By Emily G. Peters
When a 100-year-old bar came on the Pasadena market in 2015, future White Horse Lounge owner Yan Agaev knew it was meant to be his.
“I walked into the restaurant and thought, ‘Why is nothing here? It’s gorgeous!’” said Agaev. In May of that year, White Horse Lounge opened its doors, boasting solid pub fare and an exceptional craft cocktail program to wash it down with. But it wasn’t until Agaev met Louisiana-born chef Josh Thomas, aka Big Josh, that White Horse found its stride.
“Josh learned Louisiana cuisine from his grandmother, who was also a chef. We started talking about a culinary direction and he said, ‘Let’s bring in the Louisiana and Creole,’” explained Agaev. The new food direction made sense.
“Cocktails are American in origin – the first cocktail bars, the first bitters all came out of Louisiana,” he said. “We already had cocktails rooted in Louisiana classics – so it was a marriage waiting to happen.”
Agaev himself is no stranger to the kitchen, bussing tables as a New Jersey teen and bartending his way west. He dabbled in other fields for a while, but the lure of launching a custom cocktail program ultimately brought him back to the bar.
“A good program is defined by what your standards are: the difference between concentrated and canned, fresh versus full of preservatives,” he said. “The majority of bars can get away with boring cocktails, but we make our own custom syrups, use six to seven ingredients per drink – we care about the integrity.”
The dishes stand up well to the drinks, with luminaries like the boudin balls (a Louisiana classic) an absolute must try. Married with a stellar staff and that glittery time-traveling bar, the lounge becomes something of a destination.
“If you look at White Horse from the outside, it looks so fancy you might second-guess walking in,” said Agaev. “But this place is about inclusion – a place to have a great meal, drinks and conversation. It’s not a stuffy, fine dining place. We have fun here.”
Having fun also means keeping customers’ palates pleased and curiosity piqued – a feat for any team.
“Inspiration comes from respecting the customer. There’s shortcuts in this business, but you have to have integrity with what you put in people’s bodies,” said Agaev. Combating the status quo is also a challenge.
“You gotta have dishes that work for all allergens and palates. With drinks, we push ourselves with tableside cocktails, smoked cocktails, cocktails that you light on fire,” he said. “We’re always testing ourselves to invent new experiences.”
Other hurdles, like the rising cost of goods and minimum wage, demand a nimble approach to growth. Agaev works to maneuver these waters without cutting corners – because (in his words) White Horse is here to stay.
“We’re here to provide an escape from the craziness in your life; to create a haven where you can put your phone away for a second and connect with people,” he said. “That’s what hospitality is all about.”
We think Louisiana would agree.
White Horse Lounge is located at 41 S. De Lacey Ave. in Old Town Pasadena. Keep in the know at www.whitehorsepasadena.com | (626) 583-9013 | email@example.com and follow their updates on Facebook @whitehorsepasadena and Instagram @whitehorselounge.