Well known and well loved by locals in the East Pasadena area, bartender Johnny Jerejian of the Colorado Bar–who simply likes to be known as “Johnny the Bartender”–was chosen as Grand Marshal for this year’s 37th Occasional Pasadena Doo Dah Parade.
Riding atop a hot red Lincoln convertible, Johnny’s trek began at The Colorado Bar location, making him both a convenient and obvious choice for the honor.
Jerejian began his working years at age 16 in Lebanon in various jobs, the hardest, most dangerous being on a sulfuric acid shipping tanker.
It was soon thereafter at the age 24 that he came to the U.S. in order to join his brothers, Nelson and Joe Jerejian, who were establishing their gas station businesses.
In 1989 Johnny began bartending at The Colorado at the plea of the then-owners after honing his chops at various bars in the Pasadena area. The Colorado was then run by a man in his 80s who Johnny described as popular with a following—oddly prophetic of the now septuagenarian Johnny whose own charisma, charm and warmly cantankerous nature brings patrons back for more.
The Manadio family, who owned the Colorado, made the business available for sale about five years ago and the Jerejian brothers stepped up. With funds earned from their businesses, the brothers bought the bar, with Johnny managing and bartending exactly the way he has for more than 30 years.
“Every day you learn something, when you make a mistake,” Johnny said. “I don’t know what kind a mistake I am going to make tonight, or any other day, but I won’t say I know everything.”
Recently the bar has been well attended by folks from PCC and other local schools, like Cal Tech, and many from generations who are fascinated by old school drinks.
“A lot kids order the Humphrey Bogart drink, the Old Fashioned,” said Johnny. “These kids hadn’t been born at that time. I say ‘You’re not old enough to know this drink.’ And they order an old drink like a Grasshopper. Where did you guys hear this from? But in my time, that was famous drink.”
Much of the décor is original to the bar, including the parlor red damask wallpaper. Three vintage guitars hang above an antique and operable original jukebox, one of which was owned by a notable musician whose donation was asked to be anonymous. The jukebox’s revolving music selection is a feature that draws customers as well. However, two selections are consistently maintained as they are Johnny’s favorites.
“One I play as a joke, the other one is the one by Amy Winehouse [You Know I’m No Good],” said Johnny. “Joe Cocker stays there forever because Nelson likes Joe Cocker. And Santana.”
John Mannen, regular patron and frontman of the bar band Drunk in the Garage, reflected on how the things used to be prior to the Jerejian brother’s takeover, especially on the prevalence of smoking at the time.
“Before they owned it was like ‘Ugh!’, get me out of here, because I’m not a smoker,” said Mannen. “And it kind of had a nasty reputation…things happening in here that weren’t supposed to. It didn’t have as good a reputation as it does now. But they came in, cleaned up the place and said ‘Get out of here!’ to the riff-raff, basically.”
On bad behavior in general, Johnny keeps it simple.
“You see a bad apple. In a nice way, we try to get rid of them because we don’t want no trouble,’” he said.
The bar now has had a dress code policy in place in an effort to keep the atmosphere respectful and nice for people to feel comfortable. It goes a bit farther than “no shirt, no shoes, no service” and there have been some challenges. And Johnny’s no-nonsense approach to maintaining that atmosphere is famous, if not infamous to some.
“You walk to the bar in the summertime. You walk in with a tank top,” Johnny sneers. “You go like that [lifting an arm] you’re going to kill the people sitting next to you!,” he laughs.
The bar is popular with younger generations who like the nostalgia and atmosphere it evokes.
“Lots of folks from PCC, when they turn 21, they want to come in here. I don’t know why,” Johnny said. “Maybe because we joke with them a lot. I try to be friendly. I’m friendly with everybody.”
But basically, don’t mess around in Johnny’s bar.
“Most of the time we don’t have any problem,” said Johnny. “You don’t have the right to go to someone at a table and do something stupid. The way you want to be respected, you’ve got to respect other people the same way. That’s it!”