Whiskey, Whiskey and More Whiskey: Blind Donkey Opens in Long Beach’s East Village

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Photos by Brian Addison. Full gallery below.

Long Beach’s drinking scene just got a little more specialized as Blind Donkey–the city’s first bar dedicated to all things whiskey–celebrates its soft opening this week in the East Village Arts District.

Taking over the former Basement Lounge underneath the Broadlind Hotel building on Broadway and Linden Ave., Long Beach’s Blind Donkey is a larger, food-free, game-filled sister to Pasadena’s brown-liquor staple of the same name, with more than 100 whiskeys from around the world available to taste, sip and savor in one and two-ounce pours.

Though the bar has 10 taps of local craft beer and a full bar including vodka, gin, rum and more, Blind Donkey’s main draw is its impressive selection of competively priced whiskeys–from American to Irish to Scotch to Japanese–many of them only previously available in Long Beach at places like Stache Bar or The Stave.

But just because the bar is spirit-focused, don’t expect mixologists to be shaking up fancy 10-ingredient drinks like at Los Angeles’ craft cocktail lounges.

“We’re focused on the product neat,” says co-owner John Bower. “Our cocktail program is designed to introduce people to flavors in whiskey they might not know. It’s a true whiskey bar–we want you to try the product.”

In addition to bringing spirit education (and another photobooth!) to the city, Blind Donkey is also another example of the growing interest in Long Beach from outside restaurant and bar owners. Like San Diego’s Bo-Beau, which will soon open on Pine Ave., Blind Donkey’s owners–a team of beer-minded men who are also behind L.A.’s Surly Goat, Little Bear and Verdugo Bar–saw potential in Long Beach.

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Originally attracted to the affordable cost for the low-slung underground space, Bower and co-owners Alen Aivazian and Ryan Sweeney quickly discovered the vibrant neighborhood surrounding the location was perfect for the Blind Donkey concept. The 1910 architecture of the building and the fact that the downstairs bar used to be a speakeasy during Prohibition only added to the appeal of the historic space.

“All our bars are local bars and we don’t work to draw people from outside the area,” Sweeney says, noting that unlike its first iteration, Blind Donkey Long Beach keeps it casual with shuffleboard, darts, pool and an assortment of vintage video games. “They are built for the neighborhoods and I can feel us being a part of this community.”

Bower and Sweeney are quick to cite parallels between Long Beach’s Arts District and Old Town Pasadena, as the two are satellite communities to Los Angeles that are vibrant and have their own sense of self with people out and about at night looking for a drink. However, in the end, it was a simple  gut feeling that led them to ultimately open their second whiskey bar in Long Beach.

“I could see this working for us and for the neighborhood,” Bower says of his reaction when he first came to look at the location. “When you see the space and see the neighborhood, it just made sense to us.”

Blind Donkey Long Beach is located at 149 Linden Ave., Suite B100. Now open daily starting at 5PM. Grand opening celebration will be Friday, May 9. For more information, visit theblinddonkey.com

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Sarah Bennett is a contributor to the Hi-lo and the editor-at-large at the Long Beach Post. She is also a professor at Santa Ana College where she was once a student before transferring to USC to earn her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Sarah has written about music, art, food and beer in local, national and international publications for over a decade. An L.A. native and longtime resident of Long Beach, she is the co-founder of Long Beach Zine Fest and managing editor at theLAnd magazine. She never sleeps.
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