When the sun started to set, the music got louder. Guests clinked their cocktail glasses, and took in the sweet and savory aromas that filled the air. Bartenders showcased their craft, while restaurateurs told their stories. This is how the city of Pasadena ended the month of SIP-tember.
Hundreds of guests, twenty three restaurants, four bars and one D.J. have been counting down all month till SIP-tember 21 for the 5th annual Taste of Pasadena, hosted by the Pasadena Chamber of Commerce, also known as the Chamber.
After a visit to Park City, Utah in 2011, events and external affairs manager of the Chamber Leanne Waggoner was awed one night when the city brought together local restaurants and bars for people to get a taste of the city. President and CEO of the Chamber Paul Little envisioned the same for Pasadena, and brought it to life that year on Colorado Boulevard. The next year, it expanded to the Rose Bowl Stadium.
To select restaurants for this event, Little sends a blast-email to all Pasadena Chamber of Commerce member restaurants. The diversity of the restaurants, bars, and bakeries that come to the event makes a different culinary adventure for the foodies and drinkers who come. One person’s favorite place may be a first-time experience for another.
“This event is aimed to be a fun night, along with supporting local restaurants, and trying something new,” Little said. “There are so many culinary gems here in Pasadena we’re lucky to have as our backyard, yet aren’t aware of.”
These Pasadena-chambered businesses from Pasadena or neighboring cities may be chain restaurants and stores that have locations outside the San Gabriel Valley, but the ones exclusive to “our backyard” are what makes this event feel closer to home.
For instance, The Pasadena Sandwich Company is one exclusive to the city, as the name says. In the 22 years this family-owned restaurant has been open, co-owner Meghan Fink emphasizes on how the staff grew up pairing the concept of family and fresh food since their grandfather opened his own sandwich shop in Pomona.
“My dad was inspired, and when it was his turn to run the sandwich business, he brought his father’s homemade sandwich-making style to Pasadena,” Fink explained. “Now, my siblings and I are here running the business, carrying our grandfather’s tradition of using fresh ingredients”
Marking their second appearance at the Taste of Pasadena, the Fink siblings served some of their most popular sandwiches, such as corned beef and pastrami; a pickle slice, macaroni salad and potato salad as sides; and their freshly baked chocolate chip cookies. To them, the “home” in “homemade” doesn’t just stick with the food. Plus, you don’t have to be a Fink to be a part of their sandwich-shop family.
“We want you to be walking into our home, not a restaurant,” Fink said. “We don’t keep the family concept between the owners and staff; we bring it to the customers. Regulars are common here at our place.”
Along with sampling different bites from restaurants, this event is known for hosting the SIP-tember Cocktail Challenge Finale, an annual contest determining the favorite cocktail of Pasadena for the year. This year’s finalists were Ruth’s Chris Steak House, a/k/a Bistro, Clearman’s Galley, and last year’s challenge winner, White Horse Lounge.
Little begins the contest online with 32 bars, having voters determine the final four. Those bars come out to the event with a cocktail to serve guests at the event. Guests sample the cocktails, and vote for their favorite. New bars like to join the fun, but old faces come back each year to fight for the title, such as Clearman’s Galley.
Located in San Gabriel, Clearman’s Galley has been serving American comfort food, such as burgers and chilli, along with a numerous selection of beers and cocktails. There’s something for everyone here, given that the restaurant can hold up to 300 people!
“We’re best known for our exterior. We’re the big red and white boat on North Rosemead,” manager Gabriel Zamora said. “As for the inside, we just want as many customers as possible to join the large crowd and have a fun time. It’s always loud and enjoyable inside.”
Clearman’s Galley did not win the contest. A previous stealer of the title in 2013, Ruth’s Chris Steak House won Cocktail of the Year again.
Though the history of these restaurants and bars bring a meaningful story for the staff to tell guests, new businesses and faces are just as welcome to this event to make their debut. For instance, Nothing Bundt Cakes opened up their Pasadena location back in March 2015, and made their second appearance to Taste of Pasadena this year. They offer a huge selection of seasonal flavors, and serve their bundt cakes in many ways: big and small, stacked in towers, and even their play on a birthday cake, which they call “happy bundtday” cakes.
“I joined this team a month ago, and it’s been fun so far,” said cashier Micah Desena. “These new experiences, especially this one, have been great to learn from.”
The Taste of Pasadena is always limited to 500 tickets to prevent overcrowding of the stadium entrance. This must-go event for all Pasadena locals will make its return towards the end of SIP-tember.