If there ever was a way to show the division between the two cities, taking a look at the bar scene in Goleta reveals the utilitarian nature of this now fledgling city. This is where people come to drink, and after all, isn’t that really what a bar is all about?
This brief guide to the watering holes of Goleta and Isla Vista will give you direction when it’s decided that a trip downtown is just too far to go to slake your thirst.
Big thanks to my friend Chris, who, Virgil-like, accompanied me on my fact-finding mission, sampling the alcohol meant for me so that I may write this in my fullest capacity. Surely a man couldn’t ask for a finer sacrifice.
The Study Hall
6543 Pardall Road, Isla Vista
Happy Hour: 4 to 7 p.m.
Monday through Friday
You’d think a bar would have a hard time surviving in a student mecca where one beer keg is being pumped somewhere by somebody every 18 seconds. But instead, The Study Hall thrives in the middle of Isla Vista. Several years ago, the bar was granted its full liquor license — the only one in the area — causing a change in the clientel: even more students. The bartenders, most likely young and female, now offer a staggering variety of vodka and tequila along with the usual beers on tap.
And if you like watching sports on television, The Study Hall has got it covered: 15 TV sets, more than any other bar on this list, are set to The Game. On slow nights, that’s 1.5 TVs per customer. Loyalty is rewarded by a place in the 50 Visit Club, the entry requirements being self-explanatory.
Dublin’s Sports Grill
910 Embarcadero Del Norte
Happy Hour: 4 to 7 p.m.
Located less than a block away from The Study Hall, Dublin’s is an Irish-themed bar, with most of that theme being expressed by the Guinness on tap and the Guinness posters and banners festooned about this large gathering place.
Entertainment is provided by the two pool tables, along with foosball, air hockey, video games, pinball machines and a shuffleboard. A small kitchen provides pub grub, most notably steak fries and hot wings, heavily promoted on the menu and around the establishment. There’s a large-screen television tuned to The Game and other smaller monitors offering other sports.
6549 Pardall Road #B
By the time you read this, the finishing touches will be applied to this new bar, a hop, skip and crawl away from The Study Hall in the space that used to be UCSBrews. Under new ownership since June, the space has slowly been changed into a small, Hawaiian-themed bar.
Beer is divided into three catergories: domestic, micro/import, and “cheapo,” with 13 on tap. One wall promises to be lined by shelves of tiki mugs — whether or not regular customers will be able to drink from them is unknown. Five televisions were counted, along with a prominent pool table, electric darts and a shuffleboard, indicating that the latter sport is popular in I.V. and nowhere else.
Hawaiian-themed food is also promised as well as the potentially head-splitting “sake shots by the $4 carafe” offer posted near the far end of the bar.
Goleta, from west to east
7398 Calle Real Space G (Behind the Citgo)
Tucked away behind a Citgo near Winchester Canyon, The Falls is a trip back in time to the hazier days of bar-going. A true local bar, the décor hasn’t changed since the 1970s. The cigarette machine doesn’t recognize dollar bills, the walls are decorated by nudge-nudge, wink-wink brothel-themed prints and the booths are rounded, clamshell, red-and mustard-colored deals.
And the customers wouldn’t have it any other way — this is a bar bar. All that’s missing is a cloud of cigarette smoke, but this is California, the “crazy state.” (For the record, there’s an outside smoking patio near the front door.)
Joseph the bartender is a friendly astute man and knows everybody by name. In a few months or so, new owners are set to completely remodel the place, promising “plasma TV screens” and much else, but for those who want to the see the last of a vanishing breed, The Falls offers a final glimpse at a simpler time.
5977 Encina Road
A modest sports bar hiding on the street that runs parallel behind Calle Real off of Fairview Avenue, Break Time marks its 10th year in business and offers five pool tables, eight televisions, free hot dogs for Sunday Night Football and self-serve popcorn.
The layout is four times longer than it is wide, with the bar running along the far wall, allowing a panoramic view of the whole place. Very long-slung miniature pineapple chairs and tables complement the décor. The bar draws locals and college students, with Wednesdays given over to College Night, which involves free pool. (Even when the pool isn’t free, the prices are very affordable.)
Old Town Tavern
261 S. Orange Ave.
Happy Hour: 4 to 7 p.m. daily
Since 2002, the Tavern has been stocking the largest selection of alcohol in the area — there are 80 different tequilas, for instance — in a location that’s seen a bar in it for many decades.
Bartender and owner Mark Anthony (who also doubles as a DJ over at Zodo’s Bowling) has packed the week with special nights and special deals, including free hot dogs for Monday Night Football, Karaoke Nights every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday Night Trivia, with the ability to play against the entire bar-going country through an interactive TV system, free pool on some nights, 16-ounce Bud Light drafts and “authentic roadhouse” R&B jam bands on Sunday afternoons.
But again, the bar must be seen to be believed — there’s even a special fridge holding a wide variety of frozen shots for $2.50 and Johnny Walker Blue Label at $20 a shot, which, we are assured, is one of the best prices in town.
5871 Hollister Ave.
Happy Hour: 5 to 7 p.m.
Monday through Friday
Playing blackjack while enjoying a pint of Guinness at Mercury.
Without a doubt, the hippest place in town. For eight years, Dawn O’Brien has been keeping the Mercury a space-age bachelor (and bachelorette) pad for the lads and lasses without coming across as phony or contrived.
Comfy couches, moody lighting and a tasteful collection of bad art, antique ashtrays and ceramic poodles set the tone, but it’s the live acts that make the Merc the place to be — in fact some touring bands prefer to play this club, with its teeny-weeny stage, than venture downtown.
The bar offers eight beers on draft, as well as pear cider, and a selection of imports and Belgian ales. There’s also Tri-Tip Tuesdays when beef is on the menu and the Slackjawed Locals — fine, fine musicans — are on the stage. And Sundays are potluck night, where the regulars bring food and the gang gets to watch “The Simpsons” on the TV. The bar, unlike all the others, is completely free of advertising — no banners, no posters — certainly keeping with the idea of an earlier, simpler time.
The Bak Dor
320 S. Kellogg Ave.
There’s a point to the name: Not only is this neigborhood bar behind the Sizzler on Hollister, but the entrance is in the back of the establishment.
A completely no-nonsense bar, with the smallest amount of televisions: a positively sensory- deprivating two. Bartender Nick comes from a long tradition of serving drinks — his family owned the long-gone but fondly remembered Busy Bee, and he himself has trained many a bartender in town.
The pool table is the center of attention and pool tourney trophies make up most of the dŽcor, along with horse racing memorabilia. The drinks are strong, too, which is as it should be, and the eclectic selection of spirits contain some quite dangerous offerings. But heed the warning on the far wall: “You must be 21 to drink here — You must act 21 to stay.”
Monty’s Sports Bar
5114 Hollister Ave.
Happy Hour 4-7 every day
Susie, one of Nick’s “disciples” from the Bak Dor, tends bar at this modest sports bar next to Woody’s BBQ in the Magnolia Shopping Center, and the eastern-most point of Goleta’s bar scene (it’s not even in the incorporated area, but I was assured that their hearts belong to The Good Land).
This is a bar that has been home to three generations of drinkers, having opened the same time as the shopping plaza, where customers will ask the bartender if she knows their granddad. Tuesday nights are set for pool league (including teams from Santa Barbara) and Thursdays are for karaoke, where the golden of throat go up against those who probably cause dogs to howl with their rendition of popular classics.
Seven beers are on draft, along with a hearty selection of spirits.