We here at Drink of the Week love a mimosa as much as the next garden partier, but as cocktails go, there’s not much leeway. It’s a breakfast drink when you need a hair of the dog but don’t want to go full Bloody Mary. And you either improve the sparkling wine, or you improve the orange juice. (Don’t use Sunny D, people, come on now.)
Maybe you’d like something just a bit fancier over your brekkie. Recently we took a trip out to Cafe Stella on Las Positas, which knows a bit about brunch and easing into the day.
We thought our bartender looked familiar when we stepped inside the Chase the other night. That’s because Tony Rincon used to bartend over at Uptown Lounge and we met him last time we checked that place out. It’s a small town, for sure. The Chase offers twists on classic cocktails, and we settled on the Al Capone because we’re fascinated with that time in history. (Although we wouldn’t necessarily want to live during that time.) The Feds finally caught Capone for tax evasion, but Rincon says this drink is a way to avoid the overly sweet taste of vermouth. Clever, isn’t it? The Campari gives a bitterness to what started as a simple Manhattan, and the orange peel twist gives every sip a citrusy aroma. (The cocktail started out as a creation of Brooklyn mixologist John Bush, and has spread across the country in the years since.)
Capone and his gang reportedly preferred gin and lime, but this cocktail is more an embodiment of the attitude of the man: strong, with an underlying bitterness.
THE AL CAPONE 1 1/2 ounces whiskey (preferably Bulleit Rye) 1 ounce sweet vermouth (preferably Cinzano) 1/2 ounce Campari
Add all ingredients over ice, shake and strain into cocktail glass. Garnish with orange peel twist.
The only bar on the Westside, Bo Henry’s is packing them in every night with pool tables, a healthy and genre-stuffed jukebox, art all over the walls, and cocktails. On a sweaty Sunday night, creeping toward 11 p.m., we found the bar lively, one of the few things on this party side of town showing signs of life. Behind the bar was Erin Ingalls, working here since April and a veteran of the Crocodile on upper State. Asked if she had a drink that she had invented, she immediately pointed to the board above her head. “Do I? Yes.”
“Erin’s Lil’ Bit of Sweet ‘n’ Spicy” is currently the special and, no, Erin doesn’t have to be working the night you order it — but it helps. Her inspiration comes from a regular who lives nearby and is often bringing food from her garden to see if Erin can use it. She’s made gin martinis with lemon verbena, for example. But for this particular drink, she’s used fresh serrano chiles and then paired them with pear vodka. Triple sec and orange juice take the spicy edge off, but that combo of pear and chili really works. It’s smooth and spicy and, yes, sweet. It’s our Drink of the Week.
ERIN’S LIL’ BIT OF SWEET ‘N’ SPICY 1 3/4 oz. Absolut Pear vodka 1/2 oz. triple sec 1 oz. orange juice 1 oz. sweet and sour 1/3 serrano chili, chopped
Muddle chili in shaker, add ice, liquids and shake. Pour into lowball glass and garnish with lime wedge.
Bo Henry’s 1431 San Andres St. 966-7898 or www.bohenry.com
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you … a cocktail. Yes, we’re paraphrasing, but on this great Labor Day, isn’t this one of our great luxuries in life, enshrined in the Constitution to boot? And shouldn’t we go in search of cocktails made by those who have labored, readily, to provide excellent drinks to several generations?
Yes, we thought so too. That’s how we got in touch with Steve Velliotes, who has tended bar at Joe’s on State Street since 1988. His resume lists several heavyweight Santa Barbara venues that are still with us like Harry’s and The Sportsman, and many that are not: Mom’s and El Patio (where Best Western is on Cabrillo). And another called Tony’s Log Cabin. Never heard of it? It used to sit where Joe’s is now, and Mr. Velliotes’ grandfather used to run it. In fact, bartending “is in the blood,” he says, and that’s the kind of labor on Labor Day we’re toasting: working-class Americans passing down knowledge from generation to generation. And from that knowledge springs Steve’s Mai Tai, his greatest hit, and full of classic tiki goodness, sweet and fruity and even containing Trader Vic’s mai tai mix, surely a blast from the past. This Labor Day, let’s give a nod to the generations that make our drinks and often lend an ear to our problems. And don’t forget to tip!
