The first things you will notice are the televisions: thirteen flat screens hung well above the bar, airing all the flavors of ESPN. You will immediately think to yourself sports bar, and perhaps, unable to suppress those sordid memories of Barney’s, beat a hasty retreat. This would be a shame, because T. Boyle’s Tavern is no Barney’s Beanery (thank god), and despite having many of the trappings of a sports bar, remains — for now — blissfully free of the genre’s pitfalls, especially the suffocating frat-guy ethos.
Instead, T. Boyle’s doesn’t quite have an ethos. It opened last Halloween in a cavernous space behind the Academy 6, in the same alley as the Ice House, and after three months, still seems very much in search of an identity. This, I think, is a virtue. Make no mistake: It’s an excellent place to have a beer and watch the game. But it’s also an excellent place to have a beer and do other stuff, like play pool, or shuffleboard, or darts (all free), or even just, you know, talk, which you won’t have to shout over a raucous crowd to do, even during playoffs: I went for the Jets-Chargers game a few weeks back, an early-evening game on a Sunday, and was one of maybe eight patrons, including the two I brought.
In a half-dozen visits, eight to twenty is the usual attendance, not many for a space this big — until around 1 a.m., when hordes of late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings inexplicably come streaming in from who knows where; the Ice House maybe, because the Academy certainly never gets that many visitors. So there is a recurring set, on weekdays and weekends alike, but it isn’t quite a scene, and they aren’t quite a regular crowd. They seem to hover a little away from the bar, like visitors; half of them don’t even order drinks. They’re perfectly harmless.
This blank-slate status, and the attending lack of rabble, makes T. Boyle’s an easy place to relax with an interlocutor or three. But that’s enough of anthropology. What about the bar itself?
As you may have guessed, they have mostly beer to drink: 50+ bottled, with new additions all the time, and a rotating selection of sixteen on tap, most of which come from craft breweries: Rogue, Arrogant Bastard, Green Flash, Kona, Lost Coast and so on. There’s a stout or two, but the tap selection (or mine, anyway) skews pale and hoppy. There are also more familiar options like Stella and Blue Moon. Perhaps because almost everything on tap is American (or, like Stella, has a major American distributor), a pint tops out at $4.75, a quarter cheaper than nearby Lucky Baldwin’s. Pitchers are $14 ($13 for PBR), a full $4 cheaper than Lucky’s. You’re unlikely to find better prices for beers of this quality anywhere in Pasadena. I believe they have wine, but have seen no evidence of it.
There’s a limited menu of pub grub, most of which looks like it came straight from the microwave. The pulled pork sandwich, topped with cole slaw, is moist and tender, though not exactly bursting with flavor. The chili dogs are nothing you couldn’t do at home with a can of Hormel and a package of shredded cheese; they’re tasty and perfectly ordinary. The same goes for the sausage sandwich (with mustard and pickles) and the chili bowl. The nachos are just stale tortilla chips with neon yellow nacho glop, or “queso,” and a smattering of jalapenos. I have yet to try the salami and cheese plate and don’t know that I ever will. All in the $2 to $5 range, these dishes make for good snacking. There are also unlimited free peanuts, as well as one wild-card item: a pickled egg for $1, served with a handful of pretzels. Whatever juice they’re soaking in has some heat to it, giving the eggs a pleasant kick.
The bar has no street frontage, and the main entrance is down an alley off Catalina. The room itself is spacious, and, aside from the TVs, is without much adornment: plain grey concrete floors, walls of brick and drywall, a few decorations left over from the Toes Tavern days (i.e. moose heads) and abundant seating, with stools and tables all over the place and elevated seats at the bar. Two pool tables, two dart boards, an internet jukebox and a stage round out the downstairs, though the stage is being used for storage until an entertainment license is procured. The lofted upstairs has plenty more stools and two shuffleboard tables, with rules posted (shuffleboard, it turns out, is a lot of fun). The music is generally good, though the bigger the crowd the worse it gets. Service is warm and attentive.
All in all, T. Boyle’s offers a great time, with plenty of space to drink and play. I hope it stays that way as long as possible.
37 N. Catalina Ave., Pasadena, 626.578.0957. Nightly 4 p.m. – 2 a.m. Happy hour Mon. – Fri. 4 – 6 p.m. Pub grub. Beer & wine. $.