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?
Mexicans, Mexican-Americans, Irish-Americans and even Irish-Mexicans (we were told, anyway) call this place a home away from home. It is one of the few places you can get a Michelada (the Mexican version of a Bloody Mary) whipped up by Szekely in a goblet-style glass. Like a Bloody Mary, this is a hangover drink. Spicy, it may sometimes come with some shrimp, like a cocktail (ours didn’t). Instead of vodka, the Michelada uses beer — we chose Corona — and lays on the Clamato, Tapatio, pepper, lime juice and Maggi, the seasoning sauce no Mexican kitchen is without. The beer actually makes this a lighter and more tomato-heavy drink.
Settling in, we began to hear the various histories of The Mecca, sometimes coming at us from three different directions. Tina Turner played here, the DJ booth used to be a street-side kitchen where menudo and tortillas were made on a Sunday, the original incarnation was a speakeasy? the list goes on.
Next up, the Top Shelf Margarita, which Fernandez made himself. It is a simple mix of Patron Silver, triple sec and Grand Marnier. This is sweet and pleasant and more laid back than other margaritas we’ve had, designed for a lazy day or night.
Giving Szekely the choice for our final selection, we ended up with a Sex on the Beach, which has disappeared from menus recently. Is it time to try this again? The vodka and schnapps combo still works, and the fruit juices make it a smooth one. Continuing on a tradition, that’s The Mecca way.
SEX ON THE BEACH
4 counts Grey Goose Vodka
2 counts Peach Schnapps
2 counts orange juice
Drop of Midori
Fill pint glass with ice, then add vodka, schnapps and juice. Top off the glass with half pineapple and half cranberry. Add all to shaker and shake. Strain into glass and top with drizzled Midori.
512 N. Milpas St.