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The Enabler: Love and whiskey at the Blind Donkey

January 07, 2013|By Jessica Gelt
  • The Blind Donkey in Pasadena specializes in whiskey, and serves a limited bar menu, including grilled cheese on a stick.
The Blind Donkey in Pasadena specializes in whiskey, and serves a limited… (Adam Torgerson )

The Enabler has been fixating on love. What is it? How to find it? What feeds it? The answer to this last question, she is quite certain, is whiskey. Which is why on a recent evening she found herself contemplatively sipping a glass of 127-proof Four Roses cask strength single barrel bourbon at Pasadena's new whiskey bar, the Blind Donkey.

The Blind Donkey is the work of the beer-minded men behind Verdugo Bar, the Surly Goat and the Little Bear, and as such it exudes a pleasing masculinity. The decor is stripped down to a few framed photographs of donkeys (the Enabler does not believe the animals pictured are blind); a large, slightly crooked bar; a massive gilded mirror (good for casting wayward glances at other lonely drinkers); and a smattering of communal wooden tables.

Ryan Sweeney, the tattooed maestro and mouthpiece for the group's bars (his partners include John Bower, Brandon Bradford and Alen Aivazian) says the Donkey currently carries nearly 115 different kinds of whiskey. That's a lot of love, thinks the Enabler, perusing the menu of American, Scottish, Irish and Canadian offerings and resolving to have a second glass of something peaty.

Manager Penny Wilhelm is behind the bar. Blond and gregarious, Wilhelm is developing an encyclopedic knowledge of whiskey so she can help patrons with the understandably taxing decision-making process.

"I spend my days reading books," says Wilhelm, producing a large volume titled, "World Whiskey: A Nation-by-Nation Guide to the Best."

The Enabler is impressed. What's Wilhelm's favorite whiskey at the moment?

Wilhelm picks up a bottle of Templeton rye and points out that it was "Al Capone's drink of choice."

The Templeton rye, which is well-aged and spicy with strong notes of wood and caramel, is used in the Donkey's version of the Old Fashioned. Called Butler's Old Fashioned, the drink features seasonal jam, in this case cinnamon plum. (This reminds the Enabler that should her career in booze writing go south, she has always wanted to open a jam store in Eagle Rock called We Be Jammin.)

The Enabler forgoes a cocktail for a 2-ounce pour of George Dickel Barrel Select. The Enabler likes her whiskey neat, which is generally how she likes her men, unless, of course, they are messy and misunderstood in a genius sort of way. But then they usually don't have jobs.

The Enabler ponders this unfortunate paradox while nibbling on a basket of deep fried pickle chips with barbecue sauce and jalapeƱo ranch. Sweeney is quick to point out that the Donkey is a bar that serves food. Not a restaurant. That's a good thing, thinks the Enabler, so this meal, which also includes a cheeseburger and fries, won't really count.

Also, her daring, devil-may-care nose dive into a pile of calories might signal to the eligible men around her that her confidence is as boundless as her appetite.

"So then he kissed me," whispers a young woman to her friend at a nearby table. The two are huddled over glasses of glimmering amber whiskey. "But the next day he didn't call. I texted him a few times. I think maybe he lost his phone."

Whiskey, like love, hampers our better judgment, thinks the Enabler. But she'll be back for more of both.

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