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Magnolia House
Photograph: Alicia Cho Magnolia House

The best bars in Pasadena

The best Pasadena bars have something for everyone—whiskey? beer? wine? a perfect rooftop?—so pick your poison.

By Erin Kuschner, Stephanie Breijo and Time Out contributors
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Pasadena’s drinking culture is evolving. Once known as a place heavy on gastropubs, sports bars and music-thumping lounges, Old Town and beyond is building its reputation as a solid drinking hub. There are beer bars pouring quality pints and a growing wine bar scene, and more than a few cocktail bars to frequent. (Plus, you know, there are great coffee shops for the morning after.) Don’t believe us? Check out these Pasadena bars and thank us later.

RECOMMENDED: More things to do in Pasadena

The 13 best Pasadena bars, ranked

1. 1886 Bar

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For the finest cocktails in all of Pasadena, 1886 Bar is your place. Located in the back of the Raymond Restaurant is a romantic, low-ceilinged room plastered in Victorian wallpaper and bathed in Old West mood lighting. But as pretty as the setting is, the pinnacle of this pocket-size bar is undoubtedly the stellar drink program: With a seasonal, two-dozen-ish drinks menu that thrives on originality. Don’t see something you like? They’ve also got more than 600 off-menu house cocktail recipes and classics at the ready, so just give the talented staff a few leads and they’ll point you in the right direction.

2. Magnolia House

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Craft cocktails don’t always have to be password-protected and sipped in the dark. Instead, sometimes great drinks are found in a century-old house that has no front door. Expect a stellar selection of fresh, easy-sipping cocktails at Magnolia House: We’re talking a tropical, coconut-tinged spin on a vodka daisy; gin-and-carrot sours; and a rummy, tiki-leaning take on an old-fashioned. Feeling peckish? Grab elevated comfort food such as Korean fried chicken wings or some linguica mac and cheese, perhaps—and plant yourself beneath the big leafy tree in the courtyard amongst friends.

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3. White Horse Lounge

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Southern comfort can be tough to find in L.A., and it can be even tougher to find in Pasadena. Once you locate White Horse, though, you might never leave. Tucked away down De Lacey Street, White Horse awaits with an ornately carved bar, welcoming you to sit down and stay a while. The cocktail menu is catered to those with a lust for whiskey and Southern-inspired concoctions. Hands down, the best drink on White Horse’s menu is the Smartass, a refreshing and tart mix of Irish whiskey, a house-made Guinness reduction, lemon juice, honey and mint, but you’ll also find barrel-aged cocktails, throwback-Thursday classics specials, and bar food done better.

4. Everson Royce

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Opened by Silverlake Wine alumni, the Pasadena outpost makes waves in the wine community through its hefty selection of California, French and Italian wines, in addition to several other global offerings. Pours run for as little as $6 per glass, and there’s no shortage of events to keep you busy and sipping. Tuesdays bring “Easing Your Way Into the Week” with three different wines paired with cheese and charcuterie for $15. Fridays are “Friday Night Flights” of three wines (reds and whites) focusing on a grape, a winemaker or a region, served with gourmet bread and butter. Saturdays you can make the most of your weekend with “Saturday is a Relaxing Afternoon,” where three wines plus an aperitif or a glass of sparkling are offered with bread and butter to be consumed at your own pace ($15).

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5. Granville

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Granville brings its new-American fare to Pasadena, with one great addition: It’s soaking up some sun. Sure, there’s the downstairs restaurant with an indoor bar, and diners can perch on stools right outside on the patio as bartenders pass drinks through the open windows—but the prime spot is on the roof, where you can catch shareable plates and gin-forward cocktails. There are flatbreads and salads and tacos and other California-fare musts, but who are we kidding? They’re just fuel for your lingering with rosé in hand while you take in one of the only rooftop views in the city. See you up top.

6. The Blind Donkey

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The bar’s name pays homage to the bygone donkeys—blindfolded, as not to get spooked—that churned old mills that crushed grains for making whiskey. And that’s what you’ll find at the Blind Donkey: 100-plus whiskeys from America, Scotland, Ireland and Canada. This rugged Pasadena bar is where whiskey lovers can sidle up to the bar for straight pours and whiskey (and yes, other spirits, too) worked into house cocktails and classics. Beer geeks can find a comprehensive list and seasonal craft specials on tap, while those who like to imbibe with a few laughs can catch monthly comedy shows every second Monday.