STEVE’S MAI TAI at JOE’S CAFE 2 1/2 ounces dark rum (preferably Myers’s) 3/4 ounce white rum (preferably Palo Viejo) 1/2 ounce mai tai mix (preferably Trader Vic’s) 1/2 ounce pineapple juice 1/4 ounce orange juice 2 drops grenadine
Add all ingredients over ice, shake and pour into lowball glass. Garnish with lime wedge and cherry.
Joe’s Cafe 536 State St. 966-4638 or www.joescafesb.com
Yes, there is a certain art in making a cocktail … but what about cocktail-themed art? In a Funk Zone collaboration between Reds Bin 211, Ian Cutler’s distillery across the street, and a selection of local artists, the exhibition “Spirits: The Art of Distillation” is exactly what makes the Funk Zone so funky: It’s a mix of people who all care about their craft. Now this column isn’t an art review, so I’ll let you go check the works by Dan Levin, Lindsey Ross and even Reds owner Dana Walters yourself. But as long as the exhibit is up (through Sept. 7), Reds is offering cocktails designed to show off Cutler’s vodka (with proceeds going to The Arts Fund). We decided to try the Tipsy Jalapeño, which uses Cutler’s vodka, grapefruit juice, lemon juice, grapefruit bitters and a ginger-jalapeño simple syrup. Spicy, right? Not really — the grapefruit takes the heat away but leaves the earthy pepper taste. And Cutler’s vodka is smooth to start, so the whole thing wraps up like a nice present of citrus and spice.
And while you’re there at Reds, look up at the bar’s high walls … those two large projection screens are showing video art, close-ups of the distillation process and its final outcome — vodka on the rocks. The videos are by Drink of the Week photographer Nik Blaskovich, so come check it out! TIPSY JALAPEÑO 1 1/2 ounces Cutler’s vodka 1 splash grapefruit juice 1 splash lemon juice 2 dashes Fee’s Grapefruit Bitters 1 squeeze ginger-jalapeño simple syrup (see instructions) 1 rosemary sprig, for garnish
Combine vodka, juices, bitters and syrup over ice, shake and strain into lowball glass filled with ice. Garnish with rosemary sprig.
To make the ginger-jalapeño syrup: simmer 3-4 slices ginger and 5-6 slices jalapeño (both shaped like rounds) in cup of water for a minute or more. Strain out solids, then dissolve 1 cup sugar into water. Let cool and refrigerate.
Benchmark Eatery opened oh-so-softly last month at State and Anapamu streets, filling in the space left by Maggie’s and by extension State & A. The remodel is so, so airy but keeps the double-sided bar. The patio once again offers excellent views of State Street.
But the cocktail menu is what we’re here for, and it does not disappoint. Bartender Randy Brown and GM John Giammanco designed the menu around favorites, but with their own spin. Their Negroni, called the The Standard, features Campari, but chooses RE:FIND gin for their liquor and Byrrh Quinquina as its vermouth. The result: smoooothness . Likewise, The Hound is like a Greyhound but opts of out grapefruit juice and uses a liqueur instead: Pamplemousse, which is grapefruit in French, along with Cutler’s gin, lime juice and a fleur de sel (French sea salt) rim.
But our favorite is the Benchmark, their version of a Manhattan, featuring Benchmark bourbon (a coincidence!), Amaro Nonino as the vermouth and Benedictine as the bitters. There’s also added complexity from both Bitter Truth Creole Bitters, which smells like cinnamon, and Fee Bros. Whiskey Barrel Aged Bitters. This is our Drink of the Week from a very new, very popular spot. See you there!
Are you ready to party like it’s 1989? Roy Gandy of Roy is ready. In honor of celebrating 25 years in the restaurant biz, he is devoting August to his anniversary. He’s dropping prices on everything down to $15. That’s not exactly 1989 prices, but it is cheaper than the last several years. The other major feature is that Mr. Gandy is opening the restaurant for lunch! The last time that happened was … actually, we don’t know when that was. But Restaurant Roy used to be the Expressway Cafe, located at Chapala where it used to cross the freeway, traffic lights and everything. (Lily’s Tacos is there now, and a chain-link fence where there was a road). Mr. Gandy used to offer coffee and snacks to those waiting the eight or so minutes for the light to change on the 101 freeway. That was a long time ago!
