THE SOUTH PASADENA

As July temps heat up, you need a tippler to help you cool down. The Langham Huntington, Pasadena’s Tap Room offers seasonal cocktails as well as standard offerings, live jazz on Thursdays nights and a Top 40 band on Friday and Saturday evenings. Relax on a triangular sofa or couches grouped around a fireplace, or perch at freestanding tables with views of the patio. It’s all designed to lull you into the waiting embrace of one of their signature cocktails, such as The South Pasadena. This gin-based concoction offers up noticeable lemon with soft honey and resin notes, thanks to a wisp of citrus from fresh lemon. Add mint, which offers a cool contrast to the herbal, savory gin. The South Pasadena is crisp and clean, slightly viscous and will ensure a satisfying before-dinner drink, well suited to appetizers. “The South Pasadena cocktail fits with our mission of melding old and new generations,” says Susan Williger, the hotel’s director of communications, and this cocktail hits a middle stride, not pretentious and overbearing, nor a wallflower — it is a classic cocktail that will suit most everyone.

Ingredients 

2 ounces gin

¾ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce simple syrup

2 loose mint leaves

Method

Place the loose mint leaves in the bottom of the glass. Add gin, lemon juice and simple syrup, and crush leaves with a muddler. Shake and strain. Garnish with a lemon wheel and mint sprig, and serve.

 

THE ORANGE GROVE

The Raymond 1886 has long been one of Pasadena’s most beloved restaurants (but not for 130 years — 1886 actually marked the opening of the former Raymond Hotel). The restaurant’s Bar 1886 is dark and moody, illuminated mainly by the bar’s soft amber backlight. Inside, there are two small communal tables, four two-tops, original hardwood floors and brown pressed-tin ceilings, and there’s also outdoor seating: two outdoor patios with fireplaces and Edison lights twinkling against the night sky. Bar 1886 was established only in 2010 — 38 years after the restaurant — to focus on high-end spirits and craft cocktails. It offers monthly spirits-paired dinners as well. New cocktails appear twice annually: for spring-summer and fall-winter. Not listed on the menu but a longtime staple is The Orange Grove — a simple but effective drink with a nod to Arroyoland’s agricultural heritage. “This is a sit-out-on-the-patio-and-eat-brunch kind of cocktail,” says bartender Casey Levantal. It’s cool and clean, with the acidity of the citrus mitigated by the gin. The addition of tonic water provides a subtle effervescence. Indeed, this drinks so easily you might forget it’s a cocktail. Levantal suggests pairing it with something hearty like The Raymond’s Veracruz steak salad or pork belly tacos.

Ingredients 

2 ounces London dry gin

½ ounce lime juice

½ ounce simple syrup

2 to 4 orange wedges

Splash of tonic water

Method

Using a muddler, smash orange slices with lime juice and simple syrup. Shake and pour mixture into glass with crushed ice. Add gin, top with tonic floater (without mixing) and serve.

 

The Campfire

At Maestro, a modern Mexican restaurant in Old Pasadena, over 70 iterations of mezcal are lined up behind the bar. With 20-foot-high ceilings, the small space feels voluminous. A few stand-alone tables dot the center and a long couch lines one wall. The bar is located in the back with only a handful of stools.

Nowhere else in Arroyoland will you find this number and diversity of mezcals, including many that are hard to find and in limited production. “We don’t care about brands, we care about flavor,” says manager Marco Ramos, who, along with his staff, can explain the origins of each mezcal. Maestro also offers flights of mezcal and tequila, even rare ones like sotol and tahona, ranging from $15 to $65.

Mezcal offers a unique smokiness to The Campfire cocktail, and the slight char the rosemary undergoes after lighting it on fire works well with the lime’s acidity, offering a more rounded mouthfeel in the mid-palate that ultimately comes off as less sweet and more savory. Ramos suggests pairing The Campfire with Maestro’s duck carnitas or lamb barbacoa and pickled cabbage.


Ingredients 

Sprig of rosemary

¾ ounce green Chartreuse liqueur

¾ ounce Mezcal Los Javis (or other brand)

¾ ounce fresh lime juice

¾ ounce Luxardo Maraschino liqueur

Method

1. Rim glass with rosemary and then place it in glass. Pour Chartreuse over rosemary and let soak. In shaker, combine Luxardo, lime and mezcal.

2. Light rosemary-Chartreuse mixture in glass for 10 seconds. Using tongs, remove rosemary and add Chartreuse to shaker, leaving extinguished rosemary in glass. Fill glass with cubed ice. Shake ingredients and pour over ice.

