Ah, the luck of the Irish! Or, shall we say, the luck of the Drink of the Week team, to walk into Dargan’s when bartender Patrick Owens was tending to his flock. Indeed, to impress a birthday girl over at a corner table, we watched him fold up a napkin and tuck it under his black shirt collar, making him look like a vicar. We knew right then that this witty man would rise to our St. Patrick’s Day challenge of an appropriate cocktail.
We keep waiting for that perfect moment when we can take a water taxi to the wharf for a drink at Longboard’s. It would be so apropos. In lieu of that, we drove onto the wharf for a return visit to this ol’ neighborhood establishment at the top of The Harbor Restaurant.
Because it is a part of the local chain of bars and restaurants that includes El Paseo, Tee-Off and Harry’s Plaza Café, we had no doubt that the drinks would be strong.
“Recession? What recession?”
So says Ryan Leeper, manager of the Santa Barbara branch of that college drinking institution Sharkeez. Some blocks of State Street may be a bit quieter these days, but not the block between Haley and Gutierrez. With the Savoy across the street, and the numerous late night food establishments popping up here and there (thank you Santa Barbara for getting a clue about our stomachs), this block is buzzing.
And as we walked in on a Thursday, we were told that in an hour it would be College Night, so brace for the crowds. Well, we thought, that gives us an hour to get our drinks in before all chaos reigns.
Looking to the far corner of the bar at Monty’s, we see a spaghetti kitchen. Or rather, the ghost of one. Before anybody can remember, this space in the Magnolia shopping center used to sling pasta and meatballs before it transformed into a neighborhood bar.
Now owned by the wife of the former owner, Monty’s Sports Bar gets packed during “da game,” Tuesday pool league nights and Thursday karaoke. But when we sauntered in, it was late and a bit slow. A few regulars are seated up to the bar, and we are greeted by Susie Crawford, who has been mixing drinks here for 17 years. If you’ve stopped by on a weeknight, then you’ve probably met her.
After 11 years, Old King’s Road still doesn’t allow wankers through its doors, so I guess that’s a good sign for us. We just waltzed right in to stay. One of our Drink-of-the-Week-ers brought his parents along, and they promptly disappeared into the post-trivia, post-World Series crowd for a bit while we settled down to chat with Don Zaccagnino, who we immediately charmed by pronouncing his last name correctly.
Zaccagnino is one of three owners of OKR, along with Ross Cathie, the true Brit among the three, and Chris Faitel, the newest, youngest owner. We got into a little conversation about real fish and chips before Zaccagnino decided on his selections for us to try.
Last time we visited Esther Rogers, the bartender and mixologist at Roy’s, we surprised her and she was still able to whip up some mighty fine cocktails with a gourmet eye, the kind we expect from Roy’s menu. This time, she told us, she knew we were coming. But that wasn’t the reason she had a small cocktail menu printed out — that was for the RND evening last weekend that our crew managed to catch at the last minute.
If we haven’t mentioned it before, RND vodka is our favorite local spirit. It may be the only one too, discounting the bathtub of homebrew gin I’ve been keeping a secret. Anyroad, Rogers set out to show off the spectrum of RND and we sidled up a week later to try the cocktails and see what we make of them.
Back when State Street petered out at De La Vina and all this uptown was wilderness (or something pretty close), the Tee-Off was the clubhouse for the golf course up the hill. Or rather, because the course didn’t have a place to drink after the 18th hole, the original owners of the Tee-Off saw an opportunity. And hats off too them — the watering hole has made it into the 21st century with no sign of stopping. It still offers a traditional steak to diners sitting in its traditional red booths, and we must insist on the traditional fried chicken — so good it gets its separate neon sign outside the entrance.
Here’s a tip that even some regulars might not know, as relayed to us by longtime manager Todd Elliot: the oldest part of the Tee-Off is the giant golf tees opposite the front door, but which are so covered in ivy, most people just see them as railings. Next time you walk in — possibly for a cocktail — look for them.
The Mecca is once again fabulous. The easily missed entrance on Milpas hides a whole lot of history — and some mystery — behind its boxy little neighborhood bar appearance. Bathed in blue light and ringing with a guitarist playing Ranchero ballads, The Mecca was bumpin’ low-key style on a Thursday night. A bar full of regulars were chatting away while bartender SunRize Szekely whipped up drinks and manager Rafael Fernandez ran back and forth from bar to floor.
The Mecca goes back to the 1930s, making it one of the oldest bars in Santa Barbara. For a brief while in the late 2000s, it tried to be a different kind of bar, the up-market Legends Lounge, and then Chocolat, but a neighborhood needs a neighborhood bar, so when Fernandez and his brother bought it back a few years ago, the old name returned. According to Fernandez, people are going to call it The Mecca (or The Fabulous Mecca) no matter what an owner tries to do, so why fight it?
Having survived Mel’s last week, we decided to check out another “neighborhood joint,” one with that very phrase blazoned across its sign. Arch Rock Fish (say that 10 times fast) spent a lot of the summer promising to open, and it just made it. Located in the former space of Melting Pot, this is a local endeavor, with menus designed by Scott Leibfried and, most importantly, drinks designed by Mike Anderson, the mixologist behind Marquee.
The theme here is local favorites, and the menu drops locations, some well known and others rare, including the Arch Rock of the title, part of Santa Cruz Island. The menu has its fair share of “place” names.
Over the years, happy bar patrons have affixed signed dollar bills to the ceiling of the Maverick Saloon with thumbtacks. And that’s not all: Look around and you’ll see hats, bras, panties and other unmentionables. Now that’s our kind of bar.
This Santa Ynez landmark has been slinging beers, whiskey and cocktails since 1963, and no doubt a trip over the hill was long overdue for the Drink of the Week crew.