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7. Der Wolf and Der Rathskeller

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Of all the things Americans associate with Germany—great beer, good sausage, the consumption of large quantities of both while wearing lederhosen—easy pronunciation is not one (see also: lederhosen). Der Wolfskopf didn’t exactly roll off the tongue, which is why Pasadena’s beer hall is now simply known as Der Wolf. Don’t worry, it still has 20-or-so beers on tap bearing enough syllables and umlauts to twist your tongue well into the night. Overwhelmed? The friendly bar staff actually know their stuff and will guide you in the right direction. Add a food menu with sausages, pretzels and schnitzel, and this place ticks all the necessary boxes—unless you’re craving cocktails, in which case you’ll need to head downstairs. That’s where you’ll find Der Rathskeller, the moody basement bar where cognacs and mixed drinks are what to toast.

8. The Tap Room

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A nod to the original hotel bar that opened just after Prohibition ended, the Langham Hotel’s Tap Room is a high-class joint with an elegant bar and pretty patio—and if that weren’t aesthetic enough, it’s all situated in one of the most beautiful hotels in the Pasadena area. This is the kind of bar where live jazz and bossa nova drifts through the evening air, and all the while you’re sipping bourbon tinged with maraschino liqueur. The menu dives into floral and fruity notes, too, but we prefer to keep things classic with sazeracs and negronis—in this wood-paneled, tufted and leather-outfitted setting, how could we not?

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9. Bodega Wine Bar

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Fans of the grape can’t go too far wrong at the Bodega, a wine bar that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The wines by the glass will only set you back about $10, so sampling a few varieties is fairly affordable (especially at their deep-discount happy hour, where glasses run about $6), and tend to focus on California labels with a bit of France and other European regions for good measure. The long tables encourage the intermixing of parties over plates of tapenades, flatbreads, charcuterie and sliders, as do the nightly specials. (Board games or $25 bottles of wine, anyone?)

10. The Otis Bar

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Heavy steam engines used to roll through Pasadena’s Santa Fe Depot; today, Metro’s Gold Line stops in front of the station, but you won’t find luggage-toting rail passengers anymore. You will find imbibers stopping in at La Grande Orange’s bar, however, which serves local beer “on line,” cocktails poured over hand-cut ice, and sangria best ordered by the pitcher. There are old-timey, railroad-inspired concoctions featuring plenty of California-y citrus, and names such as the classic highwaymen screed, “Money or your life,” while the food (mesquite-grilled seafood and steaks?) is comforting, pared-down and classic. It definitely would’ve been worth taking a train to in the old days.

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11. Lucky Baldwin’s

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This Pasadena establishment—with another, nearby location: Trappiste Pub, on Colorado Boulevard—carries on the tradition of British pubs everywhere. This includes celebrating every drinking festival known to man: Belgian Beer Festival? Check. Oktoberfest? Check. IPA festivals? Yup, they’ve got those, too. You’ll be able to see any soccer (sorry, football) game you want here, all while indulging in the European-heavy list of roughly 70 beers on tap. The food includes classic U.K. pub fare—mostly meat and potatoes, and even a full English breakfast—which you can enjoy on the outside patio. Care to bring along a canine friend? Dogs are welcome, as long as you don’t mind them being spoiled by the pub’s friendly regulars.

12. Congregation Ale House

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At its alehouses in Pasadena, Long Beach and Santa Ana and the brewpub in Azusa, Congregation’s Trappist monastery theme (stained glass, wrought iron chandeliers and Old English script) provokes actual complaints of blasphemy. Undeterred, this seasoned brewery has perfected an eclectic list of appropriately named beers: Passion of the Kolsch, Praise On! Saison, and the popular “Forbidden Fruit” Blackberry Tart Belgian witbier. The OG Pasadena location’s twentysomethings crowd loves the outdoor seating, the sizable tap system with local guest beers and premium imports, its full food menu (order the house-made pretzel) and the explosive trivia nights.

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13. Kings Row Gastropub

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Balancing a relaxed sports-bar vibe with seriously good pub grub, Kings Row Gastropub is perfect for nursing a pint or two with friends. Classics about here, both on the food and the draft list. Pair some fish and chips or a Creekstone Farms-beef burger with the expansive beer menu, which touts 24 brews from California’s own backyard. Drink through beers from L.A., Carson, Torrance, Escondido and even right there in Pasadena, or opt for cocktails that feature entirely house-pressed juice and house-made syrups. They even make their own spicy, cinnamon-y version of Fireball—they’re that committed to DIY behind the bar.

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