shamrock had been liberated by friend Jill Holden and her daughter Sara. Proof:
Top photo by Jerry Lazar