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Early in February I was invited to The Raymond to check out their brunch menu. It was possibly the best brunch I’ve ever tastefully annihilated. After chatting with Chef Tim, I was invited back to the restaurant to see how the dinner menu would compare. I grabbed the homie TJ and we went to The Raymond to experience the menu that comes out when the lights go dim. Our waitress, Lainey, was completely essential to this dinner. She was cheerful, patient, and did an excellent job at guiding us through the dishes. The dinner menu is divided into three parts: Quick Bites, Starters, and Entrees. Lainey’s suggestion: order a few starters since they’re solid portions and great dishes to share. Did we listen? Of course not! We would regret that when we would become stuffed with too much food. But, we’ll get to that part later.

First we ordered drinks. TJ went the manly route and got the Athol Base ($14)–a stiff scotch with honey, cream and nutmeg. Surprisingly, the scotch wasn’t overwhelming. Instead, the additions of honey, cream, and nutmeg eased the harshness of the scotch so it didn’t taste too aggressive. That in no way means it wasn’t strong, somehow the bartender managed to keep the intensity of the alcohol in tact even after adding the sweet flavors. I took the safe route and got something on the tart side. I ordered the Primms ($14)–Russian Standard Vodka Primms with cucumber, citrus, carbonated lemonade and a mint leaf to top it off. I loved this drink! It was very tart thanks to the citrus and the lemonade, and the cucumber with the mint gave it a distinguishably fresh aftertaste. As someone who doesn’t care much for the taste of alcohol, this drink was great because the vodka was well hidden under the additions. It made it deliciously easy to drink and I was eager to order another. So yeah, I did.

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The Raymond has always been irresistible. Perhaps it’s the hundred-plus-year-old cottage itself, or the tranquil wooded setting. Perhaps it’s the candle-lit patios or the classical music wafting through the windows. Whatever the cause, I’ve never known a soul who resisted its charm.

Because of its magic powers (and the fact that it’s always been a financial splurge), I tend to save The Raymond for special occasions. The first time I took my husband, as I’ve reported before, was soon after our household-meshing in 1989. He arrived late from UCLA because of a stalled car, mumbling nastily about mandatory death sentences for freeway breakdowns.

The Raymond came through. Almost upon arrival he was transformed from intransigent grouch to purring tomcat. Maybe it was the Craftsman architecture, the music, our cozy booth or the extra-strong martini that arrived within a minute of ordering. Whatever! By the time we looked at the menu, he was asserting that The Raymond was likely his favorite restaurant, although he thought he might have something to eat before committing.

Neither food nor service did anything to change his mind. And, while we get back only occasionally, The Raymond is still, after 25 years, his favorite place and my first choice for a romantic interlude, usually in February or March for Valentine’s Day, my birthday, or our anniversary. And there’s hardly a whimper, even if a UCLA basketball game’s on TV that night.

The restaurant changed hands about 10 years ago. After her husband’s death, Suzanne Bourg — the master chef and hands-on proprietor who had molded The Raymond to reflect her unique spirit — sold it to Rob and Leslie Levy. I wondered if any of The Raymond’s seductiveness would dissipate.

Soon thereafter, with an out-of-state grad school chum, we made an impromptu stop to see if The Raymond could accommodate us for brunch. As expected, they were completely full. But the quick-thinking hostess noted that a party of six had turned up with only four. A separation of tables allowed us a perfect place on the patio to catch up.

Despite the crowd, gentle breezes and cheerful birdsong created an atmosphere of peaceful repose as we contemplated a menu which, thanks to “conservative” thinking by the new owners, included (and still does) pre-Levy favorites like scrambled eggs with hollandaise, tomato and crumbled bacon ($14) and chicken curry with peanuts, raisins, coconut and mango chutney ($19).

But that was nearly a decade ago, and The Raymond certainly hasn’t rested on old laurels. While the cottage’s warren of small wood-clad rooms has remained almost completely unchanged, the menus, especially the evening offerings, have expanded well beyond those crafted by Suzanne.