 

Camping at the Ridge

Built over 100 years ago, Magnolia House on South Lake Avenue was originally a private residence, then became a post-Prohibition liquor store, an antique coin shop and a number of other businesses. Today this restaurant and bar keeps things lively with an quickly rotating cocktail menu. “We have to keep up with Los Angeles,” says lead bartender Jorge Figueroa, referencing the trendy cocktail scene in downtown L.A. To keep Arroyolanders happy closer to home, Figueroa and his team are constantly crafting stimulating new cocktails. With indoor and outdoor seating areas, the bar itself sits behind the restaurant, a long red-brick wall guiding you straight to it.

Figueroa created this cocktail as an homage to the fall season here. He calls it a riff on the Ramos Fizz. “Fall in Pasadena is still warm, but these traditional fall flavors are mitigated by summer notes of apple.” This is a refreshing and light cocktail, heavier on the palate, but nonetheless a balance between spice and heat, viscosity and comfortable, familiar flavors. Try it with their fried chicken sandwich or the mushroom and roasted garlic flatbread.


Ingredients 

1½ ounces Thai chili and gingerinfused Scotch

½ ounce lemon juice

¾ ounce pure maple syrup

½ ounce cinnamon Green

Chartreuse cream

Dash of chocolate chili bitters

Dash of aquafaba (liquid in can

of beans)

Method

Mix ingredients in shaker, add ice, shake again, strain and pour into glass. Top with sparkling apple cider floater, grated nutmeg and cinnamon graham crackers.

 

Penguin On Holiday

After World War II, drinking and dining establishments began popping up around Arroyoland, creating new diversions for a war-weary public. A pocket-size bar opened its doors here in 1947, and a succession of imitators followed. So when The San Fernando opened its doors in Glendale in July, the new bar paid homage to times past. There is definitely a retro theme there, although the 1940s wallpaper, lighting fixtures and booths are relatively subtle touches, not cartoony. The venue offers live music and DJs, comedy nights and movie nights. “We’re getting people from Los Feliz and Silver Lake, and locals tell us they used to have to go to Hollywood for this kind of experience,” says owner Uwe Korak. He offers a limited but carefully curated menu of cocktails and food, leaning toward more traditional tastes without the hyperbole. “We simply want structurally sound cocktails that taste good,” Korak says.

The San Fernando’s signature drink Penguin on Holiday references a 1940s cocktail shaker in the form of a penguin, which is also the bar’s logo. The rum is balanced by citrus, and an earthy quality is aided by cardamom and a pleasant viscosity from egg whites. Cut the sweetness with something savory, like the pork belly Cuban sandwich or chicken wings with Parmesan-garlic sauce.


Ingredients 

1 ounce Bacardi 8-Year-Old Rum

1 ounce Casa Magdalena Rum

¾ ounce chai syrup (spiced powdered tea, 1:1 ratio with simple syrup)

¾ ounce raw egg whites

¾ ounce lemon juice

2 dashes The Bitter Truth’s Nut Drops & Dashes bitters

Cardamom bitters to taste

Method

Combine all ingredients in a shaker and shake. Add ice and shake again. Strain into a glass goblet, garnish with cardamom bitters and serve.

 

Pirate’s Gold

Ombra is an open-air wine and cocktail bar, which opened in mid-2016 at the Americana at Brand in Glendale. Seeking to set their cocktail program apart from the mainstream, proprietor Andrea Scuto scoured bars in Los Angeles and New Orleans. “I searched and searched for what was different and unique,” he says. “Cocktails spark people’s imagination.” Scuto’s cocktail menu changes quarterly, to keep it fresh and interesting, but unique drinks like Pirate’s Gold will always remain. And as this cocktail suggests, Ombra is pursuing less traditional cocktails with a bit of theatrical flare.

A mélange of rum, tamarind and ginger beer, accented with fresh citrus, it seems like this should taste bold. “This is a big boy,” says Andrea. But it’s really not a heavy drink, just a robust cocktail, with citrus that lightens the dark notes of the tamarind and brings out the brown spice and sweetness of the rum. Sample this with Ombra’s flatbread topped with blue-cheese spinach, caramelized onions and provolone cheese, or their jalapeño and whole-grain-mustard deviled eggs.


Ingredients 

1¾ ounce Sailor Jerry’s Spiced Rum

½ ounce lime juice

½ ounce housemade tamarind syrup(1-to-1 ratio tamarind paste, sugar and water)

½ ounce True Roots Ginger Beer

 

Method

1. Shake all ingredients together. Pour over ice cubes in a tumbler.

2. Spray edible gold spray around lip of glass. Garnish with cinnamon stick and lime wedge.

 

The Devil’s Gate

When The Flintridge Proper opened five years ago in La Cañada Flintridge, everyone wondered how this restaurant and bar could boast the world’s largest selection of gin served in a bar. Because that’s what owner Brady Caverly wanted, that’s how. The bar is ideal for quiet conversation — with its comfortable armchairs and couches, it feels and looks more a library than a neighborhood tavern. The custom wooden bar with carved horse heads recalls the area’s equestrian past.

