Santa Barbara’s Classic 19th Hole

Text & photos by Shannon Kelley Gould

“Making your way in the world today takes everything you’ve got. Taking a break from all your worries sure would help a lot. Wouldn’t you like to get away? Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. … You wanna go where everybody knows your name.”

The writers of the Cheers theme song sure got that right. And longtime S.B. locals know that the Tee-Off (3627 State St.), with its padded door, dim lighting, world-class prime rib, and famed bartender Tony, is that place — the place where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came. I know this because two friends of mine are serious devotees who worship at the altar of Tony with the kind of regularity that would make Metamucil jealous.

I myself have spent many an evening languishing on one of the Tee-Off’s comfy barstools long enough to leave an imprint of my derriere, and I’ve come to love the place. Not just for Tony’s martinis, the old-school relish trays, or the otherworldly onion rings, but for the fact that, as in the classic ’80s sitcom, at the Tee-Off everyone knows everyone else’s name. And so, one recent Friday evening, I set out to do some peeping, and settled in for the duration.

When we arrived, the members of the early shift had already taken their places around the bar (the only place to sit), but luckily, we spotted two unoccupied stools on the far end, near the kitchen, which we promptly claimed.

My pal pointed out the regulars, and I set out to get some photos. Many refused, offering worries of perceived inappropriateness by way of explanation, and doled out compliments and cocktails by way of easing the rejection, but many others were game. I was chatting up a couple of guys who’d denied me (one’s wife had forbidden him the post-work pit stop), when the spry 80+-year-old “Danny the Barber” strolled in to a cheer. He sat down next to us, and proceeded to wow us with his wisdom about love, marriage, and the perfect haircut. No sooner had he downed his drink and departed to meet his newly betrothed than we were joined by Eddie Beltran, owner of the nearby Tiburon Tavern. Eddie’s girlfriend, Sue Ellen, is a manager at the Tee-Off, and it’s a rare night when the regulars who close the Tee-Off don’t find their way over to the Tiburon, to keep the party going.

The ever-intrepid Tony kept the drinks coming, reciting his favorite Cheers exchange (woody: How ya doin’? norm: Poor. woody: I’m sorry to hear that. norm: No, pour!). Eventually, the early shift vacated and the late shift trickled in, and then, they too drifted away. And, later still, so did we. “Bye, Shannon!” my new friends called. At the Tee-Off, it doesn’t take long for everyone to know your name.

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