For our Drink of the Week, he went back to 1989 and grabbed a popular cocktail, the Kamikaze, and made it for us. It’s equal parts vodka, lime juice and triple sec, essentially a vodka margarita. However, it looks and tastes lovely and sweet, and made the perfect toast for Restaurant Roy, one of the few places in town open till midnight. We’ll drink to that!
At last, we near the end of our three-week journey, ending up in the heart of Fiesta. That is, El Paseo, which, since 1922, has been the place to go for fine Mexican food and a long selection of tequilas. This remnant of what was once a bustling mercado of shops and eateries in the forgone era of the 1970s, before it was turned into, well, law offices, is still pulling people in.
We’ve been trying out various margaritas over these three weeks, and so we scan down the menu until we get to the Black Magic. It’s not called a margarita on the menu, but according to our building blocks of a margarita, it is. It has a tequila — Don Julio Reposado. It has a sweet — St. Germain and some simple syrup. And it has a sour — lemon juice. And it has muddled blackberries to cast the whole thing into a purple haze. So, yes! It is a margarita, and very smooth and fruity and mellow one at that. And yes, El Paseo is going to be blowin’ up by the time you read this. But they’ll still have our Drink of the Week waiting for you.
BLACK MAGIC 3 blackberries 2 ounces Don Julio Reposado tequila 1/2 ounce St. Germain elderflower liqueur 3/4 ounce lemon juice 3/4 ounce simple syrup
Muddle blackberries. Add ice and then tequila, St.-Germain, lemon juice and simple syrup. Shake and strain into cocktail glass.
It’s week two of our Drink of the Week march toward Fiesta! Or rather than march, call it a saunter, with glass in hand. We are keeping our focus on margaritas, that endlessly versatile drink, and the go-to cocktail for Old Spanish Days. We decided to stop by Casa Blanca, the very large and very fun restaurant and bar on the corner of State and Gutierrez. When it first opened, we came here and tried many drinks, including the Sunset Margarita. This time, we wanted to check out the special, which bartender Morgan Moore was happy to make for us: the Prickly Pear Margarita. This cactus fruit has a banana-like texture and flavor and a neon pink color, and makes this drink pop out among all the others at the bar. Moore uses El Charro Reposado tequila, the bar’s well, but you can replace it with your favorite. Also included: lime juice, lemonade and orange juice, instead of the typical sweet and sour mix. This drink was so good, we were done before we started … or it seemed like it, with plenty of citrus-y goodness mixed in with the pear, tangy but soft. It’s our Drink of the Week, but stay tuned next week for our final cocktail!
PRICKLY PEAR MARGARITA 2 ounces. El Charro Reposado Tequila 2 ounces Perfect Purees’ Prickly Pear puree (or any other brand) 1 1/2 ounces triple sec Splash lime juice Splash orange juice Lemonade, to top
Combine tequila, puree, triple sec, lime juice and orange juice over ice and shake. Pour into salt-lined lowball glass, top with lemonade. Garnish with lime wedge.
In just under two weeks, it will be Fiesta, and already we’re thinking about it … just the drinks, of course. OK, yes, we are thinking about the dancing, but that makes us think about the parade, and that makes us think about the mercado, and that makes us think of food, and that makes us thirsty. So there you go.
So what to do? In our first of three suggestions, we think that Palazzio just might be the place to stop. Jamie Freymuth has been the face of Palazzio’s bar for four years and creates all the cocktails there, putting the weekly winners on the little sandwich chalkboard near the street. That’s how we first saw the Jalapeño Margarita.
This is a quick mix. Several slices of jalapeño, then a mix of 1800 Reposado, triple sec, and then Palazzio’s house mix, a 50-50 of lemon and lime juice and simple syrup to top. When Ms. Freymuth unjarred that container of jalapeños, that spicy smell knocked us back, but, fortunately, the drink is sweet, not blasting with heat. It’s designed for a seat at the bar, looking out at the madness of State Street, just above the fray. It’s our Drink of the Week.
JALAPEÑO MARGARITA 2 oz. 1800 Reposado Tequila 3/4 oz. Triple Sec Lemon and lime juice, 50-50 mix, to top Simple syrup to top 3 – 4 jalapeño slices
Muddle jalapeño slices gently at bottom of pint glass. Add tequila, triple sec and ice. Top with equal parts citrus mix and simple syrup. Shake and return to pint glass.