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.
Though Break Time is a quintessential dive bar in all the best senses of the word – strong drinks, jovial atmosphere, free popcorn, pool tables, carousing customers – owners Liz and Carl Quinn like to mess around with the cocktail menu, whipping things up to please the college crowd, and dare them. This is what we discovered one recent night when we stopped by.
The BT-Rita was our challenge, a margarita designed to be as spicy as possible but without becoming undrinkable. Carl Quinn knew habanero was the way to go. But the first habanero-infused tequila they produced was so hot it made them ill, Mr. Quinn laughed. Several experiments later, the right amount of peppers was determined, and resulted in an interesting mix of Espolon tequila, Aperol, their margarita mix, a bit of agave and orange juice for color (and just to cool that thing down). In a pint glass, this was a lot of cocktail to take in, but as with spicy drinks, one sip leads to another. It was not too sweet or heavy on the tequila, but we were glad we weren’t driving.
Eighty years ago today, the 21st amendment to the Constitution ended 13 years of Prohibition and, as the song goes, happy days were here again. Several years ago, Jeffrey Morganthaler, the influential Portland mixologist, suggested in a blog post that we should all raise a glass on Dec. 5 to properly toast the reason we can drink in public without fear of jail time.
And I’m doing just that as one half of the team putting on Repeal Day Santa Barbara for the third year in a row. We took Mr. Morganthaler’s idea and started a little bar tour that this year has expanded to eight of downtown’s favorite drinking establishments. The fun begins at 5 p.m. today at participating bars including Roy, Marquee, Milk & Honey, Cielito, Cadiz, Pickle Room, Blue Agave and Wildcat Lounge. Each bar will offer specialty cocktails and more. Dressing up in Roaring ’20s attire is encouraged. For more details, go to http://repealdaysb.com.
The story of a pleasant Thanksgiving is still clouded by a particularly grumpy one spent absolutely shattered, on a couch in the living room, surrounded by family having fun, as the world’s worst head cold ran riot around the noggin. But we’ve all been there, right? A warm drink, something preferably with whiskey, is just what the infirm need in this season. But also, it’s a perfect finish to a meal that might just be sending you into a food coma.
So we here at Drink of the Week would like to provide a public service this holiday (and sickness) season, and find a cocktail that solves all our problems.
We’ve always loved Dawn O’Brien’s bars — the Mercury Lounge in Goleta and Elsie’s in Santa Barbara, which she has since sold, not that it looks any different. But DOTW has never been able to cover them because of their lack of hard liquor n’ cocktails.
That has changed, sometime back in July, with the opening of The Imperial, in the location once held by the Bak-Dor. And Ms. O’Brien has brought her own funky style to the remodel. There’s the tiki vibe, the low golden brown lighting, and the extensive vinyl selection, from Blue Note jazz to modern pop.
Pitch black is the new black. At least when it comes to Halloween cocktails. Just ask Alison Riede, who came up with our Drink of the Week — the Dark ‘n’ Gory, her twist on the classic Dark and Stormy cocktail, using one of the darkest rums out there: Whaler’s. Add to that, Riede uses a Black Lemonade from a company called Skeleteen. (Look for it at BevMo! because that’s the only place we’ve seen it.) There’s a skull on the label, so it’s easy to spot, and it’s not alcoholic, either.
Cupcake maven Ms. Riede, who hosts cupcake pairings — with alcohol — every Sunday at Corks n’ Crowns in Santa Barbara, also adds a little bit of brown sugar and lychee juice to sweeten it up, and a rim of red sugar … or is it blood sugar? And to make it all that more spooktacular, Ms. Riede made “eyes” from lychees with blueberries stuffed inside. Tip: Sprinkle some leftover red sugar on the “eyes” and soon they’ll be “bloodshot.” With two impaled eyes on a straw resting on the rim, you have a drink that seems to be checking out the drinker, perfect for your Halloween party!
Strewth! It’s about time we checked out Outback Steakhouse, the “American restaurant with the Australian Theme” as it was described to us. (Indeed, one Aussie once told us there cannot be an “Alice Springs Chicken” because “there are no chickens in Alice Springs, mate!”). But blimey, it is a very popular franchise to own for some. For Sonny Buttler, the fast-talkin’ Brooklynite who opened the place in 1997, it’s been humming right along in its Calle Real strip mall, watching neighboring stores and restaurants come and go, rise and fall.
Outback has survived. So we wanted to try something from the cocktail menu, which lists eight martinis, seven margaritas, four sangrias, two mojitos and a wallaby in a pear tree. (Okay, maybe not that last one.)
Things change. Nothing stays the same. The poet Shelley said so thusly: “Man’s yesterday may ne’er be like his morrow; / Nought may endure but Mutability.” And we’re OK with that.
Yet sometimes miracles happen. We’re talking about the reopening of Jimmy’s Oriental Gardens after seven years or so of waiting.
Yes, the place has a new name: The Pickle Room. But, hey, owner Bob Lovejoy, proprietor of next door’s Three Pickles deli, has been nursing this dream to reopen his favorite watering hole since former Jimmy’s owner and longtime friend Tommy Chung closed the establishment.
Balsamic vinegar. That’s just for dipping, right? Or fancy desserts? Caprese salad, certainly. Despite its mix of sweet and tart, it’s not the ingredient one associates with cocktails. But as we found out the other night, vinegar is slowly making its way back onto the menu of many mixologists, who are starting to figure out the versatility of this ingredient.
That’s a long introduction for one of our Drink of the Week friends, Sean Sepulveda, who wants everybody to know that Cadiz is now open on Monday evenings, and doing quite well, thank you very much. This section of State Street (Cota to Haley) is bustling even on this slowest of days.
Liquor licenses are a precious commodity in Santa Barbara. Ask any restaurateur or bar owner and they’ll tell you the trials and tribs to get one, including the lottery system, the wait and the cash outlay. (Compare the affordable beer and wine license offered in town.) But fortunately, when an eatery like Scarlett Begonia gets one, it makes it worth its weight (and wait). More than any bar we’ve been to recently, the folks at Scarlett Begonia are bringing in an eclectic selection of liquor and liqueurs, and also sourcing local ingredients when possible.
Proprietor Crista Fooks and Kentucky transplant David Byrd have combined their love of old cocktail books and new trends, and come up with a fantastic cocktail list (there’s even cocktails for the morning shift, including the Liquid Breakfast).