Happy 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.
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.
Owners 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.
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).
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.