Wednesday, January 02, 2013

Tam O' Shanter

The tams in this photo remind me of the many convivial evenings I spent hoisting a flagon of ale in the bar at the Tam O'Shanter Inn in Atwater, California. The fellows in this photo look like they're mightily enjoying their wee drop which was richly deserved.

After work, back in the dark ages when we would actually drink and drive, I, with my coworkers, used to stop at the terrific bar in the Tam from time to time, enjoying the ambience, the company and of course the drinks. Gulp. I lived nearby so it's not as bad as it sounds.

The Tam O'Shanter Inn has been around since 1922 and has a fascinating history. I think it's remarkable that they still have their first utensil - somebody has been diligent about watching over the artifacts.

I found one of their drink menus on-line from way back. Three brands of ginger ale and the reference to the "Scotch Drink" aka water, leads me to believe alcohol had been outlawed, but there's a Budweiser listed, so perhaps not. I doubt the bar was quite as much fun with everyone drinking buttermilk, "Eastsides" or "Golden Glows", whatever they were.
Later, post-war, the drinks menu featured real Scotch again and one drink I'd never heard of, the Swissesse, which is absinthe mixed with orange water, egg white and a touch of creme de menthe.
During my bar-fly days, I worked for Lawry's Foods which was founded by the Frank family, creators of the Tam O'Shanter Inn and other landmark California restaurants including the Prime Rib, Five Crowns and the Carvery. They invented many features of dining service which we now take for granted, including the serving of salads before the meal (unheard of before the 30's), the chilled salad fork, the "doggy" bag for left-overs, drive-in dining and valet parking!!

The Tam was a long time celebrity hangout and has been used frequently in films and TV shows.  Just a few of the film stars who frequented the place over the years include Mary Pickford, John Wayne, Fatty Arbuckle, and Tom Mix. My brother-in-law spotted Jamie Lee Curtis there not too long ago. Walt Disney loved the place and ate there on an almost daily basis.  At one point, Disney executives dined there so often that the place became known as “Disney’s studio commissary”. Apparently Walt’s favorite table was #31, while John Wayne preferred #15.

What a digression - the hat, the Tam O'Shanter hat is my point here.
On Wiki I found that the pom-pom or "toorie" is what distinguishes a Tam O'Shanter from other similar hats such as the beret; the TOS also has an external hatband which holds it snugly onto the head.

Perhaps the tam is best-known as an article of military attire, as in our photo prompt, worn in a khaki color by the Scottish infantry, and by some Canadian and Australian regiments too. The toorie, in different colors, distinguishes regiments; also often seen on the military hats is a tartan badge with a hackle feather.  Another aside: a hackle feather is one of the shiny feathers found on the necks of many birds. They're erectile feathers and will stand up when the bird is ready for a fight, thus the expression we use "to get your hackles up".
General Sir Neil Ritchie wearing the Tam o' Shanter in France during World War II.

Birds parts and feathers are frequently artfully incorporated into Sottish jewelry, like this grouse foot pin I bought in Edinburgh last year.  I clamped it to my jacket for the Military Tattoo but doubt if I'll find another suitable opportunity to wear it.

One final note about the Tam O'Shanter hat is that Mary Tyler Moore wore one in the opening
credit sequence of her television series, the Mary Tyler Moore show from 1970-1977. She really  popularized the hat over those years and countless thousands were sold.

Statue of Mary and her famous hat toss, Nicollet Mall, Minneapolis

For more interesting stories, follow the bleating bagpipes over to
 Sepia Saturday


  1. Ahh......Absinthe Makes The Heart Grow Fonder !Great Post Helen.

  2. Enjoyed learning all kinds of things, getting my hackles up now has much more meaning to me!

  3. I see that Mary Tyler Moore statue regularly.

    I had a plaid Tam when I was in grade school. I wonder whether I still have it--I remember having it long after I ever wore it.

  4. Swissesse does not sound appealing to me, but this entire post appeals to me! I enjoyed reading all the history and odd little tidbits of information. This is a great start for Sepia Saturday 2013!

  5. Mixing old photos, pubs and fine drinks together produces an intoxicating cocktail of pleasure for me. Loved it. Cheers.

  6. What a great post. As I went to university in Scotland I learned a lot about Burns, Tam O' Shanter too - not forgetting acquiring a taste for Scotch. Shame I'm not allowed to touch it now.

  7. I see Mary often too, not as much as when I worked downtown, but I'm a fan of her, and the show. I wanted to find some facts and fun stuff on food and or drinks and such, but I never did. This was an awesome post, thanks!

  8. I learned a few things here. Cannot imagine wearing that grouse foot though.

  9. I remember the Tam O Shanter fondly. My ex used to work at Fransican Ware which was across the street and we would meet there after his shift for a warm and cozy dinner. That's how I remember the place - very warm and cozy.
    I'm surprised it's still there. Will have to check it out on a future trip to LA.

  10. I'm not much for bar menus, but I recognize a bargain when I see it. A pocket full of quarters at the Tam would certainly go a long way to keeping me happy.:-}

  11. Liked the inventive link from the prompt to the Tam O' Shanter Inn.

  12. I loved that restaurant! Used to go there with my father when he'd visit me.

  13. What a wonderful bunch of stories you have given us, Helen. Did you and your crowd run into celebrities there? I had no idea that salads didn't used to be served before the main course ... that is an interesting detail too.

    Fun post, thank you.

    Kathy M.

  14. I enjoyed your digressions! And learned a lot of interesting tidbits along the way.

  15. Oh my word! Irish whiskeys for $.40! "Heaven, I'm in heaven ..."

    We used to drink and drive too (as recently as the 80s). How nuts was that???

    At least your roads appear to be rural and close-to-home. Ours were far less so. Fools that we were; it's a wonder I'm still standing!


  16. Very enjoyable post, Helen! I loved looking at the old drink menus, I can't imagine getting a drink for 30¢. How nice to have such a lovely pub in walking distance and I enjoyed all the name dropping! And I am a nut for all things Scottish but what is up with that grouse foot pin - that's a new one on me!!!