There is only one window in Bern’s Steak House, and it’s one customer`s will never see. Replacing natural light is a red wine-colored aura cloaking the carpet, walls, and staircase, giving rows of antique paintings an alluring, ghostly glow.
The Tampa restaurant opened in 1956 at the hands of Mr. and Mrs. Bernard and Gertrude Laxer, or Bern and Gert, New York natives who had been running a mom-and-pop “luncheonette” and hoped to add a bar to their repertoire. Instead, they created a fine dining institution and pilgrimage point for wine lovers.
In Bern’s universe, everyone is welcome. Entrées come with a soup and salad. Meals are best ended with something sweet from your own private booth in a second-story dessert lounge. The piano player takes requests. And anyone can afford to drink their preferred wine, whether it’s a $3.50 supermarket pour or one of the rarest bottles in the world.
“We believe that every guest that comes to Bern’s is a special guest,” Frank Russo, dining room manager, says. “We want everyone to experience the ultimate in fine dining.”
And they will. The wines, steaks, and service at Bern’s have earned the restaurant such accolades as a James Beard Award in 2016, Rachael Ray’s best restaurant in America in 2009, and Wine Spectator’s Grand Award every year since 1981. Along with an ornate lobby and bar, there are eight dining rooms, each named for an aspect of Bern’s travels — Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhône, Andre Tchelistcheff — with wall-to-wall photographs to prove them. Dinner reservations include an optional tour of the kitchen and wine cellar, as well as a trip upstairs to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room, named for one of Bern’s mentors, where 48 private “rooms” constructed of floor-to-ceiling redwood wine casks await.
The restaurant lives and breathes in its own, singular past, present, and future. It’s utterly bucket list-worthy, yet inured to the Instagram age — its magic surpasses filters and humblebrags, and the lack of natural lighting makes Snapchats a challenge. Closed off to the world, Bern’s makes us sentimental for a man we never knew, a life we never had, and wines no one has tasted.
Photo Credit: https://thegate.boardingarea.com/