Tomorrow I’m dining at the Tam o’ Shanter Inn in the Northeast Los Angeles neighborhood of Atwater Village. I needed to write about something and haven’t yet been able to finish my piece about Irvine so here you go…
A tam o’ shanter is a 19th century nickname for a traditional sort of brimless, usually wool, Scottish bonnet topped with a toorie (pom-pom). It, in turn, is named after “Tam o’ Shanter,” the eponymous hero of the poem by the late, great Robert “Robbie” Burns written in 1790.
“Tam o’ Shanter” is part of a once-popular, comic, chiefly British poetic subgenre known as the “Wild Ride.” The best known example of which is Lord Byron‘s “Mazeppa. “ A later example is William Cowper’s “The Diverting History of John Gilpin.”
In the Our Gang films, Spanky wears a tam o’ shanter. In the opening sequence of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, the titular heroine wears one — known (because she’s a woman) as a “tammy” or “tam.”
The Tam o’ Shanter Inn was opened by Lawrence L. Frank, Walter Van de Kamp, and Joe Montgomery in 1922 as Montgomery’s Country Inn and is one of Los Angeles‘s oldest restaurants. In 1923, though Montgomery left the partnership, the restaurant was re-named Montgomery’s Chanticleer Inn. In 1925 it was transformed into a Scottish restaurant (although the restaurant also serves English cuisine such as Yorkshire pudding) called The Tam o’ Shanter Inn.
The restaurant was reportedly the first to offer “car service deluxe” in which waitresses would serve car-obsessed patrons in their automobiles, beginning in 1935.
Lawrence Frank went on to establish Lawry’s Restaurant in 1938 in Beverly Hills with Walter Van de Kamp after marrying into the latter family (the one behind Van de Kamp Bakery). The same year they began selling Lawry’s seasoned salt in retail shops.
In 1950, Frank’s son, Richard N. Frank, was added to the ownership staff. He added the “ale & sandwich bar,” and in 1968 changed the name of the restaurant to “The Great Scott.” It remained The Great Scott until 1982, when it reverted to The Tam o’ Shanter.
More than just a Scottish restaurant, the Inn was meant to have a thoroughly Scottish theme. It was probably the simulacrum as much if nor more than the food that turned Walt Disney into the restaurant’s best known champion. It was designed by Hollywood set designer, Harry Oliver. That’s certainly the main reason that I go! Other famous frequenters reportedly included Dorothy and Lillian Gish, Douglas Fairbanks, Fatty Arbuckle, Gloria Swanson, John Wayne, Mary Pickford, Rudolph Valentino, Theda Bara, and Tom Mix — though the list of celebrity fans seems to grow each time a new menu is published.
Although I was just there a couple of weeks ago, I will return tomorrow night!
Inspiring bold John Barleycorn!
What dangers thou canst make us scorn!
Wi’ tippeny, we fear nae evil;
Wi’ usquabae, we’ll face the devil!?
(from “Tam o’ Shanter”)
Eric Brightwell is an adventurer, writer, rambler, explorer, cartographer, and guerrilla gardener who is always seeking writing, speaking, traveling, and art opportunities — or salaried work. He is not interested in writing advertorials, clickbait, listicles, or other 21st century variations of spam. Brightwell’s written work has appeared in Amoeblog, diaCRITICS, and KCET Departures. His work has been featured by the American Institute of Architects, the Architecture & Design Museum, the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Form Follows Function, Los Angeles County Store, Skid Row Housing Trust, and 1650 Gallery. Brightwell has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, Huffington Post, Los Angeles Magazine, LAist, Eastsider LA, Boing Boing, Los Angeles, I’m Yours, and on Notebook on Cities and Culture. He has been a guest speaker on KCRW‘s Which Way, LA? and at Emerson College. Art prints of his maps are available from 1650 Gallery and on other products from Cal31. He is currently writing a book about Los Angeles and you can follow him on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Click here to offer financial support and thank you!