Santa Barbara Brewing Co. and Restaurant
501 State St., 730-1040
Care for a Beverage?
501 State St., 730-1040
Many years ago, Europe lived on beer, a combo of the ubiquitous beverage and a grainy stew made from the ubiquitous beverage. Then came Budweiser, which almost destroyed the golden beverage’s credibility. Fast-forward to today, and there are breweries in every cool American town, our own notwithstanding. Santa Barbara Brewing Co. makes brewski right in front of you in its fine restaurant, and the masterminds had the funny audacity to call their most popular beer Santa Barbara Blonde. Today, at the end of history, everybody is happy, especially if they can have some S.B. Blonde of their own.
Finalist The Brew House
S.B. Brewed Beer
Finalist Firestone Pale Ale
S.B. County Winery Red Wine
125 N. Refugio Rd., Santa Ynez, 688-9463
“Yay,” said boisterous bacchanalian Elizabeth Gunn-Baumann, who is very busy handling the winery’s E-commerce, but managed to take a few minutes to talk to us. “I think this is the fifth win in a row. It’s great. I also have to say I think it’s the merlot everybody loves. We make a fantastic merlot because we grow it organically, which brings out the fruit,” she said. “There are no additives to get in the way,” she added, crediting owners Fred and Linda Rice, who began planting vines in 1989 and opened their wine tasting room in 1994.
Finalist Firestone Vineyard
S.B. County winery White Wine
5000 Zaca Station Rd., Los Olivos, 688-3940
“I would say that the award should go on the strength of all our white wines,” said Firestone spokesperson Christopher Weir, not meaning to sound like he’s avoiding the question concerning which one the readers mean. There has always been a big commitment to such white wines as gewürztraminer, chardonnay, and sauvignon blanc, the last of which, according to Weir, is enjoying particular popularity lately. But so have all the whites. “I think in the past five years there has been a renewal of interest by the Firestone family and its winemaker Kevin Willenborg. I think if you haven’t tried a Firestone wine lately, you should. You will probably be surprised,” he said.
Finalist Sanford Winery and Vineyard
Restaurant Wine List; Place for Wine Tasting
813 Anacapa St., 966-9463
It’s certainly more than a wine list or a shop — it’s a central meeting place for the downtown movers and shakers. It’s always been a Mecca for hot dates, and as caterers, the place oils high-end get-togethers admirably. But it did start out as a great wine store before all this foodishness became widespread. The collection of wine is fantastic and the pairing of drink with dinner is done on a post-graduate level by the experienced chefs and sommeliers. The Wine Cask lives up to its reputation.
Finalists Restaurant Wine List: Bouchon; Place for Wine Tasting: Sunstone Vineyards and Winery
Beer Selection on Tap
5925 Calle Real, Goleta, 967-0128
There are 39 unbottled beers on the wall — and a cider — according to bartender Kerby Neal. That’s just the tap beers; there are about a jillion bottled beers, too. She thinks Sunshine Wheat and Blue Moon, a nice little beer from Denver, are the current best, but that’s just her taste. With seven domestic and 32 foreign brews from which to choose, you should probably go and make up your own mind. By the way, Neal is happy. “Isn’t it exciting we won?” she asked non-rhetorically.
Finalist Santa Barbara Brewing Co. and Restaurant
Coffee House; Iced Mocha
321 Motor Wy., 962-0320; 607 Paseo Nuevo, 962-2070
“I’m blown away,” said Matt Moore, director of S.B. RoCo’s wholesale operations. For 16 years, the coffee shop has anchored lower State Street just above the freeway bridge, and for most of those years has been voted S.B.’s favorite coffee shop. But for many of the last 10 years another prominent shop has monopolized the iced mocha prize. “We do one thing — coffee — and we do it well,” explained Moore, who claimed that the true small-batch roasting and dry cooling technique RoCo uses makes them stand out in a crowd of beans.
Finalist Coffee House; iced mocha: The Daily Grind — Coffee & Tea Station
10 El Paseo, 962-6050
It’s been the center of the town since before World War II, opened to the skies on balmy evenings and reflecting an authentic Spanish mood and flavor. Of course, to be perfectly tuned into its milieu, the bar should make a stunning sangria, and for all we know it probably does. But year after year, the voters remember it for the drink fostered in Mexico, the margarita. For a town saturated in Mexican food and drink, it’s the street in Spain where the people go to drink tequila, lime, and triple sec.
Finalist Acapulco Mexican Restaurant y Cantina
31 W. Carrillo St., 884-0300
“I assume they mean El Cielo bar,” said Tony DiRaimondo, director of sales and marketing for the posh hotel that stands close to Greyhound’s downtown depot. The high-end bar on the roof (there’s also a bar in their restaurant) became instantly popular, he said. “I think the view is great, they have nice drinks, and the overall ambiance has made it the place to gather.” DiRaimondo likes the rhythms of the bar, too. “It’s a place people go right after work, say from 6 to 10 p.m. Then they go somewhere else. It’s nice that way.”
Finalist Four Seasons Biltmore
Singles Bar; Place to Dance
15 W. Ortega St., 962-7970
Most of the bartenders like the fact that the Wildcat has a theme for each evening. Sometimes it’s a deejay, sometimes it’s a local band, and other times it’s gay night (that would be Sundays), or maybe the night to bust the macarena. They even have a 1990s nostalgia night. But mostly the place thrives on its neighborhood-meets-the-downtown-club-scene straddling of worlds. Whatever night you pick, the bar is usually sporting a crowd of like-minded folk to scratch away with you.
Finalists Singles Bar: Sevilla; Place to Dance: SOhO Restaurant & Music Club
Coffee by the Pound
3905 State St., Ste. 2, 687-9952
It may not be the strongest coffee in the world. And maybe Muhammad Ali wasn’t really the greatest fighter. But who cares about technicalities when you are faced with any magnificence, and the perfectly oily, rich, and mind-tightening experience of drinking Peet’s is brewed bliss. The reader’s agree — it’s the best bean Barbarenos can buy.
Finalist Trader Joe’s
536 State St., 966-4638
For years now, the rivalry for strongest imbibition has waged between Joe’s and Harry’s. It’s the kind of deadlocked, push-me-pull-you fight a lot of journalists we know would like to judge, many of whom have already warmed up for the bout. Barring truly scientific analysis though, we’ll side with our readers who voted for downtown this year. We urge all to drink responsibly, of course, and also to appreciate that the readers who’ve been doing all this research have found some serious proof.
Finalist Harry’s Plaza Café