For the past several months I’ve heard myself say ad nauseam: “I need a vacation.”
And it’s true. I really could use a solid week on a beach that isn’t here with my toes in the sand and a good cocktail in hand. (Pardon the rhyme.)
And while I do, in fact, have a vacation planned that is fast approaching, I still need a place to get away to trick my mind into thinking its on holiday.
Lucky for me (lucky for all of us!) there are two such places in town that help me forget about the workday and get my shoulders to relax.
Finch & Fork
The Canary Hotel is often overlooked by us locals, but offers an incredible oasis at its bar and restaurant that makes one feel worlds away from the old ball and chain aka the office desk.
Having been a patron to the bar several times in the past, the drinks had been hit or miss. Order a standard drink and you’ll probably be OK. Order something “exotic” on the menu? Be prepared.
Joe Dohany, former Seattleite, has brought a new flavor to Canary Hotel’s Finch & Fork and brought with him a bit of balance to the bar.
In light of the recent recession, Dohany is making lemonade with his lemons since he found his passion in the culinary world after his years of trudging through the corporate jungle came to a halt.
He has taken his knowledge of flavor and cooking behind the bar and is concocting unique farm-to-bar cocktails, some featuring local distillers as well as local ingredients.
His guava margarita has quickly become a local favorite; blended with a jalapeño infusion that is so light it goes down like the guava juice I once had in Fiji.
And when the rains finally do come down in Santa Barbara, I’d recommend ordering the House Barrel-Aged Manhattan.
Dohany is barrel-aging Woodford Reserve rye in old Campari barrels for 30 days and putting a unique spin on the traditional Manhattan cocktail.
I always thought that people who were into the tiki look were the sort that enjoyed having plastic pink flamingos on their front lawn; a uniquely tacky people group who embodied the term “campy” in every sense.
And I don’t think I’m wrong, but for Good Lion and Test Pilot owners, Brandon Ristaino and Misty Orman, the love of tiki is more evident in the drinks than the décor.
Ristaino and Orman had always had their eye on the Funk Zone neighborhood for their wild dream of opening a tiki bar, but had never had any luck at finding such a place until a year ago when Reds Bin 211, a little-known historic building, became available.
They tied the building’s history of being a former holding cell for drunken prisoners neatly into their exotic dream bar, including a bit of local lore about the rum runners who ran hooch on their boat, Sea Wolf, from the Channel Islands to the mainland during Prohibition.
Presentation plays as much a part in this bar’s experience as the tropic-inspired drinks.
Ristaino’s love and obsession with the tiki culture and search for the purest form of Trader Vic’s rum is what puts these cocktails on a whole other level and easily transports one from the beaches of Santa Barbara to an exotic locale.
The Mai Tais come standard at this bar and can’t be beat, but the real show stoppers are El Presidente and the Suisse Family Robinson, a play on the traditional creamy frothy nightcap Absinthe Suisse cocktail (or Suissesse for all you old-timers).
If you’ve heard any buzz about this new bar and thought “fruity, froufrou, sickeningly sweet drinks” like I did, you’d be wrong.
El Presidente, served in a more traditional, non-kitschy glass, was surprisingly refreshing, well balanced and savory with its concoction of rum, curacao, house-made grenadine, bitters and blanc vermouth made with fortified wine.
While I enjoy a well-made standard cocktail over something daring that doesn’t quit meet expectations, I was pleasantly surprised by the Suisse Family Robinson made with px sherry (Pedro Ximenez for all you sherry neophytes) that tasted of rum-raisin with a coconut shave ice after taste.
While the days get shorter and somehow oddly hotter, you’ll find me spending some quality time in this tastefully campy bar until my real vacation date arrives.
— Tara Jones leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at [email protected]. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.