Where to drink in Pasadena
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. The pinnacle of this pocket-sized bar is undoubtedly the stellar drink program, with a 21-long menu that changes each season and thrives on originality, from the Pimm's #13 made with mezcal and Mexican Tamarindo soda to the Meyer lemon- and rosemary-infused Yoshi's Island. For a next-level drink, order the Angel of Darkness, but best to save this one for last—it's quite the layered concoction. First to hit you is the citrus lime and pineapple juices, then the sweet maple syrup, the rye and, finally, the sherry. Wash it down with some tater tots, oysters, and pork belly confit and you're set.
And just before he rested on the seventh day, God created beer, and it was really, really good. At Congregation Ale House (any of their three chapters: Long Beach, Pasadena and the Azusa brewpub), beer drinking is a religious experience. From Sunday brewpub bingo to a religious-themed playlist (not the latest Christian contemporary artist, don't worry), the theme is cool, not kitschy. But really, it's all about the beer. Each "chapter" at Congregation has at least a handful of homemade brews, from the Dark of the Covenant American strong ale to the fruity Praise On! Saison. Congregation is also good to beer-making friends—each chapter maintains an extensive guest tap list with frequent friendly tap takeovers. Next time your wallet is feeling a little light, repent at "mass" all day Monday, and 3-7pm and after midnight until close during the week for $1 off draft beers, a $4 special draft beer, and cheap food—there's a full menu here, with everything from pizza and burgers to beer floats and brunch. Yes, we said brunch.
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 doesn't exactly roll off the tongue, but conversational German is not required for entry here. Brought to you by the same folks as The Surly Goat, Little Bear and the neighboring Blind Donkey, the Pasadena beer hall has 15 German beers on tap bearing enough syllables and umlauts to twist your tongue well into the night. There are four German-style beers from Oregon and California, as well, including Pasadena-based Craftsman Brewery. 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 a soon-to-be-opened outdoor beer garden, and this place ticks all the necessary boxes.
Balancing a relaxed, sports bar vibe with seriously good pub grub, Kings Row Gastropub is perfect for nursing a pint or two with friends. British classics (think Shepherd's Pie and Fish & Chips) are paired alongside an expansive beer menu, touting brews from Belgium to California's own backyard. Enjoy brunch, lunch and dinner in the patio room, the dining room or the beer garden.
This Pasadena establishment (with a second location on Colorado Blvd) carries on the tradition of British pubs everywhere, including 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 68 beers on tap. The food includes classic pub fare—mostly meat and potatoes—which you can enjoy on the outside patio (Don't panic! You can see a TV or two from there). 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.
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 door. Portland booze wunderkind Evan Zimmerman brings his A-game to a stellar selection of fresh, easy-sipping cocktails at Magnolia House: the ambitious Pina Verde with tequila, mezcal, pineapple, lime juice, cilantro, mint, cayenne and absinthe, or the Lumberjack’s Breakfast that’s probably more suited for dessert, a frothy blend of scotch, applejack, cardamom, maple syrup and egg white. Grab some of chef Kyu Yi’s elevated comfort food—Korean fried chicken wings, perhaps—and plant yourself beneath the big leafy tree in the courtyard amongst friends.
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. Brought to you by Ryan Sweeney (the Surly Goat, Verdugo Bar, Little Bear) and John Bower, the Pasadena gastropub is where whiskey lovers and beer geeks can saddle up to the bar. And what whiskey cocktail is better than an Old Fashioned? The house version, the Butler’s Old Fashioned, is on the sweeter side with chunks of local, homemade jam.
Turn into an alley and climb the wrought iron staircase that leads to Vertical Wine Bistro, an eclectic Pasadena wine bar. A domed glass ceiling reminiscent of Paris’s indoor market marks the entryway of this sleek, elegantly-lit and dark-toned noble house of wine in Pasadena. Old World is the focus here with French and Italian terroir-driven wines (think: earthy and mineral-y), though equally impressive is a list of New World crowd-pleasers—fruit-forward, lush, opulent wines from California. Ask to try a vertical flight—a tasting of three wines from three consecutive vintages from a single producer—poured in Riedel glasses.
Tucked away down forgotten De Lacey Street, White Horse is a cocktail-forward concept from Dustin Nicolarsen, the brains behind The Derby in nearby Arcadia. That explains the bar’s equine name, which also happens to be a direct translation of the location’s departed predecessor, Cheval Blanc. An ornately carved bar dominates the space, welcoming you to sit down and stay a while, while the cocktail menu is catered to those with a lust for whiskey. Hands down, the best drink on White Horse’s menu is the Smart Ass, a refreshing and tart mix of Irish whiskey, lemon juice, honey and mint rounded out with a homemade Guinness reduction. The bar food is your standard pub fare done better, with stand-outs like garlic truffle fries and jalapeno-braised short rib tacos, all served with a smile by patient staff.