Sunday, November 13, 2011

Where to Drink: Bar 1886 @ The Raymond

Bars. Bars. Bars.
There’s no shortage of them in this town.
Sports bars, dive bars, neighborhood bars where everyone knows your name.

Then there’s also a special type of bar; the drinking parlor. The Raymond Restaurant’s Bar 1886 falls into this category, worth a visit when you’re in the mood to sip and savor finely crafted artisan cocktails within a rugged, historic setting.

Set amongst the sleepy foothills of South Pasadena, Bar 1886 occupies the former caretaker’s cottage of the old Raymond Hotel, originally opened in 1886 and once the popular hangout destination for the elite and celebrities like Charlie Chaplin and Buster Keaton.

A tragic history filled with infuriated fires and Great Depression woes caused the grand hotel to close decades ago, but fortunately for us, The Raymond Restaurant and Bar 1886 which opened a year ago after a massive renovation, remain. We can still venture down the windy driveway that leads to the forest green cottage, open its unmarked door, meander through the quiet restaurant and enter the door plainly marked “est. 1886.”

What you’ll find is an area that’s earthy and vintage – cozily intimate yet airy. The lines between outdoors and indoors politely blur, especially once dusk starts to settle in. The main room, which fits about 22 seated, pays tribute to its past origins with an Industrial Revolution era decor, complete with an intricately detailed tin ceiling, Edison bulb light fixtures, dark wallpaper, wooden accents and amber-hued candle holders placed on tables. Opposite of a well-lit bar is a wall with expansive windows that open out onto the outdoor patio, which is canopied by an ancient wisteria tree.

Now I’m not superstitious per se, but I’ve heard a few rumors here and there about paranormal activity going on at the bar…locked windows (in the picture to the left) that mysteriously creak open at the same exact time every single night. So if you're sitting at a table and the window behind you randomly pops open, don't be alarmed - just remember what I told you.

Whether or not spirits are roaming around, the spirits and libations behind the bar are worth a try. They incorporate many ingredients that would have been widely popular within the late 19th century – lots of classic gins, homemade syrups, fruits and herbal spices.

The cocktail menu doesn’t simply list drinks and their respective ingredients either; instead, it includes each cocktail’s background story and original inventor. The cocktails hail from famed bartenders around the country and from various decades. Bartenders, chefs and friends of the establishment have all helped to the cocktail program as interesting and diverse as it is.

Similar to how Nike designer Tinker Hatfield makes each Air Jordan sneaker look like a work of art rather than just another typical athletic shoe, the talented Bar 1886 team makes each cocktail look like a mini-masterpiece, rather than just some alcohol and ice swirling around in a glass.

Several, like the Malted Mule pictured below, are like an installation art piece; slowly pour the ginger ale over the homemade gingersnap ice cream, which subsequently runs into the Lemon Hart 151, rum and barley malt syrup concoction.

Others, like the Bitter Bee pictured below are like a beautiful collage of colors. Less potent than the Malted Mule, this blend of vodka, honey, mint and bitters is like sipping a minty lemonade on a sweltering summer’s day.

And yet, still others such as the flight of three Vintage Caprices pictured below are meant to be tasted, pondered upon and discussed. This flight examines the natural progression of wood on a cocktail, presenting the same mixture of gin, orange bitters, dry vermouth and Benedictine after sitting in a sherry-rinsed oak barrel at three distinct phases: when the mixture is not aged in the barrel, when it’s been in the barrel for four months and when it’s been in the barrel for eight months. Compare and contrast the subtle differences between each phase.

So the next time you’re looking for a genuine drinking experience – more than a mere vodka and cranberry – I highly recommend Pasadena’s Bar 1886. The cocktails are truly incomparable, and the ambiance is quite enjoyable. Perhaps I’ll see you there on the patio soon!

Miss Wilson’s Tips:

- Bar 1886 has an interesting selection of appetizers and snacks, including many American standards, like the Griddled Cheese Sandwich, unique cultural variations, such as Poppadums, and even original inventions, like the Grilled Flat Bread with sweet potato, sweet corn and bacon, pictured below. 
- The Raymond Hotel and the City of Pasadena simultaneously observe their 125th anniversary this year, just as Bar 1886 celebrates its one-year anniversary this month. Partake in celebratory festivities with artisan cocktails, beers, boutique wines, hors d’oeuvres samplings, small plates and desserts at a proper affair this upcoming Thursday, November 17th, 6:30-10pm. For more information, click here.

- Bar 1886 might remind you of another Wilson’s Guide favorite, The Varnish, and there’s a good reason why. Both of these bars are located in historical LA establishments and feature artisan cocktail menus directed by the widely popular cocktail experts Marcos Tello and Aidan Demarest.

For more information
Bar 1886
at The Raymond Restaurant
1250 South Fair Oaks Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91105

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