If Umami Burger, Intelligentsia and Pinkberry weren’t a big enough indicator that Pasadena is switching from Blue Blood to Young Blood, The Blind Donkey will help set you straight. Sandwiched between Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar and Slater’s 50/50, this brown liquor bar showcases the continued urban trend into Rose Bowl territory.
John Bower, a Pasadena native and General Manager of The Blind Monkey, is the driving force behind the bar. You can also find him bartending at the place on Monday and Tuesday evenings. Bower could have picked any theme for the place and he chose whiskey. I was curious as to why.
“I love whiskey. It’s an intriguing world,” Bower says when we sit down at the bar just before it opened for the day on a cold Friday afternoon earlier this month.
After graduating from Pasadena High School, Bower moved all around the country, settling briefly in trendsetting cities like Portland and Chicago, always making his way into the local whiskey bars.
When he finally came back to Pasadena, he found his hometown lacking in any pure whiskey joints. So, he introduced the idea of a whiskey-themed bar to his business partners who own The Surly Goat in Santa Monica and The Phoenix in Beverly Hills, just to name a few.
What’s the difference about the Pasadena clientele versus those in your other locations?
“Pasadena’s a great crowd. There are a lot of locals. They are very mellow. We are a block off of Colorado and there is a certain level of curiosity. There is certainly a scene here.”
You’ll find Bushmills and Johnny Walker here, but there is also a ton of innovation, like unique mixed drinks for those less comfortable with straight shots. The Lisbon and Lex features French vermouth and orange bitters, while the Moscow Mule is a vodka-based choice with ginger and beer in it. They are both as interesting as they sound.
But the most interesting innovation is their half-ounce flights of whiskey, which are themed. Bower says they, “showcase what we have as far as whiskey goes.” He has purposefully designed them to be only half an ounce each so as to not overwhelm the customer but still allow for the taster to fully enjoy the thematic offering.
Each of the three flights have a corn-based, wheat-based, and rye-based pour and, if drinkers are interested, can come with in-depth education as to the difference in taste, production, and origin. Patrons take note, this bar is serious.
Ten draft beers are on rotation and are expected to either stand alone or serve as chasers to the numerous whiskeys offered, which are a comprehensive study of what the world has to offer, from Kentucky to Japan. The beers are mostly local including Revolution by Eagle Rock Brewing Company and Eureka Wit by Angel City Brewing Company.
Bower enjoys featuring local breweries, stating, “Eagle Rock Brewery are friends of ours.”
As for the food, the chili cheese fries, hamburger, and chicken grilled wrap are all good choices, but the fried pickles and fried cheese might be better for the college crowd or those with iron guts in dire need of some grease to go with their whiskey.
The atmosphere is very relaxed with 80s movies like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Risky Business on regular rotation. Low wooden tables aren’t the most comfortable seating, which is why most people cuddle up to the bar, but the large room is warmed by the brick facade. The retro video game unit and shuffleboard remain largely unused, though add a nice touch.
According to Bower, business is great. They are open 4 p.m.-2 a.m., and the place can be booked for private parties as well.
The Blind Donkey, 53 E. Union St., Pasadena91103. For more info, call 626.792.1835. TheBlindDonkey.com