The Raymond parties like it’s ‘1886’

Acuna-hansen captured this moody snap of the new digs during quieter times.

You know, change doesn’t come easily. That’s why we probably won’t see the return of steelhead to the river until, well, let’s not get into that.

Change comes in two varieties: canny and not-so-much.   The second is almost always accompanied by a press party. Let me explain.

When you find a restaurant that’s your “special occasion” place, you don’t want anyone messing with it, especially not the owner. Chefs are bad enough, we all know that. They’re always diddling with a good thing, inventing, tasting, creating. That’s fine, unless you want whatever it is — let’s say bourbon and soda — to stay exactly the way it’s always been.

So, it was with surprise — and horror — that very recently we were asked, “Here for the press party?” by the valet outside this Pasadena spot-on venerable. In only moments, basic solidity had succumbed to string theory.

Press party? Those two words always mean change, whether it’s the Tea Party partying in Washington in less than two months; or former gubernatorial candidate Meg Whitman finding out her maid had decamped to attorney Gloria Allred for a smack down; or your credit card company blithely reminding you that you suck and your rates have gone up to prove it. (OK, maybe that last one, there was no press party…)

Press party? Change? We’re shivering.

The three of us met at the Raymond in Pasadena, Calif., for a birthday party: my best man, his birthday, one that counts for something.

As we opened the door, noise assaulted us, and lots of it, because the press party, turns out, was to inaugurate the new bar. Patrons in the few booths in the dining room all huddled around the center of each table, as if we were secretly burning a fire to keep out the wolves.  The waiter was flustered; the hostess, more so. My wife eyed the noisome revelers askance.

To make matters worse, Best Man had spent the better part of an entire career in hospitality public relations. He confided that when asked the press party question, he had to muffle his autonomic response, which was, “Yes, and are you validating?”

We ordered. Food arrived. We were only mildly happy. Not good.

Then, owner Rob Levy appeared and we began to talk about bourbon and fly fishing. Suddenly, Best Man smiled, and wife, and Rob as well.

We discovered that the well bourbon at “1886,” the new name of the bar, was yummy Buffalo Trace. We talked of trout behind JPL — true — and that Rob’s business partner loved the cult of the dry fly. We were invigorated! Life was new again. Happy!

And so I learned that chilly November evening that at least one man held press parties for canny change, and thank goodness you can still slurp down oysters in the bar, just like it was 1886, and you didn’t have a care in the recession. Not one.

See you on the river, Jim Burns

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