The San Gabriel Valley is, in many ways, the cradle of craft beer civilization in L.A. County. And luckily, for those of us who were too young to participate in the first wave of the revolution, several of the movement’s founding fathers are still thriving today.
There’s Sam Samaniego, who’s been pouring quality brews into paper cups at San Gabriel’s Stuffed Sandwich since 1976. And there’s Mark Jilg, who founded Pasadena’s Craftsman Brewing Company in 1995. And let’s not forget David Farnworth, who introduced Lucky Baldwins British Pub & Cafe to Old Town Pasadena in 1996.
While Stuffed Sandwich and Craftsman continue to enjoy great success, Lucky Baldwins has experienced the most visible growth. In 2005, Farnworth and partner Peggy Simonian opened a second Lucky Baldwins location in neighboring Sierra Madre. And last month, on Super Bowl Sunday, the pair quietly opened a third location at 1770 East Colorado Boulevard in East Pasadena.
The official grand opening for the new Lucky Baldwins won’t occur until Farnworth and Simonian have completed construction on a sidewalk patio that will seat an additional twenty to thirty customers. But business is already booming.
Mark Jilg, who installed the sixty-five tap draught system at the new pub, says “it’s a huge step up from the Old Pasadena location.”
“It’s a bit more planned and organized, this one,” Simonian agreed. “We completely made it what we wanted it to be.”
Farnworth, who is equally pleased with the new location, says he hopes to feature a different craft brewery there every month. As for the immediate future, he plans to tap a 15.5 gallon keg of Russian River Brewing Company’s Pliny the Younger this Sunday. But if you want a taste of the this year’s cult favorite, come early; Younger has been known to sell out quickly.
Just four blocks south of the Old Town Lucky Baldwins stands an aging red brick building that, for twenty years, was home to Pasadena’s original craft beer destination. Opening in the summer of 1988, Crown City Brewery served up craft beer in Pasadena at a time when craft beer was “microbrew,” and the Dodgers were on their way to become World Series Champions. But by 2008, after the breakup of its founding partnership, Crown City Brewery had lost its money-making mojo. So when a new landlord took control of the property and declined to renew the lease, the troubled brewery-turned-restaurant was forced to wave adieu.
But now, three years later, craft beer is about to flow once again at 300 South Raymond Avenue. After only six months in business, Congregation Ale House of Downtown Long Beach is announcing its plans for expansion. Chief Operating Officer Travis Ensling intends to install the second Chapter of Congregation Ale House at the old Crown City Brewery location in November.
When asked what made him choose the former brewpub to be the home of the second Congregation Ale House, Ensling said 49% of the decision was based on Crown City’s legacy. But mostly, he yearned to return to his home turf.
Ensling is a San Gabriel Valley native. After owning and operating Cafe Mundial in nearby Monrovia for ten years, Ensling went on to manage the original Lucky Baldwins for two years. He then developed his own brew-centric concept, Congregation Ale House, which he introduced to Downtown Long Beach last September.
Of all the people to bring craft beer back to 300 South Raymond Avenue, Clay Harding, owner and operator of 38˚ Ale House in Alhambra, thinks Ensling is the man to do it. Harding’s father, Dennis Hartman, was one of the founding partners at Crown City Brewery.
“Dennis Hartman had a deep appreciation for beer, and one hell of a personality,” Harding said. “I think Ensling can bring some of that energy back.”