Best Drinks in Town

Mar 1, 2010

Some of us around Hometown Pasadena like a proper drink every now and then, so we talked amongst ourselves and came up with a short list of personal favorites. We’re saving wine bars for another post. If we’ve missed your favorite cocktail, please let us know!

Aviation. Palate bartender Antoine makes this historic, gin-based cocktail with his own homemade violet essence. It’s as if Earl Grey and Tom Collins had an illegitimate daughter, and this is her son. We think it was named the Aviation because it leaves you floating on a cloud of wonderfulness. If you can, stick around this modern bistro for some of Octavio Becerra’s potted meats and small-plate dishes, so you don’t drink on an empty stomach.
Palate, 933 S. Brand Blvd., Glendale, 818.662.9463, Mon.-Sat. to 10 p.m., Sun. to 9 p.m.

Doña Rosa margarita; photo by

Margarita. It seems odd that an order-at-the-counter taqueria would even be allowed to serve tequila at all, but not only does Doña Rosa serve tequila, but it makes a superb and astonishingly inexpensive margarita. Not too sweet, with a good lime bite, it’s served in a short, thick glass on ice, and at just $1.50 on Tuesdays, and $4 every other day, it’s the best drinking bargain in town.
Doña Rosa, 577 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena, 626.449.2999, Mon.-Sat. to midnight, Sun. to 11 p.m.

Martini. A proper martini requires everything to be just right, including the glassware, which is why our very particular friend Gwen loves the martinis at the swank Bar at the Langham Huntington. Cocktails are an investment here, but they are made flawlessly to your specifications — in Gwen’s case, a Grey Goose martini up with two olives and just a little dirty. Splurge even more and get a lobster corn dog. You won’t be sorry.
The Bar, Langham Huntington Hotel, 1401 S. Oak Knoll Ave., Pasadena, 626.568.3900, Sun.-Thurs. to midnight, Fri.-Sat. to 2 a.m.

The sake bar at Japon Bistro

Sake. Not a cocktail, exactly, but really good sake is hard to find in the Pasadena area — unless you go to Japon Bistro. Its selection of small-producer, seasonal sakes is exemplary. If you find one you really like, drink up — once these seasonal sakes are gone, they’re gone for good. While you’re there, enjoy the very good izakaya dishes.
Japon Bistro, 927 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena, 626.744.1751, Sun.-Thurs. to 9:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 10:30 p.m.

Sangria. La Cabanita is a Mexican restaurant, not a Spanish one, but its sangria is nonetheless the best for miles around. Most everyone else gets the good margaritas, but we’ve always marched to a different drummer. As for food, don’t miss the smoky salsa, the soups, the chuletas en chile pasilla, the chile rellenos and the pork chile verde.
La Cabanita, 3447 N. Verdugo Rd., Montrose, 818.957.2711. Nightly to 10 p.m.

Scotch. When we want to go old-school, we head to the historic, racetrack-adjacent Derby for a generous single-malt Scotch neat, perhaps with a bowl of nuts on the side. Sometimes if we get carried away we have a second one and then move to a cush banquette by the fireplace, order a huge steak and baked potato, and feel very, very happy. The Scotch collection is sufficient enough to satisfy all but the most insufferable Scotch snob.
The Derby, 233 E. Huntington Dr., Arcadia, 626.447.2430, Mon.-Thurs. to 10 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to 11 p.m., Sun. to 9 p.m.

The Parkway Grill's Sidecar

Sidecar. When we get a hankering for this legendary concoction of Cognac, Cointreau and fresh-squeezed lemon juice, not to mention a handsome room and the smartest bartenders in town, we head to the Parkway Grill. Despite the sugared rim, it’s got a bite and isn’t too sweet. All the drinks, in fact, are expertly made and generous in quantity; if you’re not a Sidecar kinda drinker, try the superb margarita in a martini glass or the elegant kir royale. Excellent piano jazz and tip-only valet parking are further perks. Parkway Grill, 510 S. Arroyo Pkwy., Pasadena, 626.795.1001, Sun.-Thurs. to about 10:30 p.m., Fri.-Sat. to about 11:30 p.m.

5 Responses for “Best Drinks in Town”

  1. Caroline says:

    I’m here to tell you that Friday nights at Dona Rosa they have DOUBLE margaritas for $3.75. AND yummy taco cart tacos for $1.50 each. Ole!

  2. […] frequent new posts in our recurring sections; right now you don’t want to miss our guide to the best drinks in town, or our resident historian Matt Horman’s look at the life and work of author Charlotte […]

  3. Kat says:

    Just FYI, the new Elements Kitchen, in the Pasadena Playhouse complex (and offshoot of Elements Cafe) is getting their liquor license (rumor has it) this week-ish, and they are preparing their specialty cocktail menu. My husband and I happened to be there last week when they were doing training and met their bartender/trainer who has worked at some of the best bars on the westside (and, incidentally, is a fanatic about the quality of ice for a good cocktail). I’m looking forward to what fantastic cocktail are going to appear…

  4. Colleen Dunn Bates says:

    Thanks for the tip, Kat! We’ve been waiting for Elements to get their license.

  5. MARGARITAS: Being a Margarita aficionado, Dona Rosa has the best “affordable” margarita, but cannot be claasied in “The Best” category. The top 5 margaritas in Pasadena belong to: Margaritas (your margaritas would have to good in order to use that name), El Portal, and Mijares “Spa Margarita”.



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