Living in Pasadena has its perks. The weather is perpetually gorgeous, work is a short walk away, the Kung Food Panda lives around the corner, and the cocktails are masterfully crafted at 1886. What more does one need besides sunshine, a short commute, good friends, and booze? Not much in my world.
Opened last fall on a quiet stretch of Fair Oaks, 1886 has become my favorite place to drink in the neighborhood. The ambiance is moody without pretension, the bar bites are sophisticated and delicious, and the drinks are nothing short of stellar.
The Astronomer and I have visited 1886 a few times since it debuted, and we recently returned as guests of the bar to sample the new spring cocktail menu. Under the creative direction of master mixologist Marcos Tello, the team at 1886 have added 16 new seasonal and regional drinks to the menu.
The bar was staffed by Garrett McKechnie and Greg Gertmenian this evening. Both gentlemen are extremely knowledgeable and enthusiastic about their craft. I found their spirit for spirits absolutely infectious.
While we perused the food menu, Garrett brought over a Tequila Daisy 2.0 (left) and a Swedish Crush. Both drinks were from the “seasonal” section of the new menu.
Greg created the Tequila Daisy 2.0 as a play on the classic Margarita using tequila, cointreau, lime, and my favorite element, strawberry foam. Tequila-based cocktails with a fruity twist are my favorite, so this one really resonated with me. Garrett’s Swedish Crush, which incorporated a historic ingredient from the 1700’s called “Swedish Punsch,” included cognac, rum, and pomegranate. It was refreshing to the last drop thanks to the icy mound.
In addition to fabulous cocktails, 1886 also offers a selection of bar bites from executive chef Tim Guiltinan of The Raymond. Since we were planning on drinking for the better part of the night, we ordered a few plates to share.
The “Pork Belly Cured, Pressed, and Crisped” ($9) was served with bourbon barrel-aged maple syrup and an apple, celery, and chili relish. The sweet, fatty, tart, and savory dish paired very nicely with our drinks.
The most luxurious taste of the night was a foie gras torchon ($12) accented with Indonesian long pepper, braised pineapples, and cilantro pudding. It was served with piping hot bread, perfect for smothering.
The “Crispy Szechuan Fish” ($10) came highly recommended to us by our server. The Vietnamese Basa, which was skillfully battered and fried, was served with a spicy, sweet, and sour sauce reminiscent of nuoc cham.
The mildest bite was “Tonight’s Sashimi” ($12), which was albacore with a jalapeno vinaigrette. While I normally love eating slivers of raw fish, I couldn’t appreciate it as much as I usually do because alcohol had taken over my taste buds. It’s not you baby, it’s me.
Sometime between our first round of drinks and grazing over plates of food, our friend the Kung Food Panda (a.k.a Danny) dropped by to join us. He lives within walking distance of the bar, which I am more than a little jealous of.
Danny started with a bourbon-based Pimm’s “No. 8″ Cup (left), which he found “tasty and refreshing.” He followed it up with a Crushed Strawberry Fizz from the seasonal menu. Created by Vincenzo Marianella, the Fizz was made with strawberry syrup, gin, lemon, and egg whites. Danny’s only complaint was that there wasn’t more of it.
Moving on to round two, The Astronomer picked out a Southern Belle (left) for himself and a Saladito for me. Both drinks were our respective favorites of the night.
Also dreamed up by Vincenzo Marianella, the Southern Belle was comprised of a blend of fresh muddled kumquats and mint mixed with house-made vanilla syrup, Licor 43, and bourbon. My Saladito, which was created by Marcos Tello, was a liquid version of his favorite childhood candy. It was made of mescal, lime, honey, salt, and chile, and served with an actual saladito on the side. I loved the slight tingle on my lips that the chilies left behind.
To close out the night, Garrett brought over a Brandy Crusta (left), which is a precursor to the Margarita. Made of brandy, curacao, sugar, bitters, and fresh lemon juice, the Brandy Crusta brought a bit of history and a well-balanced flare. For The Astronomer, he made a Monte Carlo, which is a variant on the classic Manhattan.
1886 is the complete package.
1886 Bar at The Raymond
1250 South Fair Oaks Avenue
Pasadena, CA 91105