As has been discussed here before, the term “gastropub” immediately conjures up some sort of boardroom trying to guess the next trend. “Gastropubs,” the men in the suits say. “That’s what the hip kids like today.”
In contrast, an “ale house” brings to mind long tables and beer—something simpler, something, well, less pretentious.
This time I found that it was completely possible to tell a book by its cover, or rather a bar by its name. Haven Gastropub was ritzy and treated me poorly, while I have found myself going back to Congregation Ale House again and again.
I visited Haven on one of those blessed rainy nights we had a couple months ago. Beer sounds great, my party thought. Haven occupies that huge cursed space on DeLacey in Old Town that has hosted so many failed restaurants. We ordered some appetizers, a few main courses and, of course, beer. Haven has an astonishing and overwhelming beer selection: 40 taps, plus more bottles. I couldn’t even absorb it all. I quickly spotted that they had my beloved Shipyard, one of my favorite breweries from my days in Maine. Instead of its amazing seasonal Pumpkinhead (one of the best beers ever), Haven had its brand-new Applehead. Fantastic! I had been waiting to try it! But after a taste I was disappointed that it wasn’t Pumpkinhead. This, of course, was not the fault of the bar, but it seemed to foretell the rest of the night. The others in my party were happy with their ciders and ales. The appetizers were decent enough, garnering a simple passing grade. I ordered the vegetable mélange for my entree. Simple, right? It was truly and amazingly undercooked. The beets and carrots were just raw. The final shock was the bill. I know this is in Old Town and it’s trying to be hip and grand, but it was so completely overpriced that I know I can never go back, even with that great beer list.
Still looking for a new bar, I headed to Congregation Ale House on Raymond. Our first visit was on a Saturday evening, though I heard it has fantastic happy hours during the week, plus trivia and bingo nights. Though it was a bit loud inside (at the long communal tables), the patio is perfect for a date. To be fair, the beer list is not as long as Haven’s, but it is varied and well curated; after a number of visits, my fellow drinkers and I have been pleased with the selection. You’ll find local California breweries Stone, Telegraph, Lost Coast and the like, as well as national and international brews. I could live on the sweet potato fries alone, but if something more substantial is desired, get one of the flatbreads or sausages. I recommend each and every flatbread—they are all fantastic. It’s a solid and well-priced menu in a convivial setting. If the dining room is too loud for you – though the jukebox plays good music – try to grab a table on the patio outside. When you’re at the bar, keep an eye out for the ice-cold beer coolers, called chill disks, which are built into the marble countertop to keep your beer icy cold. By all means try to visit during the happy hour “Masses” (weekdays 3 to 7 p.m. and all day Monday), when bargains are rife (sweet potatoes and a beer for $5); the Sunday brunch is also a great deal.
Congregation Ale House, 300 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena, 626.403.BEER, congregationalehouse.com. Open daily. Beer & wine. AE, MC, V. $
Haven Gastropub, 42 S. DeLacey Ave., Old Pasadena, 626.768.9555, havengastropub.com. Open daily. Full bar. AE, MC, V. $$