Los Angeles has a handful of restaurants that are a century old, but only one that’s been operated by the same family in the same location for all 100 years — the Tam O’Shanter on Los Feliz Blvd.
The whimsical half-timbered building is now known as a Scottish-style steakhouse that’s still as popular as ever for holidays and family celebrations, as well as drinks in the cozy bar. But it started out as a more casual spot offering fried chicken and picnic baskets, when actors shooting in Griffith Park or at the studios in Burbank would stop by for lunches, explained Ryan O’Melveny Wilson, CEO of parent company Lawry’s at a recent Hollywood History dinner.
The Tam, as its familiarly known, is celebrating the centenary all year long with whisky tastings, a carhop event with the Derby Dolls and a series of historical dinners like the evening celebrating the restaurant’s Hollywood connections.
The restaurant is particularly popular with Disney fans, since Walt Disney liked to dine there with his friends and employees, who are said to have scratched drawings into the “Disney table” No. 31 that’s still in the dining room. In the 1930s, the Disney studios were just a short drive away on Hyperion Avenue in Silver Lake, and the restaurant was even known as as “the Disney studio commissary.”
There’s such a close connection between Disney and the Tam that Disney Imagineering recently completed an anniversary painting to hang in the restaurant.
But Disney wasn’t the only Hollywood figure to dine at the Tam. Last week’s historical dinner featured “John Wayne’s favorite chicken salad,” and there are still plenty of industry people who stop by, from Michael Keaton to Nick Offerman. TV shows that have filmed in the historic spot include the finale of “The Office,” “Mad Men” and “Glee.”
The Tam is still owned by descendants of Lawrence Frank and Walter Van de Kamp, the brothers-in-law who first partnered on a potato chip stand in downtown Los Angeles before opening the Tam in 1922 before going on to found Lawry’s Prime Rib.
In the 1920s and 1930s, Hollywood set designers helped Los Angeles become a magnet for themed restaurants, from the Jail Café to the Pirate’s Den and Ye Bull Pen Inn. Lawrence Frank and Van de Kamp brought in the colorful movie art director Harry Oliver to design the Tam. Around the same time, Oliver also designed Beverly Hills’ famous Spadena Witch’s House, and was a major influence on L.A.’s storybook style of architecture. A true eccentric character of old Hollywood, Oliver went on to art direct movies including the 1932 “Scarface” and then moved to an adobe castle he designed in Thousand Palms, where he published the “Desert Rat Scrapbook” magazine into the 1960s.
Oliver’s original design was “much more whimsical” when it first opened, said Lawry’s executive chairman Richard R. Frank, “with no straight angles at all.” It looked more like the Witch’s House than today’s Scottish-themed building. Frank says that though the restaurant stands in the same spot, it’s been remodeled many times over the years.
The Tam made it through the tough years of COVID offering takeout prime rib and to-go cocktails, and opening a large outdoor eating area. Now it’s ready to start the next century with prime rib, Yorkshire eggs Benedict at brunch, Scottish rarebit for a taste of the old country and of course, The Great Wall o’ Scotch.