WINTER IS COMING & THE DRINKS ARE BLOODY KILLER
If bar years are akin to dog years, then 1886 Bar is in the prime of its run having just celebrated its fifth anniversary (that’s like 35 in canine years). I think it’s pretty safe to say that this is no longer the sleepy little bar at The Raymond Restaurant in Pasadena. Now it’s its own drinking destination for anyone who appreciates the fine art of handcrafted cocktails.
I’ve been saying for years that this is the best bar in Los Angeles, albeit in Pasadena. And I don’t know of a more daring local bar program that consistently delivers mind-blowing cocktails. Since its opening in 2010 under the guidance of bar maven Marcos Tello, 1886 Bar has produced some of the best bartenders (mixologists) pouring drinks in Los Angeles. Unlike some other buzz worthy watering holes, this jewel is always attitude free. It’s not about being seen or being part of a scene, it’s a casual spot where the mad scientists or inmates behind the bar run the asylum. And God bless ‘em for that.
After some restructuring and the loss of former head bartender Brady Weise, the bar stumbled a year ago with a “best of” list that was more miss than hits, but the last menu with Peter Lloyd Jones as bar manager found 1886 dominating the LA cocktail scene again. And with this new winter list, another bevy of bold and ingenious beverages has arrived.
While 1886 Bar does boast a repertoire of over 600 off-menu house cocktails, including its famous Smoking Jacket and popular Honey-Nut Old Fashioned, as well as a complete series of Pimm’s Cups 1 through 13 – all made from scratch and unavailable anywhere else, this new menu sees Jesus Gomez (pictured below), a young bartender on the rise, morph into a star in the libation game.
During a recent visit for a cocktail adventure to try the new menu, we started out with the fantastic Maggie the Cat created by Casey Levental and Ned Kirby. A reference to Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof this drink is reminiscent of Jesus’ Sex Panther—an absolute favorite from the last cocktail menu. A mix of gin, house made curaco, Becherovka (herbal bitters), Amaro Nonino (walnut liqueur), grapefruit juice, orange juice and lemon juice with a cherry dropped into the center, the drink, like Maggie, is described as sweet and inviting, then bitter and sour while packing a punch. This drink is delicious and so flavorful. It’s a must try.
Fans of tiki will want to try Winter Is Coming by the team of Mikey Angeles and Adam Vaugh. Made with muddled blueberries, lemon, passion fruit, Velvet Falernum and three rums—Diplomatico, Smith & Cross, and Martinique Blue. The bar likes to boast that not even Jon Snow can save you from this White Walker winter tiki invasion.
I’ve been a fan of Jesus Gomez for years now. Starting off in the kitchen he worked his way up the ranks as a member of the bar team. Jesus has been creating wonderful tiki type drinks lately, but with this new winter menu he’s gone boozy. His drinks aren’t too playful and pack a stiff punch. Teaming up with mentor Marcos Tello, this dynamic duo created the Danza de los Tejorones, a magical mix of pasilla chile infused El Silencio Mexzcal combined with clover honey, fresh lime juice and pasilla chile spiced blend. Served frothy and ice cold, they like to say this drink is from Oaxaca with Love.
The team of Jesus and Adam Vaughn came up with Hades, a fiery drink not for the faint of heart. Served with an “Acheron” chili salt rim of Arbol and Japanese chilies, it also features a three-headed beast of triple-chili mezcal infusion, spiced rum, lime agave, and mango. Yes it’s spicy but it is well balanced so you will definitely pick up more notes than just heat.
Jesus’ La Divina Comedia (divine comedy) is no joke! This nine-ingredient Old Fashioned features flamed orange oils, black Jamaican rum, Kentucky and Scotch whiskeys (Elijah Craig and Balvenie), vanilla and green walnuts, Angostura and orange bitters, brown sugar cube, Noccino walnut liqueur, 151 Hamilton over proof rum and Black Hamilton. Jesus confesses this drink was originally going to be called “One and Done” and that’s a pretty fair description. My first reaction was wow that was boozy yet delicious. Fans of potent drinks will want to try this one.
Not to out due even himself, Jesus really elevated his game with Life in the Woods, a classy mix of French rum and Kentucky bourbon. This bad boy includes tobacco bitters, vanilla syrup, Averna, Elijah Craig, Clement V.S.O.P. and Bowmore 15. A word of advice, sure it will be a really fun time if you attempt to drink all of Jesus’ cocktails in one sitting but if you do, make it an Uber night.
The last of the Jesus Gomez drinks from the winter menu is the Otorten and it features Rittenhouse 100-Proof Rye, Bowmore 15 scotch, and Laphroaig 10 (can you say smoky?). Again, damn! I don’t know if someone hurt our dear, sweet Jesus because winter has seen his dark side come out and it’s boozy and downright dirty. And we’re all the better for it.
It’s great to see 1886 Bar back on top of the Los Angeles cocktail landscape. I’m still not happy it’s all the way in Pasadena but just like the bartenders do it, I just have to get creative when I want to make a night of drinking at the best little bar in town.
1886 Bar is located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave at The Raymond Restaurant in Pasadena. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 4pm to midnight (2am on Friday and Saturday). Call 626-441-3136.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy of: 1886 Bar