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The Raymond Restaurant’s 1886 Bar opted out of the usual winter drink menu to take a walk on the wild side with new libations inspired by Maurice Sendak’s Where The Wild Things Are. The result is a small but mighty 12-drink menu consisting of boundary-pushing, wildly tasty cocktails divvied up into three categories: hot, stirred, and shaken.
Though LA is spoiled with near-perfect weather on the regular, a warming cocktail from the “hot” section hits the spot on a chilly night. Try the berry-infused Hot Sangria, which comes garnished with a stick of cinnamon and a blood orange twist, or The Snowbird—a tasty rum-based pumpkin-spice Chai latte.

If you’re in the mood for something chilled and stirred, the bourbon-spiked Memphis Bound comprises brown sugar and barbecue bitters with bacon and jalapeno for garnish. The From Prussia with Love, on the other hand, is a Valentine’s Day-apropos mixture that boasts blood orange-infused vodka, Lillet Rouge, Benedictine, and orange bitters.

But the shaken Rico Suave is the cocktail list’s true star, with a two-drink max per customer due to its complex, time-consuming assembly. The beer-based libation is an amped-up iteration of an ancient Mexican recipe—fermented corn, pineapple, and spices—complemented with German Hefeweizen. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, 626-441-3136

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There were two opposing adages that came to mind when I was tasting the new summer cocktails at 1886 Bar at The Raymond in Pasadena — two heads are better than one, and beware of too many cooks in the kitchen (apparently they can spoil the broth). Luckily I don’t go to 1886 Bar to drink broth, and this summer, most definitely, two bartender heads are better than one and the proof is in the cocktail.

Every season, the little out of the way bar than can and does changes its cocktail menu and comes up with daring and dynamic drinks that delight and decimates the cocktail competition in and around Los Angeles. This summer at 1886 Bar is all about collaboration, as bartenders teamed up with other bartenders or kitchen staff or even neighboring bartenders. Seeing as the ‘two heads are better than one’ philosophy beat out the ‘too many cooks’ warning, I opted to award Co-MVPs for this summer and the winners were Peter Lloyd-Jones and Jesus Gomez who each are co-credited with crafting three cocktails, making up half of the new 12 libations this season.

“We have a really dedicated team that’s super-creative, and when I let them go to town, they really go to town,” 1886 head barman Brady Wiese says. “This menu wasn’t my idea — it was all of the 1886 crew. They wanted to work with some of the bars that have popped up around town, and they wanted to work with the kitchen as well.”

Maybe I’ve spent too much time bellying up to the bar, but there’s something really cool about watching a bartender, dare I say mixologist, in action. And spend any time with Aussie Lloyd-Jones or Gomez, the homeboy with a heart of gold, and you’ll spot their charisma and personalities in their drinks, so beware, because their summer cocktails go down easy but pack a punch.

A fan of boozy drinks, Jesus Gomez, also known as Chuy, really made his presence felt this season. And what a story this 23-year bartender has to tell. Born and raised in Mexico City until the age of 11, Gomez has been working at 1886 Bar since he was 19, and this is really the only job he’s ever held, besides painting with his dad for extra cash. He started as a dishwasher, became a busboy, later a kitchen runner, bar-back and now a bartender on the rise in arguably the best cocktail program in the Southland.

After his first sip of the Tiki classic Zombie, Jesus was hooked and says “everything changed.” This summer he teamed with Kelly O’Hare from nearby Sonny’s Hideaway in Highland Park and their Calypso cocktail is a damn fine mix of fig-infused Hamilton pot-still rum, El Dorado 12-year, Benedictine, Carpano and a blend of Angostura and tobacco bitters — think of this as an icy cold rum Manhattan.

“Working with Jesus was a fun and extremely comfortable experience,” says cocktail collaborator Kelly O’Hare. “It wasn’t really like work at all. It was refreshing to be able to bounce ideas back and forth without restriction. We would take turns tasting things and then build on each other’s contributions. It was an ideal collaborative experience. Jesus is a master of the Tiki Craft Cocktail and I can’t wait to work with him again.”

While the Calypso is a rummy good time in a glass, it’s hard to call it as Tiki, but it’s really easy to call it potent.

