Tuesday, August 21 , 2018, 1:28 pm | Overcast with Haze 71º


Tara Jones: The Wildcat’s Farm-to-Bar Is a Libationist’s Paradise

Thanks to creative ingredients and innovative concotions, the venerable downtown lounge is transforming happy hour, one drink at a time

Bartender Patrick Reynolds entertains guests with stories of how he met his wife in the “old days” at the Wildcat Lounge, 15 W. Ortega St. in downtown Santa Barbara. (Tara Jones photo / Eat This, Shoot That!)
Bartender Patrick Reynolds entertains guests with stories of how he met his wife in the “old days” at the Wildcat Lounge, 15 W. Ortega St. in downtown Santa Barbara. (Tara Jones photo / Eat This, Shoot That!)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

I’m not usually a skeptic, but I’ve been to the place the locals “affectionately” call The Kitty.

In my younger years, I’ve waited in line at midnight on the street that perpetually smells like New York City in the summertime. And I’ve seen things in this club ... strange and unusual things that are usually reserved for tongue-in-cheek parodies on late-night TV shows.

But I have never, in my 12 years of living in Santa Barbara, seen a gritty nightclub transformed into a foodie’s paradise that makes one feel as though they’ve been transported to another place and time.

With Turner Classic Movies on the televisions and Fats Waller on the speakers, the Wildcat Lounge has shown this skeptic that there is more than meets the eye at one of Santa Barbara’s oldest nightclubs.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Before my venture to the Wildcat during daylight hours, I met bartender Patrick Reynolds on the corner of State and Cota streets and followed him through the maze of people crowded around the vegetable and fruit stands of the Tuesday afternoon State Street Farmers Market.

I watched as he tossed cherimoyas, guavayos, arugula, sage and za’atar into a bag while jovially chatting up farmers and locals alike.

For this tall drink of water, every Tuesday is Christmas and the people at the farmers market are his family.

After my induction into the inner circle of farmers and local produce shoppers on State Street, I followed an excited Reynolds back to the Wildcat, at 15 W. Ortega St., where I suspected I would be dropping the hammer in this review.

But when I saw that the place was transformed to feel more like a scene from Casablanca than The Hangover, I acquiesced to the idea of possibly being impressed.

After serving the first couple of the afternoon, Reynolds turned to me and chirped, “Wanna try something weird?”

As I chewed on some spicy basil, I watched as he chopped and peeled his treasures from the market with sighs that are usually reserved for newborn babes.

Reynolds handed me an orange-colored, rum-based drink and declared, “Viola!”

When I asked him what I was drinking, he replied, “It’s a ... Kamehameha, as in King Kamehamea.”

As others started asking what the name of their drink was, I quickly learned that each drink not only had its own name, it was a one of a kind.

And when guests asked Reynolds what was in their drinks he didn’t just list ingredients; he dissected each flavor in a multitude of detail.

There is no rhyme or reason to the menu for Tuesdays at the Wildcat, but visitors are guaranteed to be delighted by the creative stylings of this happy bartender.

When the first patrons of the day were saying their goodbyes, Reynolds shouted at them, “Have a fun shot with me!”

I watched as the couple happily sat back down with excited eyes, eagerly awaiting another masterpiece to touch their lips.

As Reynolds says, this is the place to come on a Tuesday afternoon — not just for a drink, but to be inspired before you go home to cook dinner.

Delighted guests of the Wildcat’s Farm-to-Bar cocktail time will wait with bated breath while Reynolds and Charlie Wood, whom Reynolds affectionately calls the bone and marrow of the operation, vigorously shake fresh concoctions in their faces.

The Wildcat isn’t just making drinks on Tuesdays. It’s giving happy hour in Santa Barbara a new name, one drink at a time.

Farm-to-Bar is happening from 4 to 6 p.m. every Tuesday at the Wildcat Lounge, 15 W. Ortega St. Click here for more information, or call 805.962.7970.

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.

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