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The Dark Side of Pasadena—From Devil’s Gate to True Blood

Your guide to exploring Pasadena's dark side.

By / October 17, 2016
   RBerteig
   RBerteig

If you read the tabloids, you’ll know that many people believe that the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland is about to open up a portal to Hell. The evidence? Strange cloud formations over the lab, of course. But if you live in LA, you’ll be pleased to know that an alleged portal to Hell already exists right here in Pasadena—under a giant rock that looks like the Devil’s head.

Don’t be fooled by the tidy, relaxed vibe and historic architecture, Pasadena actually has a dark side—from Satanists, to strange disappearances to bizarre murders—there’s something for everyone.

If you’ve got 24 hours to kill in Pasadena, here’s a guide to getting your goth on.

Devil's Gate Dam Entrance

Left: the supposed portal to Hell above the Large Hadron Collider. Right: the tunnel leading to the Devil’s Gate. 

Morning Hike to Devil’s Gate

This is one of the weirder hikes in LA. If you take exit 22B off the 210 you’ll come to Hahamonga Watershed Park. We made the mistake of parking on Windsor and had to climb down a steep incline to get into the park. You’ll want to park close to the dam on Vista Laguna or La Canada. When you hit the dam you walk through the concrete tunnel and take a left down the trail to the creek bed.

Finally, sweaty and exhausted from your 10-minute walk, you’ll see a giant rock formation that resembles the Devil’s head. As we approached we saw another couple, who cheerily informed us not to worry as they weren’t Satanists. The guy’s father had seen it on the Weather Channel—where else?

Of course before he’d dragged his girlfriend down here, he’d done his research. L. Ron Hubbard (the founder of Scientology) and Jack Parsons (the father of modern rocket science) are rumored to have performed sex magic rituals in the cave under the rock. Given this, we all agreed that the hike probably wasn’t a good first date idea, unless you get strong Blair Witch vibes from your partner. Save it for the second.

Devil's Gate Dam Pasadena

Devil’s Gate Dam.

Haunted Veggie Burger at the Vegetarian Drive-Thru

After a sweaty Pasadena hike, there’s no better place for lunch than Orean’s Health Express—it’s a Pasadena institution and a drive-thru which is great because we were pretty much done walking for the day. I always get the fake chicken burger with fries. They also do pretty great vegetarian burritos and hot dogs. On this occasion, there was something a little spooky about my burger.

Haunted Veggie Burger

A haunted veggie burger.

A Steampunk Cabinet of Curiosities

After lunch, we checked out Goldbug. If you’re the kind of person that likes to avoid sunlight and decorate your house with the dismembered remains of exotic creatures, then Goldbug is your kind of place. It’s a kind of steampunk ‘cabinet of curiosities’—they specialize in high-end gothic jewelry, taxidermied animals, bizarre objects constructed out of seashells and doll parts, and strange historical artifacts. After deciding against purchasing a beetle we moved on to some contemporary art.

Armory Center for the Arts

Armory Center for the Arts is probably the least goth place on this list, but they currently have a beautiful show by Ellen Lesperance and Helen Mirra titled Traversing—about walking, landscapes, and textiles. In the front gallery were collaborative weavings, while to the rear Helen Mirra’s work was a series of simple black and white photographs documenting her walks. Upstairs was a different show by the Model Agency about NASA and underwater furniture. Out on Fair Oaks the Armory has an outdoor gallery, which currently features work by Martin Kersels—two billboards showing a woman being thrown into the air.

Helen Mirra at Pasadena Armory

Helen Mirra’s work at the Armory Center for the Arts.

True Blood Cocktails

By this time we needed a drink, so we headed to Der Rathskeller, a basement cocktail bar underneath Fair Oaks Ave. They serve a pretty decent martini and the walls are decorated with bizarre murals that seem to be inspired by German mythology. It’s a great place to contemplate death with your friends while staring into the face of a goat with many eyes.

If you want the true Pasadena goth experience though, you have to go to the Old Towne Pub. Not only one is this place one of Pasadena’s best-known dive bars, but it also doubled as an underground 80s London punk club for the cult vampire series True Blood. As you would expect, it’s a dingy bar tucked away in a back alley. They also have live music, but this isn’t really London in the 80s so lower your expectations just a little.

True Blood Pasadena

Left: Old Towne Pub during the shooting of True Blood (source: trueblood-online.com). Right: a martini at Der Rathskeller. 

By

Matthew O’Shannessy is a writer living in Los Angeles. He grew up in Tasmania, Australia and moved to LA via Melbourne where he joined an art collective and worked for the Melbourne International Film Festival. His work has been published in various magazines and he’s currently co-editing an arts anthology. He lives in Echo Park, but you can often find him scouting out the San Fernando Valley.

More articles by Matthew O'Shannessy

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