Happy Hour Alley
Good times await on Old Pasadena’s Mills Lane
By Dan O'Heron 08/23/2012
On an early Friday evening, while standing in front of Brothers’ Pies N’ Fries, plucking pizza fries from a basket, I was giving heavy thought as to what else to do.
Munching fries and having to mull over plans — especially on a Friday — did not speak well of what I’d been up to lately. Speaking quietly within me, a small voice was about to say “Go home,” when a simple sign across the Mills Lane (alley) caught my eye and gave me a reason for being.
It read: B-A-R.
Enough said. Hard work by day, dissipation by night is the ticket. I made my move to what was the hideaway rear entrance to Wokcano Restaurant and Lounge (626/578-1818). From outside, it reminded of an older time in a dark corner of Downtown LA , when a one-word B-A-R sign on a building meant three things would happen: At 7 a.m., an alcoholic could get a drink; at noon, an office worker would extend a lunch hour and, at night, a lonely heart would try to catch a barfly.
In those days, “barfly” was the name given to a woman who was not exactly a lady. These nights at Wokcano, social media butterflies from both sexes are found. But, I’ll bet that they are tired of twittering excitedly without much thought from one text to another. I’ll bet they really appreciate the amusements and intimate conversations that rarely get better than in a good bar.
During happy hour here, young men and women go halves in the pleasure of plates like six chicken dumplings for $4.99, or six pieces of yellowtail sashimi for $7.99. And for bar hoppers, it’s an easy time for high jumps. Draft beer is $1.99; bottled $2.99, and all well-drinks are $4.99.
Later, a couple may break away from the bar and visit an enclosed patio where a light breeze tousles a treetop and romance can be helped along by the moon dropping in. And, if deep down inside their appetite is good, an adjacent dining room offers complete meals until 4 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. Wokcano’s honey walnut shrimp is a dandy.
Back out on Mills Lane, just a few feet apart, are several other places that deliver what people expect on a night out in Old Pasadena.
As an alley cat seeking creature comfort, there’s nothing softer than the L-shaped, pillowy banquette that hugs the wall in Equator (626/564-8656). Without abandoning its heritage as a coffee house — with fine roasts and a full bar that makes the best “Irish” in town — its Asian fusion snacking ( tandoori glazed shrimp with crispy coconut rice is a “must try”) and its dinner menu makes it the most diversified place in the alley.
The most sophisticated stop, right across the way from Equator, is Creme de la Crepe (626/844-0007). It’s where the most particular alley cats gather. Not snobbies, the kind we want to spare us their company, but casual guests who can appreciate the reflections of a Paris street café — or in a crepe cart pushed by a Suzette — with appealing prices (compared to other French cafes).Wines by the glass start pouring at $6 and, up to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, you can get the most savory “Parisian” crepe for $15. This is a full buckwheat purse, generously chunked with chicken breast and mushrooms, plus nutty-flavored Swiss cheese and rich, milky bechamel sauce.
Patriots who don’t eat quiche march next door to Jake’s Burgers (626/568-1602) for a six-step build-your-own burger, washed down with Jack Daniel’s, apple juice and ginger ale. And then, like a carom shot in which a ball struck with the cue is made to hit two balls in succession, they can move on to Jake’s Billiards.
Going downstairs reminds me of pool rooms that were likened to “manholes,” musty smelling joints that served men only as a tough-guy proving ground. But here, young men and women connect for good food, drink and amateur scratching. Still, there’ll be many a player who knows how to leave the cue ball in a safe position.
Jake’s opened in 1947, the halcyon years of Old Pasadena, when a woman could buy cocktail dress at Helen Smith’s for $9.95 and wear it to dance at the Green Hotel. Jake’s would go on to outlast drive-in movies, hot rods and listening to Kate Smith sing “God Bless America” every day over KHJ. More to its credit, Jake’s survived those seedy ’60s and ’70s, when Old Pasadena was loaded with men in pre-owned suits bothering women accessorized by lamp posts.
Next door, back where I started the evening, Brothers’ Pies N’ Fries (626/844-4343), which will celebrate its one year anniversary Saturday with raffles, pizza-eating contests and more, makes the haunting hours tick until 3 a.m. for all sorts: late-night restaurant workers, bosom buddies, last-call bar crowds and support groups.
The alley is named in honor of nurseryman Alexander Fraser Mills, who used the lane as a pathway to the nearby orange grove he planted in 1878. Should you use the alleyway to walk your dog, make sure you stop at Three Dog Bakery (626/303-4100) and fetch Fido a peanut “Drool Cake.” Moving on, outdoor tables invite you to dine with your best friend. With all the alley cats milling about, the dog should be well-manicured and well-behaved.
Mills Lane (Alley)
Between 30 and 40
West Colorado Boulevard