Located on a leafy, isolated corner of East Pasadena, on Colorado Blvd (Route 66) off San Gabriel, across the street from a “Denny’s”, snuggled between the Guitar Center and an abandoned Poo-Bah Records, “The Colorado Bar”, since 1964, still chugs along. Triumphantly emerging from the pandemic with flying colors, it once again stands as one of the best (yes, there are plenty of others, agreed) dive bars in all of Christendom. Well, the San Gabriel Valley, anyway.
In that, as all good dive bars, the booze is simple and basic and fairly cheap, there’s no pressure from the bartender to buy another until you are ready, or not, and there’s a low bullshit-quotient all around you. From your fellow drinkers to the minimal staff, The Colorado has always been known as a joint you can disappear at; retire to a shadowy back table, immerse yourself in a pool game in their famed pool parlor, or sit at the end of the bar and just drink dammit! At one point a punk paradise, a rocker’s hide-away, an alt-music oasis, a misfit of a joint that prides itself on staying away from the shining bright light that is Old Town Pasadena four miles to the west.
The success of The Colorado is owed in major part to the Brothers Jerejian, Nelson & Johnny. For over 30 years they have reigned here. Old School boys. No nonsense. Customer oriented. Always remember your name and what you drink. Over from Lebanon to achieve the American dream and they have done it. When I asked Johnny (recently celebrated an 80th trip around the sun) if any changes would be made, expansion, renovation, now that they’re re-open he grumbled, “Kid, it’s worked for us for us all this time. It’s worked for the people too. Why change it when it works? You take care of the people, and the people take care of you.”
As always, a good bar comes down to the denizens who are served. And this part reflects what you find pleasing in the San Gabriel Valley and especially in Pasadena, more so than in other parts of Los Angeles: an eclectic menage of colors and accents and religions. White. Black. Latino. Asian. Grays from Space. Young. Old. Twenty-somethings in t-shirts to businessmen in their 50s wearing suits. From old timers to artists. “Industry” folk. Teachers. Office workers. ‘Essential’ workers. And nobody fucks with anybody else. The essence of The Colorado can be summed up in one scene from “The Big Lebowski”, at the bowling alley bar, when Sam Elliot playing ‘The Stranger’ smiles and looks over at Jeff Bridges, playing, of course, ‘The Dude’, and he says, “I like your style, Dude.” Bridges smiles, nods, says, “Thanks, man. I dig your style too. Got that whole cowboy thing going.” Elliot nods, says, “Thank ye.” That’s the vibe here.
And that’s what I’ve seen and felt, swinging in and out of The Colorado’s door for a thousand years. Right around the time Johnny and Nelson first started. When I worked for local school districts I found myself afternoons, indeed, at one of those back tables grading papers. After the races at nearby Santa Anita to celebrate winning days. Hiding from the smoke of the Fires of ’94 when the city was choked off and hell had come to town. Watching the World Cup matches on TV. Bringing dates. Buddies. Carousing. Women. The young lasses who lived nearby, within stumbling distance, were such divine finds. Meeting new people from the locals to surrounding communities to new arrivals from Europe. I spent a good damn deal of time here, a bourgeoning Beast has to start somewhere, right? And then, once in a while, you’d see me on that lone stool at the end of the bar. Scribbling notes for a story. Drinking too much. Staring into nothingness. Thinking. Hoping. Wishing.
And as all good dive bars, nobody fucking with me.