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Photo Essay: Robbie Burns Night

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Being Scottish means you are part of a great and noble heritage. Here in America, it is also a little like being a Trekkie. We gather in large masses wearing strange clothes while participating in strange rituals. I grew up in the center of it all. My family went to every Highland Games. I took Highland dance classes. My brothers played bagpipes and drums and competed in caber tossing competitions.

But as far as I went down the tartan rabbit's hole, I steadfastedly refused to go to Robbie Burns Night, the annual celebration of poet Robert Burns' birthday. From a tender age I knew that it meant listening to very long and dramatic poetry - and eating haggis. This year when I saw that the Tam O'Shanter was having a Robbie Burns Night dinner I thought it might be a nice family bonding experience.

(Photos after the jump)

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The Tam O'Shanter is one of the few restaurants I know of that still dress their servers in cute peasant outfits.


As part of this evening's entertainment, actress Koni McCurdy led everyone in the traditional "Auld Lange Syne" and told entertaining and slightly bawdy stories. She had amazing instincts working the room, knowing to barely graze my husband's head, while really getting flirtatious with my single brother.


The willowy violinist looks like a sad wood-nymph.

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How much can you drink? Or how far? Can you drink half a yard?


These high-spirited diners are wearing Jimmy Hats.


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Piper George McGilvaray. His father, Alex, can change anybody's mind about Scottish cooking.


Piper Harry Farrar, who told me that Wayne Wood, the Tam's new manager, had been really gracious to the performers and was pivotal in keeping the tradition of Burns' night going.


Robbie Burns Night is all about the Haggis. The main event of the evening is the (melo)dramatic recitation of Burns' poem Ode to the Haggis as the haggis is "slain". Dr. Neil MacCloud does the honors.

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His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!


Long-time Tam O'Shanter chef Ivan comes out of retirement every year just to make the haggis. The Tam gives each table a small side dish of the Scottish delicacy to taste and you order your meal from the regular menu. I always assumed it would be mostly oatmeal with a lot of spices like clove. I was surprised by the lack of strong seasoning. It was like meatloaf made with liver. If you are a fan of beef liver and other organ meats, you would love haggis. I personally was very pleased when my prime rib arrived.


Photos by Elise Thompson for LAist