On the western edge of Glendale is a new dandy of a bar/restaurant. With a touch of 1940s appeal, The San Fernando tips its fedora to its namesake street and to the trains that run along it. Live music, killer cocktails, satisfying food and a sociable environment make this a neighborhood hangout you’ll probably come back to again and again.
There is a charm to this bar that’s hard to pinpoint, but I think it’s the staff. They all seem to be in a good mood, with affable natures and easy smiles. Everyone helps out, including the owners. Uwe Korak, one of those owners (or as his business card says “Jack of all Spades”), took a moment between wiping tables to sit down at our table and tell me the story of how The San Fernando came to be.
When Uwe (pronounced “Oo-vay”) turned 50 he decided, “Heck, I wanna open a bar, a bar that’s fun and friendly with music and good drinks, a bar that I’d want to go to.” Uwe’s girlfriend liked to skate at the nearby Moonlight Rollerway. When he’d take her there, he’d drive by the old Big Fish Bar, a well-worn and once well-loved dive bar. He stopped in one night and declared, “I’d like to buy your bar.” It took some persistence but, in the end, it all worked out. A couple of years and some nice design work later, The San Fernando was born.
The Prohibition Era speakeasy is a popular bar theme but there aren’t many with a 1940s feel (chosen because that’s when the building was built). From its penguin cocktail shaker mascot to its train station signage and red velvet stage curtains, the place feels old and modern at the same time. The wedge-shaped venue with its long bar, booths and high/low tables seats maybe thirty. Loudness is a bit of a problem but it’s only because everyone’s talking. Not into a cell phone but with each other! The real, live, human piano player sometimes tries to sing over the din. Musicians may want to go heavy on the instrumental versions till they get the acoustics right. There’s only one TV screen showing old black and white movies. Uwe would prefer no screens but the silent images actually add more warmth to an already charming den.
The horizontal windows nicely frame the trains and traffic going by on one of LA’s longest roads. One can also appreciate the long vintage warehouses across the street. A Streamline Moderne building which once probably held an important manufacturer now holds an important International College of Beauty Arts & Sciences, some of whose students may be found at the bar, particularly at Happy Hour.
Happy Hour happens daily from 3 to 7 p.m., except Monday, when they’re closed. Nothing beats their $5 artisan Old Fashioned and $6 parmesan-garlic chicken wings. But if you’re up for something else there’s a fuller menu with creative options. You just can’t argue with a bill of fare boasting a quote like this: “If I had to live my life over, I’d live over a saloon.” (W.C. Fields).
All the classics are available at The San Fernando, the Negroni being one of the most popular, but I’m a fan of their specialty cocktails. The Imposter breathes with aromatic fire, its fennel-infused rye, jalapeno, ginger-turmeric honey, and lemon blend topped off with a torched pepper. I find it endearing to see handmade labels taped onto old bottles saying things like “fennel rye,” “orange rum” and “pecan rye,” the last one a tasty brew mixed with strawberry, lemon and black cherry balsamic, as featured in their Strawberry W.C. Fields. I must go back for their gin tour de force, the Sir Ernest Shackleton’s Mistress, a shaken blend of rutte celery gin, St. Germain, dry vermouth, lemon and pear with a cinnamon foam on top similar to the foamy seas of Shackleton’s Arctic adventures.
A nice selection of house wines are $7 or less with high-end options available. Draft beer taps proclaiming Wychwood Hobgoblin English Ruby and (local brewer) Verdugo West IPA stand alongside Guinness and Stella. Or try a can or bottle of dry cider, Chimay or the prettily named Belching Beaver Peanut Butter Milk Stout.
Uwe knew that with few restaurant options in the largely industrial neighborhood, they’d need to offer a solid food menu. And they have. Besides the chicken wings, the mac and cheese bites are perfect cocktail go-withs. Burgers and sandwiches are the main event here. The ones we tried were good but not blow your socks off good. The San Fernando Burger was large, fresh tasting, and cooked as I asked but kind of bland. Maybe add that fried egg, cheddar or pork belly as they recommend ($12 and up). The sliced beef sandwich au jus has caramelized onions and comes on a challah bun. The horseradish mayo could be pumped up a bit but then I like things spicy.
Charcuterie with crostini and olives is always a good call with drinks. They have a small platter or “The Big Board” for three or more. The grilled Caesar is quite nice and comes with a poached egg and your choice of pork belly or blackened chicken for $12. Though I didn’t try it, my favorite item on the menu, simply because it looks so 1940s, reads frankly, “Tomato Soup $5”.
In the later evenings, the simple stage plays host to singer-songwriters of note. Certain Tuesdays see open mic nights. Last weekend, KCRW’s Raul Campos was spinning discs as The San Fernando staged their first foray into the world of brunch. Called “Beignets, Biscuits and Booze,” they turned the bottomless mimosa on its head with a bottomless Aperol Spritz instead and a special sauce for the carb-y treats. Expect more fun times like these ahead.
So if you’re in the vicinity of the 5 and 134 freeways and hankering for something to wet your whistle, try Golden Road or Glendale Tap for beer, but for cocktails head straight to The San Fernando. No need to fill your belly beforehand and no need to go elsewhere for music after. They got it all going on right here at this fun, friendly ’‘40s watering hole.
The San Fernando
5230 San Fernando Road, Glendale | (818) 244-6442 | thesanfernando.com
Major Cards/Full Bar