The newest addition to the Pasadena bar scene is Bull & Barrel — the chill little brother to the swanky Alexander's Steakhouse.
Bull & Barrel is tucked away in a plaza that also houses a California Pizza Kitchen, on the quieter side of Los Robles Avenue, with the striking City Hall building serving as its backdrop. When you enter Alexander's Steakhouse, veer left and you're inside Bull & Barrel. Natural light spills through the large windows, and red leather stools surround the square black bar that takes up most of the room. The walls are adorned with artsy, black-and-white photos of hands chiseling ice and pouring jiggers of liquor into glasses. It appears that the folks behind Bull & Barrel want their patronage to know they are all about craft-cocktail life.
Bar manager Erik Lund (Rivera, Messhall, République) is the man behind the libations, and he's put a lot of work into his collection of drinks. Each cocktail is accompanied by a casual and friendly description— complete with jokes, pop culture references and historical tidbits. The Downtime cocktail description reads, "This is the type of drink one would order at the end of the night, after chatting up a girl/guy all night. … They’re with their friends, and you with yours."
On a recent Friday evening visit, the bar began filling up with the professional, after-work crowd, and electronic music from the likes of The Knife softly played in the background. I ordered the Grumpy Pants, which was like a kicked-up, heavier shandy. The smooth and balanced drink had rye whiskey and beer, and was sharpened by tart lemon juice and spicy ginger. As the night wore on, Lund talked to different patrons, imparting his encyclopedic knowledge of spirits and cocktails.
During "social hour" (aka happy hour), Mondays through Fridays from 5 to 6:30 p.m., guests can order dishes from Alexander's executive chef Matt Bata that aren't found on the steakhouse's menu. The hamachi kama was the star of the evening, a yellowtail collar with crunchy skin that was caramelized with the sweet and savory flavors of Vietnamese fish sauce. The flesh was melt-in-your-mouth tender and was complemented by mint and basil leaves, crumbled peanuts and a light heat from sliced Fresno chilis.
The Wagyu burger was done right, the juicy patty accompanied by Camembert, onion sprouts and a dry-aged ragu. The meat was the main event, with the other ingredients lifting its flavors rather than overpowering it.
The "imperial Wagyu pastrami" is a shareable dish, with thick and tender slices of pastrami, covered in a rich tonkatsu kochujang sauce. It was a creative new take on common pastrami. Other dishes include gyoza made with Wagyu beef and served with a beef ponzu jus, and lumpia stuffed with hamachi.
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Bull & Barrel doesn't stay open as late as some other bars, but it makes for a nice stop after work, giving folks a chance to experience a lighter version of Alexander's Steakhouse as they sip on well-thought-out cocktails.
Bull & Barrel at Alexander's Steakhouse, 111 N. Los Robles Ave., Pasadena; (626) 486-1111, alexanderssteakhouse.com.