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If you’re a horseradish fan, this is the Bloody Mary for you. The bartender starts with a horseradish-infused vodka and adds Dirty Sue olive juice, salt and a mix of spices. A couple spritzes of lemon juice thin out the drink and give it a refreshing bite of citrus. 1250 S. Fair Oaks Ave., Pasadena, (626) 441-3136, www.theraymond.com.

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Raymond’s Bar 1886 a throwback to another era

The Pasadena spot offers many of the comforts of home as well as an expansive and ever-changing cocktail list with help from cocktail consultancy firm Liquid Assets.

A frosted door, etched “Est 1886,” greets visitors who wind past a small, canopied patio behind Pasadena’s Raymond restaurant. That door was not there 127 years ago. Nor was the patio. Nor the restaurant.

Instead, the year refers to the first incarnation of the famed Raymond Hotel, straddling the hilltop border of Pasadena and South Pasadena and luring wealthy visitors with warm hospitality and warmer winters. Those carefree days of orange-scented glamour are gone, but a little of it remains at Bar 1886, where a small cocktail oasis offers labor-intensive libations and a crowd more resembling the low-lighted haunts of downtown than the sleepy, suburban sidewalks of Pasadena.

Unlike many other cocktail bars in Los Angeles, there is a welcoming casualness to Bar 1886. There is no unsmiling doorman checking IDs, the diverse music selection shuffles through a well-stocked MP3 player and the restrooms have a homey air of comfort just short of a toothbrush next to the sink. “Cocktail aficionados go to a place because they love it,” says consultant Marcos Tello, who helped with many elements, including the drink offerings and the decor at Bar 1886. “It’s like hosting in a living room, and what better place to do it than a house?”

After the Raymond Hotel burned to the ground in 1895, owner Walter Raymond doubled down on the opulence and attracted the titans of industry with a rebuilt millionaire’s playland. When the Great Depression struck, Raymond and his family went from a palace on the hill to the servant’s quarters at the base. Forty years later, that house became the Raymond restaurant, and in November 2010 Bar 1886 was born.

Tello and partner Aidan Demarest formed their cocktail consultancy firm Liquid Assets in 2010 after building their reputation at such downtown-defining Los Angeles watering holes as Seven Grand and the Edison. “We always figured that we would do a program in the San Gabriel Valley,” Tello says. “Only because so many patrons travel to have a drink downtown.” Bar 1886 was not just their first venture in the area — it was their first consulting project anywhere.

With Congregation Ale House and a Stone Brewing Co. store recently joining a long list of Pasadena beer haunts, the City of Roses has solidified itself as a beer mecca, seemingly offering two taps for every patron the fire marshal would allow. Bar 1886, with its pressed-tin ceiling, narrow bar and sprawling cocktail list, is an anomaly in the area, challenging the city’s sudsy reputation by instilling a respect for craftsmanship via the cocktail shaker and its limitless potential.

The bar has been able to draw a crowd of regulars largely because its cocktail list is expansive and ever-changing. In April, the Raymond closed for a three-week renovation of its kitchen, dimming the lights at Bar 1886 at the same time. When it reopened, it introduced its spring menu featuring 14 new cocktails and an array of small bar snacks.

Bartender Brady Weise, who has been behind the bar since it opened, has a strong presence on that list, most notably with its line of bottled cocktails. Weise’s “Coke & a Smile” is a nod to South Pasadena’s Fair Oaks Pharmacy — a soda fountain with a history of employing bartenders during Prohibition. The cocktail, served in a small Coke bottle, is a blend of rye, Fernet Menta, Galliano Ristretto, Coca-Cola and a whole, frothy egg. It has strong echoes of a phosphate soda, conjuring images of a humid Manhattan street corner with a dense and almost chocolaty richness. Along with three other house bottled cocktails this season, Weise and company are making a bid for not just taste but a memorable presentation befitting the impending summer heat.

“We see a whole crowd that is not used to these kinds of cocktails,” Tello says. “We wanted the place to look like it dictated the cocktails. For people used to Pasadena, this is a part of it. Locals are very comfortable here.”

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Bar 1886 was recently featured on Eater LA, one of the top sites for Los Angeles nightlife. Check out the article here: Eater LA: Every Important Cocktail Bar, Mapped
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