At Pasadena's Paseo Colorado, just a couple of blocks from city hall, Bodega Bar is nestled in a corner against luxury apartments and across the courtyard from stylish eateries that include P.F. Chang's and upstairs from the upscale Gelson's Supermarket grocery store. The Paseo is an attractive shopping and entertainment complex near Pasadena's Old Town, but Bodega Bar's position within it is well off the beaten path. This suits the owners and barstaff just fine.
Bodega Bar has an unassuming face, a plain storefront with a windowed wall that can retract like a garage door on one side (presumably raised during summer) and a simple sign announcing its name. Inside it's a little dim, walls are a stark gray and the ceiling is the unfinished sort of visible ventilation and piping one might have found in the rushed Internet boom offices of the late 90s. The tattooed barman has a certain esprit de bar, though, and talks up his favorite wine choices, apologizes for an outdated wine list with names that are no longer available, greets his regulars affably and projects one of a dozen favorite cult movies on a wall to the side of the bar. (On one particular night it was Conan the Barbarian.)
There is ample seating in any of the three rooms - a back room with long table for a large party, a lounge with stuffed block seats and low tables and the main room with high tables and stools as well as stools at the bar. In the happy hour(s) of 4-7pm Monday-Friday patrons spread themselves out (regulars at the bar, of course), take in the rock music, and enjoy a variety of wines that are $3 off the glass, $7 off the carafe, $8 off the bottle. All wines are available by the glass.
Bodega Bar also offers a menu of small dishes, appetizers like cheeses and fruits, and sandwiches and personal pizzas. There are also desserts made off-site such as cupcakes. Drinks besides wine are plentiful - sake, beer and soju cocktails.
None of the wines are available to order by the taste but that hardly means a taste won't be offered gratis if it will help spur a decision. In particular, don't pass up a chance to try Bodega's private label wines. Bodega seems to trade on a certain understated coolness where friendliness comes ahead of strict wine decorum. Perhaps this is less true when the bar is overrun by visitors getting a quick drink on their way to see a movie. Or maybe it's just the tattooed bartender. Either way, wine discoveries are unlikely but Bodega Bar is a great place to unwind after a tough day.
Bodega Bar has two locations - 260 E Colorado BL in Pasadena (626-793-4300) and Broadway at Lincoln in Santa Monica (310-394-3504). The Pasadena location is open daily from 4pm. Santa Monica opens at 5pm Tuesday-Sunday.