WINTER “BEST OF” COCKTAIL MENU MISSES THE MARK
For years now, I’ve been singing the praises of the genius bartenders and mixologists at 1886 Bar at The Raymond in Pasadena. A frontrunner in the cocktail scene for the last four years since its founding, 1886 Bar has been daring and innovative, and has thoroughly delighted the palettes of cocktail enthusiasts.
This winter, the new seasonal menu features a “Greatest Hits” drink list. You’d think it can’t get any better than that, right? Well, winter isn’t always their strongest season, and this “best of” list left me wanting different and better drinks.
The “Greatest Hits” drink menu is supposed to feature 13 of the bar’s tastiest cocktails ever created but I just simply found that hard to swallow—literally.
“After creating seasonal menus since we opened, we realized we have nearly 200 recipes to choose from.” says barman Peter Lloyd Jones, who moved to LA from Australia in 2010 and joined the 1886 Bar team in its early days. “So as a bar team, we selected our most requested cocktails and decided to create a hit-list of the most delicious cocktails spanning the past four years.”
During our recent visit for what I expected to be an epic night of drinks, we started with La Royale from Fall 2013, a Jamaican rum-based Manhattan invented by 1886 barman Greg Gertmenian, and The Therapist from Fall 2011, a stirred and strong variation of the Rob Roy, with Highland Park Scotch Whiskey, Carpano Antica Formula Vermouth, chocolate bitters and honeyed Drambuie. Honestly, I found both medicinal in taste and no fun to drink. We definitely didn’t even want to finish these cocktails as we knew more were coming.
After such a bumpy start, we got back on track with Peter Lloyd Jones’ Sao Paolo Fix from Winter 2013, which features muddled blackberry jam and fresh lime with Brazilian cachaça, topped with a mist of deeply funky Smith & Cross Rum for a tropical treat. Likewise, the Flying Lotus, also from Fall 2013, highlights a cedar-infused bourbon, mixing it with rye whiskey, lemon juice and cinnamon syrup, plus a garnish of a house-made lotus root chip. “The cedar bourbon is so complex and different,” Jones says. “It is a real bartender’s drink.” Both of these were an improvement from our first round.
Opting for tequila-based drinks for our next round, we went with the Indian Summer from Fall 2011, which combines tequila, lime, watermelon juice, cilantro and jalapeño in a unique refresher served on chile-salted watermelon chunks. “That is one of the most requested drinks we have,” Jones says. “After it went off the menu, people just refused to stop ordering it.”
And don’t forget the ¡Ay Papi! from Fall 2013 from Jesus Gomez and Saul Soto, as this drink delivers an unexpected “cool” factor to your lips with its smoky-sour-sweet mix of tequila, mezcal, honey, lime and tamarind syrup, served on a massive ice cube with chili salt.
I thought we were on a roll until we ordered our next round, which consisted of Walter’s Last Sip from Fall 2012. This drink was concocted by Lacey Murillo, who will forever be loved by cocktails aficionados for creaking the Smoking Jacket—1886 Bar’s signature cocktail, which didn’t make the “best of” list (whatever)--which shakes apple brandy with a spiced green-apple shrub and bitters. The drink is served in an ice-cold flask, nestled inside a paper bag with a side of toasted pecans for a fun autumnal experience. While I like the presentation, albeit somewhat gimmicky, who wants to drink a flask of 100-proof apple brandy? It’s boozy and stiff and just not much fun.
The same can be said for the Rye Reverse from Fall 2012, a combo of both Templeton and Rittenhouse 100 with dry vermouth, curacao and a house bitters blend. Boozy, yes, but poor balance just made this drink taste like work, and while drinking is work (for me anyways), nobody wants a cocktail in hand to be laborious to the taste.
And the next round of drinks didn’t fare any better for me, as Audrey Saunders’ Earl Grey Martini from Fall 2011, a gin sour made with tea-infused Broker’s Gin, lemon juice and sugar, was way too floral for me (I think this one can just be chalked to my personal preference), and the Lebowski Achiever from Winter 2011, a White Russian-inspired concoction with vodka, crème de cacao, coffee stout and fresh cream created by former 1886 Head Barman, Brady Weise, which was just too bitter for my liking, but then again, I’m not really a coffee guy. I am a big fan of White Russians, well, I was back in college, but even that nostalgia couldn’t save this drink for me.
Our nightcap was the Apple Pie Toddy—I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I do love liquid dessert! From The Raymond Sous Chef Chris Hoey, this new cocktail is a rousing blend of pie crust-infused rye whiskey, with a jolt of lemon and brown sugar, served up piping-hot, topped with green-apple foam that will leave you feeling like you’ve just tasted the ultimate adults-only version of Grandma’s warm apple pie fresh from the oven. It’s just plain lovely.
The saving grace from this most recent stop at 1886 Bar was the affirmation that The Raymond’s Executive Chef Tim Guiltinan is really coming up with some stellar dishes. The new Bar Snacks menu, which is half-off during Happy Hour, includes 23 items to choose from, including Pork Belly Confit; Jidori Chicken Wings served alongside house-marinated cucumbers; House-made Cucumber Kimchi; Suckling Pig al Pastor Tacos and Steamed Mussels with spicy “angry lady” sauce and Chinese sausage. Chef definitely saved the night!
1886 Bar is open Tuesday, Wednesday and Sunday from 5 pm to 10 pm, Thursday from 5 pm to Midnight and Friday and Saturday from 5 pm to 2 am. Call (626) 441-3136.
Story by Jose Martinez
Photography Courtesy of: 1886 Bar