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Vroman's Bookstore Wine Bar in Pasadena
Photograph: Michael Juliano

Shut up and take our money: Vroman’s Bookstore is opening a literature-themed wine bar

Written by
Stephanie Breijo

If you’ve already got trouble holding onto your money in a bookstore, we present a perilous new obstacle: How about a glass of wine or two before you browse the aisles? Southern California’s oldest independent bookshop is daring us to make it out without draining our bank accounts, opening a sleek new wine bar just inside the entrance. As if Vroman’s Bookstore couldn’t get any better.

By early February, Pasadena’s sprawling 126-year-old shop is set to open the 1894: a bookworm’s dream of a wine bar sporting literature-inspired cocktails, plus plenty of craft beer, wine flights and special events in the heart of the Playhouse District.

With a beverage program helmed by Bentley Hale—a wine educator and the owner of Sip Happens Wine School—you can expect a program that’s big on informative moments, not to mention local winemakers.

“In every restaurant or bar I’ve ever worked in, I’ve always been big on local,” Hale says, “and L.A. has a pretty cool up-and-coming movement. There are a few winemakers sprinkled throughout the city that are making some pretty awesome wines; a lot of them are sourcing grapes from the same vineyards in Los Angeles, but then they’re making them in such different ways.”

Expect varieties by the glass, bottle and tasting flight, including pours from Byron Blatty Wines, Angeleno Wine Co. and Cavaletti Vineyards. In the future, there might be a regular book club that pairs each assigned reading with a specific bottle of wine.

The local love continues into the beer selection: The bar’s four draft lines will all be devoted to local breweries, starting with Burbank’s Trustworthy Brewing Co. and DTLA’s Boomtown Brewery, among others, and bottles will range from global to Los Angeles, and involve gluten-free brews, kombucha and cider. 

Because the 1894 doesn’t have its full liquor license, Hale has been building a program of sessionable (low-alcohol) cocktails with fortified wines such as vermouths and sherries. She’s focusing on pre-Prohibition classics in a nod to the bookstore’s founding, and is drawing inspiration from the shelves around her. 

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The Huck Finn mule, for instance, infuses soju with huckleberry tea, while the sour inspired by Maya Angelou uses sherry, the author’s favorite wine (it even comes served with an Angelou quote pinned to the side of the coupe glass). There’s also a Kipling colada, in ode to Rudyard Kipling, whose Jungle Book was released the same year that Vroman’s was founded, and a little stone-fruit number named, of course, for James and the Giant Peach.

“Being inside a bookstore, there’s so much opportunity for events and really integrating the awesome cookbooks that are here,” Hale says, “and the wine books that are starting to pop up—to really bring the books to life.”

Once or twice a month, they team is hoping to pull recipes from regional cookbooks in the shop and serve them at the bar. And because all of those drinks—and reading—can work up an appetite, you can also expect a light food menu featuring the likes of charcuterie and cheese plates, roasted artichoke hummus, avocado toast, flatbreads, quiche and other brunch-leaning all-day fare. There’ll also be a focus on pairings, in case you’d like to study up on how perfectly wine and cupcakes blend or how beer matches mini doughnuts—a lesson we’re pretty sure everyone can get behind, bookworm or no.

The 1894 is located within Vroman’s Bookstore, at 695 E Colorado Blvd in Pasadena, set to open in early February with hours of 11am to 9pm Sunday to Thursday, and 11am to 10pm Friday and Saturday.

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