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A look at POP Champagne & Dessert Bar, Pasadena

March 27, 2009 |  1:17 pm

POP Champagne & Dessert Bar in Pasadena. Credit: Stefano Paltera, For The Times At POP Champagne & Dessert Bar, a bubbly mood presides

[Click here for a photo gallery.]

Cracked on the side of a ship or hoisted in a flute glass on New Year's Eve, champagne is the de facto libation for celebrating special occasions. But the paradox of its elite status means that it's often relegated only to special occasions. Pop Champagne & Dessert Bar hopes to change that.

"People have this two-dimensional idea that champagne is just for parties, but it's also a perfect food wine," says Matt Earhart, co-owner of Pop. "It's very versatile and works well with so many things."

Earhart, 30, and Kristin Traylor, 25, opened the mid-scale Pasadena wine bar shortly before Christmas 2008. The two met while working in a Cost Plus World Market in San Jose, where Earhart was in charge of the wine department. They became romantic partners and eventually business partners as well. Was it because of the bubbly?

"We started drinking more champagne and became kind of obsessed with it, but we realized there were no wine bars that primarily served champagne," Traylor says.

Pop features a wine list that includes more than 100 champagnes and sparkling wines. About 40 are bona fide Champagnes, grown and bottled in the Champagne region in northeast France. They range from the toasty, full-bodied J. Lassalle Brut for $13 a glass to the über-high-end Salon Blanc des Blancs (1997) for $700 a bottle. "The J. Lassalle Brut is a hidden gem. It has a really unique character that's similar to Krug, which costs $375 per bottle," Traylor says.

That's one of the ideas behind Traylor and Earhart's bar: offering variety at price points that their clientele can afford, even in the midst of a recession. The wine menu isn't limited to bubbly; it also features an eclectic selection of whites, reds, rosés, fortified wines and after-dinner delights. And Pop offers 14 half-bottles (2.5 glasses) and seven splits (1.5 glasses) of champagne, which have proved to be quite popular. "Those size bottles give people the opportunity to try stuff they never heard of or thought they could afford," Earhart says.

Considering that many people's disinterest or downright disdain for champagne comes from a run-in with a bottle of André or Cook's, that's also a savvy marketing move. "I hear people say, 'Champagne gives me a headache,' but that's just because they've had bad champagne," Earhart says.

"I do think you get drunk faster on champagne," Traylor counters.

"But you never get a hangover," Earhart says. (Countless sororities and wedding parties would beg to differ.)

Since opening, Pop has expanded its menu to include more savory dishes and small plates. The truffle mac 'n' cheese, redolent with truffles and topped with crisp, fried oyster mushrooms, is one of the more notable froufrou mac 'n' cheeses around.

But it's Pop's dessert menu that shines: hand-dipped chocolate strawberries; profiteroles; crème brûlée; crepes; churros; a rotating assortment of house-made truffle confections in flavors like cheesecake, chocolate-mint and maple-bacon; and Pop's signature soufflé du jour, reinvented every day by pastry chef Emily Earhart (Matt's younger sister) in flavors that range from comforting (cookies and cream, chocolate and peanut butter) to adventurous (lavender, blue cheese and tawny port).

With all that champagne and all those desserts on the menu, it's unsurprising that Pop's clientele is mostly women. The atmosphere is a mix of modern wine bar and vintage speak-easy, a room unafraid of rock music but not too loud for conversation. A towering Art Deco back-bar display offsets a long brick wall on one side of the room. Across the room, patrons can recline in curved leather booths while inspecting glass-topped shadowbox tables filled with erotic photos from the 1920s, poker chips, vintage flasks and the like. A bevy of circular mirrors dots the back wall, inspired by the bubbles in champagne.

As for that $700 champagne, Pop has only two bottles in stock and even Traylor and Earhart haven't tasted it. "I'm waiting for a special occasion," Traylor says. "Maybe when we turn a profit."

Pop Champagne  & Dessert Bar

Where: 33 E. Union St., Pasadena.
When: 11 a.m.- 2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Wed.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-12 a.m. Thu.; 11 a.m.-2 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Fri.; 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Sat.; 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Sun.; closed Mon. and Tue.
Price: Champagne by the glass: $13-$20. Appetizers: $4-$65. Desserts: $9-$12.
Contact: (626) 795-1295,  www.popchampagnebar.com

--Elina Shatkin

Photos: Stefano Paltera / For The Times

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