The Flintridge Proper calls itself the world's largest gin bar, and that isn't hyperbole — at more than 200 bottles and counting, this gin-centric locale may well hold the record for most gin in a bar. But rather than being in the heart of the boozy action — downtown, the Westside — you'll find this gin palace in a quiet, foothill town called La Cañada Flintridge. Where, you say? Hint: Drive
east from Pasadena on Foothill Blvd. northwest on the 210 from Pasadena, or maybe north on the 2 from Glendale. (PSA: The editor of this blog, who happens to live in Pasadena, truly sucks at directions, with or without gin.) You'll hit it.
The Proper has been open for about eight months, during which time it has slowly honed its food and beverage program — and built up a respectable following among those who appreciate the intensely locavore philosophy and laid-back vibe. When you walk in, it feels like a neighborhood joint, albeit one that exists in a very tony community — and in a strip mall, which you forget the moment you're inside.
Bookcases line the walls in the oyster bar, while dimmer lights and cushiony seating are on offer in the lounge/bar. Opt for the heart-of-the-action bar seats where you can chat with the enthusiastic bartenders — if you aren't sure what to drink, trust their judgment — and gaze at the expertly stocked, saloon-meets-Victorian bar space.
Obvious care has been taken with the bar design, which clearly is meant to showcase the restaurant and bar's gin selection. It's well-lit, lined up like soldiers and unabashedly front and center, and to the side and in the corners and up top. From the stalwarts like Plymouth and Hendrick's to artisan varieties like Uncle Val's and No. 209, as well as truly esoteric, across-the-Pond selections like Zuidam genever and Professor Cornelius Ampleforth Bathtub Gin, the Proper is a candy store for juniper-loving imbibers.
Moreover, the bar makes its own Flintridge Native Botanicals Gin with locally grown and foraged botanicals — wild sage and rosemary, star jasmine, Meyer lemon from an employee's backyard, for starters. While it's not technically gin because it infuses rather than distills the botanicals, it's clear that what head bartender John Peet is going for is most certainly a gin-ish spirit.
Peet and fellow head bartender Angel Meza show their various gins the proper — no pun intended — respect as well. The “Proper” martin offers a smooth ratio of Plymouth gin to Dolin vermouth, with the surplus cocktail served iced in a mini-carafe beside the drink. Likewise, the bar offers a seasonal “Improved Gin & Tonic,” which features a rotating gin selection with some complementary muddled additions. On the menu for early fall is Tanqueray Malacca (spicy and warm) with strawberries, fresh rosemary and fresh lime juice, plus tonic.
Lest you think the bar is too gin-centric, order up an Old-Fashioned and watch the show as the bartender torches a sugar cube doused in Fee's peach bitters before adding Old Forest bourbon and the Proper's own house-aged bitters, which hit you full on with clove essence.
For barrel-aged enthusiasts, you'll find a Martinez, a Negroni, a Fancy Free and several more. For designated drivers, there's a complete selection of nonalcoholic choices. While it might seem that the Proper is trying to please everyone, it can't be faulted because it does a very serviceable job of the same, particularly in its celebration of the community in which it exists.
And, in the end, that is what a neighborhood spot tries to do — be crowd-pleasing and egalitarian, celebratory of its roots and open to outsiders. In doing so, the Proper manages to be, as the menu says, “authentically local” but still very much about the L.A. cocktail scene.
Lesley blogs at 12 Bottle Bar, tweets at @12BottleBar and is the author of the book “Gin: A Global History.” Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Want more Squid Ink? Follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.