Oh, Bern’s, with your red walls, catacomb-like hallways and unabashed affection for medieval-themed design in your lobby bar, you are a place like none other on the planet, and we couldn’t love you any more for it.
Your journey begins in the two-story deep red lobby, which is always packed. The bar off to the right is tiny, but worth the wait to have a pre-dinner cocktail. No pagers or other high-tech ways of letting you know your table is ready, hostesses shout your name and party size above the din of excited diners-to-be, so don’t enjoy those cocktails too much or you might miss your golden opportunity. Once called, you will be lead into the labyrinth of hallways with small dining rooms off to the sides. Tables are cozy and expect to see lots of large parties, especially on the weekends. The menu itself is enormous and the wine list is about the size of a phone book. But even those of us who are not wine-fluent have nothing to fear; the highly-trained veteran staff as well as the three sommeliers are all very approachable and take great joy in helping you make your evening a true food and wine adventure. Yes, it is a legendary restaurant with an unparalleled wine cellar, but you won’t find any of the staff to be snooty and intimidating. You enter their home for an evening and they welcome you in like they are letting you in on a wonderful secret.
Obviously, the focus is on the steaks (there are quite literally dozens of options…cuts, thicknesses, servings and the like), but there are also plenty of tasty options for fish, poultry and lamb fans. The sides are amazing (every entrée comes with the signature salad, French onion soup, fried onions and baked potato), and don’t miss out on the onion rings (thick-cut and different from the onions that come with your entrée…get them, you won’t regret it).
The Wine List. Oh, The Wine List. At nearly 500,000 bottles (no, I’m not kidding) and around 6,800 different selections, the Bern’s wine list is the stuff oenophile dreams are made of. Even if you are a seasoned wine drinker, remember: the sommelier is your friend and these guys are some of the very best in the business, combining knowledge of the extensive offerings with a humble and gracious demeanor. They are veritable kids in a giant candy store and will guide you through the list like a Sherpa heading to Everest. Seriously, with some offerings in the overall collection dating back the Lincoln presidency, you will need the help.
Dessert is served in the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, but “room” isn’t quite the right word. Each table has its very own room, made of old California redwood wine holding tanks. Unique, to say the least and these private spaces are also very popular for marriage proposals (maybe it is the wine talking). If it means anything, I know at least two people to whom the question has been popped in these rooms and they are both still married, so there might be something to the magic of this space. Regardless of your matrimonial desires, the Dessert Room is not to be missed and you should indulge in the Macadamia Nut Sundae. It is exactly as promised and is even better enjoyed with some really old port or madeira.
Whether it is a once-in-a-lifetime trip or just another night out, everyone needs to head to Bern’s at least once.