At the end of the night, Los Angeles cocktail consultant Aidan Demarest climbed on top of the polished wood bar, careful not to upset any of the bottles of housemade syrups or bang his head on the low-hanging Scotch shelf, and toasted the crowd. "Welcome to 1886," he said, steadying himself by grabbing onto the shoulder of a bar bystander.
The new Pasadena bar, named for the year the Raymond Hotel opened, is Demarest's "baby." It marks the first time he worked on a bar from floor to ceiling with his Liquid Assets cocktail consultant partner Marcos Tello. The two have collaborated on bar programs in the past -- Seven Grand, The Edison and First and Hope to name but a few -- however this was the first time they created a bar from concept to cocktail menu, from tin roof ceiling to its Huntington Special cocktail.
Inspired by the history of the Raymond Restaurant's Craftsman building, 1886 takes cocktails back even further than the pre-Prohibition style that has populated many L.A. bars. As Demarest notes, the focus here is on what would have been served during that Industrial Revolution era: "straight, neat drinks with whiskey, gin, neat cocktails. Spirit-forward cocktails where people were just looking to enhance their cocktails in a tiny way. Nobody would have had a blender, nobody would have had crushed ice. Out here in 1886, these guys would have been chipping ice not because it was Milk & Honey [in New York] but because it was really a block of ice on the floor in the room."
The menu reflects those simpler times when tequila and vodka were regarded as "exotic" spirits and bourbon and gin were the popular liquor base of drinks. And most of the 1886 cocktails don't possess more than three ingredients and are cooled with hand-chipped blocks of ice. However, the drink list is extensive, boasting 21 cocktails that are categorized into "Regional" with the Rose Parade Punch and Orange Grove Cocktail, "Seasonal," "Shaken," "Stirred," and even brunch cocktails.
Cocktail enthusiasts who have followed Demarest and Tello since their days at downtown whiskey bar, Seven Grand, will also find their old favorites here like the Medicina Latina, which is also available at Silver Lake's Malo -- where Tello consulted -- and the Grand Apple Cocktail, the very first cocktail recipe Tello ever made.
Demarest said he's not interested in doing shoutouts, per se, but knew that the audience in Pasadena may not have necessarily traveled to downtown's The Varnish or First and Hope for their drinking. "Most of our customers have never had most of those drinks. We're only 20 minutes away [from downtown L.A.] but we're a million miles away."
Ultimately, Demarest would like to see if Pasadena embraces this attempt to jump-start a cocktail scene in the sleepy town. "I'm interested to see through December and through the holidays, who shows up. Is Pasadena going to show up, are they going to embrace this? It's great to see the cocktail culture coming, they always support us. Marcos and I have a great bunch of friends that take care of us. But who's going to show up in January? That's our biggest challenge and it's actually the most exciting part about the project."
Demarest and Tello's involvement with the bar is open-ended, but for the immediate future have planned to do seasonal menus as well as events, up through the end of 2011.
1886 is now open. And, yes, there is a special food menu available at the bar.