Devil’s Gate Dam inspired this drink, a nod to a time when boats could float languidly on the Pasadena reservoir. “It’s designed to capture the flavor of the Arroyo — berries and wild herbs and serrano peppers — to scare the devil out of you,” says Caverly. It combines sweet and spicy, tempered by citrus and fruit, with a potent heat from both the ginger and pepper. The soda’s slight fizz brightens the palate. Pair this with their fresh oysters on the half shell or short-rib pot roast.


Ingredients 

1 slice serrano pepper wheel

3 blackberries

2 leaves basil

½ ounce fresh lemon juice

½ ounce fresh lime juice

3/4 oz. lemongrass syrup

3/4 oz. ginger syrup

2 oz. Tanqueray Gin

Method

Muddle ingredients together. Shake, strain into glass with ice. Top with 2 ounces club soda.

 

Pig in a Barrel

If one were to update a Prohibition speakeasy for 21st-century customers, it would look a lot like Room 31 — an intimate space with limited seating, tucked away virtually unseen in the back of another business. Located inside 5 Line Tavern in Eagle Rock, Room 31 was opened two years ago by owner Marcos Menendez, who creates a variety of mixed drinks. “People love a cozy speakeasy, and we wanted to create an elevated experience, a love letter to Eagle Rock,” he says.

There are just seven vintage-style stools at the bar and additional seating at five white marble two-top tables. The ambient music is vintage too — soul, R&B and jazz. The Pig in a Barrel cocktail offers not only visual interest, with smoke wafting around it like a ghost, but a multilayered and complex taste. It offers a combination of woody and spicy notes, a potent bourbon kick with a hint of sweetness and herbs as well as subtle notes of smoke, mandarin, honeysuckle and vanilla.


Ingredients 

Two dashes Fee Brothers Whiskey Barrel-aged bitters

1½ ounces James E. Pepper 1776 Bourbon

½ ounce Amaro Nonino Quintessentia

½ ounce Zaya Gran Reserva 12-year-old Rum

Small bar spoon (2½ ml) Blank Slate Vanilla Syrup

Smoke infuser

4 slices smoked bacon

Method

1. Cook bacon in a large skillet, and pour off fat (about 1 ounce) into a small bowl. In a large glass bowl, combine bourbon, bacon fat and 1 bacon slice. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 5 hours, then freeze for 8 hours. Remove solidified fat and bacon slice and discard. Pour bourbon through fine-mesh strainer, coffee filters or cheesecloth.

2. Combine bacon bourbon with the other  ingredients in shaker and shake vigorously. Place large ice cube in tumbler, pour in liquid. Place covering over tumbler (preferably clear glass), use smoke infuser to blow in smoke. Let sit covered for a few minutes. Serve. (Note: Pipe smoke can be used in place of smoke infuser.)

 

The Sparr Cocktail

Everyone wants to replicate the camaraderie and conviviality of TV’s “Cheers” in their own local bar. The John Sparr Tavern in Glendale comes close.

“We are a comfortable place that doesn’t offer theatrical drinks, just old school cocktails,” says co-owner David Fink. The traditional approach to cocktails mirrors the ambience — small, intimate, quiet, confident. Green marble lines the walls, mahogany tables and chairs occupy the interior, along with a few booths, with more seating in an outdoor patio. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a throwback tavern. Even the live music they offer is merely acoustic guitar, meant as background to your conversations over cocktails — this is a place to talk.

This cocktail reflects their orthodox approach — the smoothness of the rye and bourbon is touched by the slight sweetness of the cherry, while the scent from the lemon peel’s oil fills your nose, adding a zesty citrus element. Neither too heavy nor too sweet, it balances multiple ingredients with aplomb. Pair this with their crab cakes with garlic aioli appetizer or their prime rib of pork with Cognac sauce.


Ingredients 

¾ ounce Old Grand-Dad Bonded Bourbon

¾ ounce Old Overholt Straight Rye Whiskey

¼ ounce Heering Cherry Liqueur

¼ ounce Benedictine D.O.M.

Two dashes Angostura Bitters

Lemon peel

Black maraschino cherry

Method

Pour liquor and bitters into ice-filled shaker. Stir, strain into tumbler. Rim and garnish with freshly cut lemon peel. Top with black maraschino cherry.