July 29, 2017

Photo Essay: A Vintage Drinking Den In a Historic Irish Cottage (Now Closed, Updated for 2019)

[Update 12/23/19: Sadly, The Vestry ceased operations earlier in 2018, and St. Patrick's Day 2018 was the last day of operation for Tom Bergin's. Fortunately, Tom Bergin's sold to a new owner and reopened in December 2019, though the Vestry is still closed.]

I don't pray anymore, but I can still experience reverence.

And many times, visiting the right kind of building—with, perhaps, cathedral ceilings and heavenly light shining through art glass windows—can feel like going to church.

And that's the experience of climbing up into the attic of what was once known as the Old Horseshoe and Thoroughbred Club, which has just opened up for business for the first time in decades.

The space under that pitched roof was most recently used for offices and storage—but for the last four years, it's been no secret that the historic Irish pub and restaurant had bigger plans for its upstairs.

Since its inception in 1936 and its move to its current location on Fairfax in 1949, the club has also been called "The Old Horseshoe Tavern"—but today, we know it as Tom Bergin's.

AKA The House of Irish Coffee.

And behind a horse-head door knocker on the ground level, you'll find the stairs to its members-only whiskey den, the newly-christened Vestry.

The establishment's current owner (a former regular who scooped up the business when it was for sale in 2013) brought in some church pews for the new speakeasy-style drinkery, but otherwise he's kept the decor relatively understated in its display of historical artifacts.

After all, the whiskey collection on hand can really speak for itself.

It doesn't need a lot of pomp and circumstance—just as the bartenders and whiskey director don't need to grow funny mustaches or wear Prohibition-era costumes.

For someone who appreciates exclusivity and responds passionately to a sense of urgency, drinking at the Vestry—named after the area of a church where a priest changes into and out of his robe and other vestments—is like a religious experience.

Those whiskeys you can only taste at the distilleries that make them? They're at the Vestry. The limited releases and special reserves? The Vestry has got those, too.

The unicorn pours of the rarest and most antique barrel-aged spirits? They're all on the menu at the Vestry, ready to be tasted—as long as you can pony up for the price tag. Some of the most sought-after pours are upwards of $100, even $400, per one-ounce pour. And they're so rare that you're only allowed one pour, per bottle, per night.

Because once those bottles are gone, they're gone.

Of course, for the brown-liquor drinker with less of a collector's mentality and adventurer's spirit, there are plenty of whiskys and whiskeys, bourbons, ryes, scotches, and blends to choose from—and they don't just come from Kentucky bourbon country, Scotland, or Ireland.

You can taste the world through those grain spirits.

Your palate can go galloping through the flavors of distilleries based in California, Colorado, Utah, Tennessee, and beyond.

You can even imbibe the barrel riches from The Green Mountain State, with pours from distillery Whistle Pig—which has collaborated with the Vestry on a twist on the traditional Irish coffee, using barrel-aged Vermont coffee and Vermont maple syrup in addition to the Vermont whiskey and, of course, the heavy cream.

And if that's not enough dessert for you, and you're not ready to mosey down to the cottage's main bar yet, you can get a small, artisanal piece of chocolate in your choice of flavors that were chosen to compliment the beverages being served.

After this weekend, the Vestry will be open to members only. And while I'm not averse to joining a club of kindred spirits, I'm just not privileged enough to afford the annual dues and the hefty price tag of enjoying the stuff that plays hard to get.

So, maybe I'll end up only ever having gone there once. Maybe it will change and allow non-members on slow nights. Maybe the price will go down, or maybe I'll find a benevolent benefactor.

But I'm glad I had that one, ecstatic night there.

Related Posts:
What I Remember from the Kentucky Bourbon Festival
Photo Essay: How Brooklyn Does Bourbon and Chocolate Bars
Photo Essay: Kings County Distillery

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