Happy Hour in Rancho Cucamonga

sycamore inn 2Happy hour at a local establishment was a ritual when we were much younger. Back then it was all about finding discounted drinks, having fun and not worrying about all the responsibilities that would come in the years that followed. Over time, priorities changed and the idea of early-evening cocktails in the middle of the week was simply not as desirable or practical. Most of the time school and sporting events made that kind of recreational activity impossible.sycamore inn 3

In addition, with society dictating a much more responsible approach to social drinking, many establishments cut back or eliminated their happy hour promotions.

Now, fast-forward to today, when the kids are away at college and our own commitments have turned another page. Early evening get-togethers with friends are again manageable and much more enjoyable.

So where do we go? There are plenty of local restaurants and bars to enjoy refreshments at the end of the day, but how many offer happy hour specials, much less an appealing ambiance?

In our recent return to the occasional mid-week outing, we’ve returned to one of the Inland Empire’s oldest institutions – The Sycamore Inn in Rancho Cucamonga. A legendary local landmark, the Sycamore Inn has long been known as one of the region’s finest quality prime steakhouses. While the food is delicious and service extraordinary, dinner prices can be on the high side for those watching their budgets. Not so with the Sycamore Inn’s happy hour bar menus.

sycamore inn 6Owners Linda and Chuck Keagle have found a way to bring back the early evening crowd and offer value at the historic restaurant’s bar and patio areas. “Prime Time at the Wine Bar” runs seven days a week from 4:30 until 8 p.m., with a special bar-side meal menu. The Sycamore offers half-price on appetizers, wines by the glass and martinis and mixed drinks, including those featuring top-shelf spirits.

Chuck and Linda have always presented an impressive collection of outstanding wines, serving as longtime judges at the prestigious Los Angeles International Wine Competition at Fairplex. The bar serves carefully crafted classic cocktails in an environment reminiscent of the Sycamore Inn’s long and glorious history that dates to the mid 1800s. I’ve enjoyed a number of classic cocktails there, including the Rye Manhattan made with straight rye whiskey, Carpano Antica Vermouth, bitters and a “drunken” Maraschino cherry (probably Luxardo and not the neon red version); the Sycamore Manhattan with Knob Creek Bourbon, Carpano Antica Vermouth, bitters and a good cherry; and the “Slow and Low Old Fashioned, featuring Hochstadter’s orange and honey rye whiskey, muddled fresh orange and a Maraschino cherry. You can also order an Old Fashioned with your whiskey of choice. All were crafted expertly and left we wanting another.

Beth has appreciated the Pear Flower Martini and the Raspberry Lemon Drop.sycamore inn 1

Among the bar menu appetizers worth sampling are the Cajun shrimp, stuffed mushrooms, house flat bread and ahi tuna poke (but ask for some dipping sauce on the side).

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Thanks Tom Sturgis!

Although not a part of the history chronicled on the restaurant’s web pages, locals say it served as a bordello along the main stagecoach route between San Bernardino and Los Angeles along old Route 66. The upstairs dining and meeting rooms give foundation to those stories. The building survived fires, floods and reconstruction before the foundation for the current Sycamore Inn was built in 1920.

The architecture lends itself to the perfect setting for a speakeasy bar setting in one of the upstairs rooms or perhaps the basement. Not sure if that will ever come to be, but given today’s increased interest in classic cocktails and drinks that are mixed with care and fresh, quality ingredients, then the time just might be right for our own local speakeasy.


A Parade of Parties

Claremont is known for its Fourth of July and Claremont High School Homecoming parades through the Wine Tasting 4heart of its oldest residential area. The Claremont Community Foundation presents a parade of its own. Although its annual Party Parade doesn’t include floats, cheerleaders or marching bands, and it doesn’t traverse the city streets while onlookers wave from the sidelines, it is building an impressive reputation of its own.

This is a parade where everyone is “all-in.” The Foundation’s parade is a series of events hosted by generous residents and businesses with the intent of raising funds to support worthwhile organizations and initiatives throughout the city. Along the way, they’ve found a fun way to engage the community and stimulate the creativity of the generous volunteers who host the many benevolent events.

It’s pretty hard to resist attending one or more of the many events that fill the parade of activities each spring. Last year, more than 120 hosts and 40 businesses staged nearly 20 different themed educational and/or entertaining events, including Oscars night, homebrew tasting, barbecue, Prohibition cocktails and a night at the Claremont Courier.Wine tasting 1

Our choice was wine tasting at the incredible home of Judi and Bill Manis. Party hosts Liisa and Andy Primack, Vicki Hardy and Richard Chute, Megan Hampton, and Maria and Harry Brown presented a fun-filled afternoon of great wines paired with tasty goodies. Harry Brown expertly led the glass-by-glass instruction, highlighted by side-by-side comparisons.

The selection included a Markham Napa Chardonnay and a Latour Montagny La Grande Roche (Chardonnay) from Burgundy France, paired with gourmet cheeses on toast, selected and provided by Vicki and Rich.  Both wines were pleasant, but I thought the Markam was a bit thin, and the Latour was not very bold for a Chardonney.

Next was a McManis (appropriately) Pinot Noir next to a Drouhin Chorey-les-Beaune from France, paired with two pâté variations provided by Megan. Susan Descombes and Beth were particularly fond of the McManis Pinot Noir. It was fruity and nice. The Drouhim had a light finish, but was too soft for me and a bit dusty as well.

Two California wines followed: a Ravenswood Zinfandel and a Dry Creek Merlot. Beth and I are big Zin fans, and while this was not the big jammy Zins that we frequently get from our favorite wineries in Paso Robles, and it was not overly spicy or peppery, it had a nice blend of fruit and spice. I also enjoyed the Merlot, which carried notes of apple and fresh fruit. Both pared well with the lamb meatballs and date-bacon appetizers provided by the Primacks.

We closed with two dessert wines: A Castello de Poggio Moscato from Italy and a Dow 10-year Tawny Port. The Moscato brought forward flavors of summer fruits like apricots and peaches. Very refreshing for a dessert wine, while the Port was a bit heavier, filled with spice and cinnamon.

The beautiful setting, extraordinary hosts and great group of attendees made for a fabulous afternoon and a desire to catch the next parade to come through town.

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