THE RAYMOND’S 1886 BAR
WINTER COCKTAILS OFFER YEAR-ROUND SPIRIT
Why must LA’s best bar be in Pasadena? A sad and dangerous fact, time spent at the cozy 1886 Bar at the lovely Raymond is always a chance to drink some daring and forward-thinking cocktails that impress and inspire.
Now in its third year, 1886 Bar opened in the fall of 2010, offering a mix of inspired, classic cocktails dating back to 1886, along with some fabulously original hand-crafted libations that would soon become classics in their own right. This year, for its winter cocktail menu, the bar decided to have some fun, more fun than with past seasonal lists. Usually the bar’s cocktail menu ranges from Regional, Seasonal, Shaken,toStirred, but this time around they’ve revamped their drinks into the following categories: Silly & Spice, Ghosts of Yuletide Past, Frothy, and Silky.
With the recent departure of former bar manager and beloved bartender Garrett McKechnie, I feared the bar might have lost its daring zest but it looks like new manager Rosie Ruiz, formerly of Bow & Truss, is determined to keep up the bar’s high standards.
Determined to make the winter holiday season last longer, new and creative drinks such as the El Frosty, a Silly & Spicecocktail by former 1886 bartender Lacey Murillo made with añejo tequila, cinnamon bark syrup, house-made spiced Tres Leches cream and egg yolk, had me a little worried. It’s a cute looking drink but too gimmicky for such a classic bar, especially since the drink is weak and tastes more like an Horchata beverage than a cocktail. Bah! Humbug!
“Programs need to evolve,” explains 1886 Bar consultant Marcos Tello. “1886 really put in some good time learning those categories, but sticking to them can make things stagnant. Plus, we’re really taking things to the next level with our garnishes, so we thought it was a good time to break out and try some new categories.”
While that may be true (and who doesn’t love a wacky drink or two?) the proof is the glass and nobody wants to pay for a weak drink no matter how adorable it looks.
During our recent visit, we gave the bar menu a run for its money, starting with the Huckleberry Sour from the Ghosts of Yuletide Past selection. Made with bourbon, rosemary, huckleberry jam and lemon, this is a sweet and tart variation of the classic Whiskey Sour. I prefer more kick in my drinks but I think people who like their drinks light may enjoy this.
The same can be said for the Frothy’s Admiral’s Nightcap, made with aged rum, Allspice Dram, agave, lime and apple juices. It’s nice and refreshing but not what I’m looking for when I’m out drinking. While I do know a lot of hard drinking women, this may be considered a “chick’s drink.”
Looking to pick things up a bit, I gave the Chevalier Sangaree, also from the Frothy section, a go. A drink created by Dean Evans of Glasgow, Scotland, but also a tribute to local brand ambassador Maurice Chevalier, this drink is mixed with Glenrothes Select Reserve Scotch (very impressive), amaretto, pear brandy and Bianco Vermouth. This is a nice, stiff drink and a good way to get the night started.
Opting for some small bites, we started with the Crispy Flat Bread, prepared with sweet potato mascarpone, sweet corn and Canadian bacon, along with the Pork Belly, Cured, Pressed & Crisped, served with bourbon aged maple, apple, celery and chili, two mouthwatering selections that provided enough sustenance to keep drinking.
Looking over the Silky section, I next went for the Bank Heist, which not only is the new winter menu’s best drink but also has one the best origin stories ever. Created by Pete Lloyd-Jones using Bank Note Scotch, plum syrup and bitters, this is a serious drinker’s cocktail.
“Pete named this cocktail after one of the oldest standing buildings in Pasadena history, which originally sat on an old Spanish Mission, and then was a series of banks dating back as far as the 1800’s,” Tello points out. “In 1946 the remains of three bank robbers, who disappeared into the catacombs underneath the site some forty five years prior, were discovered in such a gruesome fashion that the mystery still surrounds what actually happened to them, so we summarized the entire story and put the website on the cocktail menu so people could check it out.”
Leaving our next drink into the capable hands of bartender Brady Weise, a fan of beer drinks, he concocted a cocktail he called the Bostonian, made with Red Breast Irish Whiskey, a spray of St. Germaine, lime cordial and lime juice along with Pale 31 pale ale. Tell Brady what you like and he’ll craft something out of the blue that will knock your socks off, like his DBA “Manhattan”: Brady—quite the name.
Desiring more delicious food choices to keep our drinking going, we ordered the Yellowtail Collar “Hamachi Kama” served with Miso glaze, soy sauce to dip, and roasted Shisito peppers, alongside the Cigarrillos de Costilla Corta—short rib “cigarettes” prepared Venezuelan Guasacaca—think of these as creative long tacquitos.
Other great menu items include the Angry Blue Mussels, Prince Edward Island, prepared with Chinese sausage, Thai chili, ginger and lemongrass, as well as the Roast Lamb Necks and Afghan Bread. While most items are small plates, these two can be considered meals all to themselves. These are tasty and filling dishes that come highly recommended.
Looking for two more “real” drinks to kick out night into overdrive, we went with the potent Old Devil—with a name like this you know they can’t go fru fru on you. Think along the lines of an Old Fashioned, but this little devil is made with Jamaican Rums, Spiced Rum, Demerara sugar, Tiki and Angostura Bitters. This is a damn good, solid drink.
Another bend-of-the-elbow pleaser is the Alpine Needle Punch, made with gin, Demerara-Date syrup, Zirbens Alpine Liqueur, lemon and champagne. This is a very nice drink that goes down easy put delivers a solid kick in its after taste. The Christmas tree in the ice cube is a nice wintery touch.
Since dessert wasn’t an option, what better way to end your night than with a final round? We went old school and off the menu and ordered one of 1886 Bar’s most beloved drinks, The Smoking Jacket, an absolute must-have during any visit. Another creation from former bartender Lacey Murillo, The Smoking Jacket is made with Pot Still Irish Whiskey, 1886 tobacco bitters, Maplewood smoke and edible “ash” made with vanilla, orange and cream. This drink even comes with a Surgeon General’s Warning. It smells like a campfire and is the perfect drink in this intimate, classy setting.
Sadly the final drink of the night was the Post-Christmas Cobbler, described as a “tasty lil’ rendition that combines your favorite holiday spices.” Made with Masala Chai infused Punt e Mes, oranges, cranberries, star anise, allspice and nutmeg, it’s packed with too much ice and comes across more like El Frosty’s cousin than a real drink. What a buzz kill!
Whether you like you drinks to be a no-nonsense serious affair or you like ‘em light and silly, you can always count on 1886 Bar to provide an intimate, festive and classy setting where drinks and bites create an unparalleled good time.
The 1886 Bar at The Raymond is located at 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave in Pasadena. Call 626-441-3136.