PASADENA’S SECRET PUNCH BAR IS A KNOCKOUT
It’s no secret we’re big fans of daring restaurant Corazon y Miel in Bell and its latest offshoot, the sausage and suds Picnik in Pasadena. Well, leave it to the clever bartenders at CYM to come up with Punch, an off the beaten path punch bar that serves quality boozy drinks from a bowl that would make any pirate proud.
In case you don’t know, punch actually predates the cocktail and first came into vogue sometime in the 16th or 17th century as naval officers made their way to various Indian subcontinents. Punch started as a sailors' drink and provided a communal experience as officers and seamen would often imbibe together. There's even tale of people way back when using Blackbeard's skull as a punch bowl.
Open Thursday through Saturday, Punch is located above Picnik, but you have to enter around back, sound complicated? Just follow the computer print out fliers with a picture of a punch bowl on it. In fact, it was at CYM that bartender Darwin Manahan explained to me his fascination with punch. And he and fellow mixologist Robin Chopra have put together an impressive array of punch cocktails, which adhere to the five-ingredient recipe: strong (spirit), weak (ice or water), sour (citrus), sweet (sugar) and spice (bitters).
Spend just a few minutes at Punch and you'll notice the constant pounding of bartenders breaking ice. Who knew punch was so labor intensive?
"We have to do everything in bulk and by hand," Manahan explains. "I like to give that job to the angriest person or someone working through issues."
A low-key and loungy speakeasy bar, Punch serves fantastic boozy punches by the glass for $10 or you can order a punch flight of all four selections for only $22 (this is the way to go). My favorite was the Caribbean Rhapsody—a strong mix of Mt. Gay Black Barrel Rum, Whalers Dark Rum, Rhum Agricole, pineapple, orange, sparking water, lemon, brown sugar, mint, nutmeg, orange and candied lime. It’s a tropical and boozy tribute to all things Tiki.
I was also a big fan of the Ponche la Diosa, made with Illegal Mezcal, Reposado tequila, cardamaro, lavender hibiscus tea, blackberry, lemon, Caster sugar, citrus zest, and black lime. The formidable smoke and vegetal flavors of the mezcal are well balanced with the herbal ingredients.
There are also Thrown Cocktails on the menu but I wasn’t a fan of any that I tried. I think they are purposely crafted to offset the sweeter, potent punches but the taste just wasn’t for me. I found the Desert Bear with Elijah Craig Bourbon bad, and The Domo with cognac, worse. The smoky El Bombero at first reminded me of the Smoking Jacket from nearby 1886 Bar but then failed upon tasting. The fortified wines and Amaro on the menu look impressive, but it’s really all about the punch at Punch.
“Punch is cocktails at its simplest form,” Manahan explains. “People get really drunk on punch. They just never see it coming."
Reservations are recommended at Punch and it’s worth noting that you can order the Picnik menu upstairs while you’re drinking potent punches. It doesn’t get any better.
Punch is located at 168 W. Colorado Blvd in Pasadena. Enter from behind. Open Thursday through Saturday, 7pm to midnight. Call 626-639-8169.