Haven Gastropub + Brewery welcomes a challenge

By Dan O'Heron 12/29/2011

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With seven restaurants occupying the building in short runs since 1999, bats might have spent more time on location and fared better. Unlike the business people, bats know how to fly in total darkness and avoid objects in their way.
Do owners of the new Haven Gastropub + Brewery know anything about the obstacles and the ghosts who keep repossessing the building? “Asking around,” said partner Ace Patel, “everyone said don’t go there, the place is cursed. The challenge made us all the more passionate and eager to move in.”
It appears that Patel’s group has the management style and mojo to recondition the building. So what alterations have they made to succeed where others have failed?
Closing after three years in 1999, Jerry’s Famous Deli had money problems compounded with patron disinterest in its efforts to stay open 24 hours. After 2 a.m., there just weren’t enough cops and robbers in Pasadena for Jerry to compete with Denny’s. 
Haven operates from 11 a.m. to 2 a.m., serving gourmet takes on pub fare until 1:30 a.m. Imagine a late snack of ruby-red grapefruit, pickled shallot, peppery cress and pink salt, plus a Fresno chili whose fever is somewhere between jalapeño and Peruvian Death Pepper. Think of matching it with a crisp and spicy Gewurztraminer, pronounced (guh-VURTS-trah-mee-ner), as people who are able to pay $14 for the snack probably already know.
Before Jerry’s closed, the building had been empty for three years after its former tenant, Brignole’s Gym, went from pumping iron to dumping it in a clangorous resound of steroid scandal and unpaid bills. 
Jerry’s spent a fortune on converting to restaurant plumbing, but the next tenant, a restaurant called Pause, seemed to spend more time on putting in personal collectibles than it did on its menu. The “museum” restaurant became its own relic in March 2000, after only 90 days of business. 
Haven’s management collects more haute than heirloom and has the expertise to work the room. Hospitality? Patel and his family have owned more than 20 hotels. Food? Partner and Executive Chef Greg Daniels cooked “wine-country cuisine” in the elegant Napa Rose Restaurant in Anaheim. Beverage? In extensive European travels, Director Wil Dee, a former bartender, studied French wines and Bavarian brewing techniques.
The trio, which operates a successful gastropub of the same name in Old Towne Orange, indicated that they’ll have a Bavarian festive air in Pasadena, sans polka, and fine dining. In raising the bar on pub food, Chef Daniels prepares Mac ‘n Three Cheese, truffled in black. He also prepares gourmet burgers, one made of lamb and topped with onion jam, minty Greek tzatziki sauce and onion sprouts.
And most unique, and surprising in gastropub fare, are Daniels’ goose pastrami sandwiches and pheasant pot pies. “We have few boundaries when it comes to creativity,” said Daniels. What next? All entrees, he said, are made with humanely raised meats, seafood and sustainable birds. And this includes a whole roasted suckling pig (a week’s notice is required) for parties of eight to 14 persons for only $42. For presentation, piggy likely will have flowers on its head and an apple in its mouth. 
When Pause closed, Pasadena Brewing Co., after lengthy and costly bouts with the city, opened in the spot in July 2003 but wouldn’t stay for long. Its fine dining menu didn’t work, nor, at times, did its Bavarian beer-making apparatus.
Now perfectly functional, the beer tanks, including a water purifying system, allow Haven’s brew master David Larsen, once a sous chef, to handcraft beers that match Daniels’ culinary creations. His work includes small batches of seasonal offerings in a rotating selection of five varieties. He’s even concocted leathery and fruited beers — the kind I get two of only when ordering for someone else.
Larsen, like Dee, studied beer-crafting in Bavaria, including a stint at Garmisch-Partenkirchen. Haven also pours some 40 rotating draught beers and more than 100 bottled craft beers, brewed both locally and globally.
The tenant after the Brewing Co. was PBC No. 2, which just didn’t have that “pub grub sports bar” feel. Next came the Union Cattle Co. It closed in March 2008. Its mechanical bull gave owners a hard landing because its license wouldn’t allow them to keep children away. After that, Dena House tanked after having parking problems with the city. It was followed in 2010 by the flop of Brix 42, whose laments included patrons getting jaywalking tickets. 
While not a rowdy sports bar, Haven’s eye is on the ball for special sporting events. Its “Haven Bowl,” from Friday to Monday, coincides with the Rose Bowl game. And in its 9,000-square-foot building, there’s plenty of room away from the bar for children to eat and play. 
It looks like maybe this time, the building has given up its ghosts.


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