So John Milton, Edgar Allen Poe, Edwin Arnold, Robert Frost, Stevie Smith, and Shel Silverstein walk into a bar. Well, they don’t actually walk, as they’re all versifying in the hereafter now, but poems by all six are being celebrated by Santa Barbara mixologists in honor of National Poetry Month. After all, for centuries the arts have inspired, intertwined, and cross-pollinated in a host of sacred and profane ways, so what seems more natural than flipping the typical paradigm and having poetry lead to some cocktails?
Bartenders rose to the challenge at some of our best bars: Bacara, Cielito, Hollister Brewing Company, Intermezzo, and Sly’s. All these cocktails will be on special for the month, so get them while you can, but don’t forget Dorothy Parker’s sage lines: “I like to have a martini, two at the very most. After three I’m under the table, after four I’m under my host.”
Over-indulging is the greatest risk at Bacara, where head bartender Nick Faccuito (formerly of Intermezzo) came up with both the Poe-inspired Raven and the Silverstein-based Alice. The former, according to Faccuito, is a take on a Dark and Stormy, with muddled ginger instead of ginger beer, about which he explained, “Whether drinking this during a ‘bleak December,’ or while troubled by a ghost or bird, we’re confident you will not say ‘Nevermore’ after one of these.” About the Alice, a gin-based drink with citrus, Prosecco, and more, he said, “I thought this cocktail would be great to express Silverstein’s fun and childish poetry.”
Mandy Chinn, manager and head bartender at Sly’s, went for a bit more teenaged appeal: “I chose ‘Not Waving, but Drowning’ because it was one that I memorized for a dramatic reading assignment in high school and I’ve never forgotten it. It’s so melancholy and sort of melodramatic … which the 17-year-old me totally was.” Her drink is a riff on a Negroni, “but is like its more clinically depressed cousin,” with gin, Luxardo Amaro, dry sherry, and orange bitters. Then there’s the perfectly apropos drowned orange peel at glass’s bottom.
For more uplift one can head to Intermezzo, where Branden Bidwell, wine director and past winner of The Santa Barbara Independent’s own Sizzling Summer Cocktail Contest (as was Chinn), came up with the Frost-influenced A Peck of Gold. “It’s a ‘when life gives you lemons, make lemonade’ type of a poem,” Bidwell explained. “The drink is a simple whiskey sour with a twist: local pixie tangerines.”
Jenny Sperling and Mike Makris also celebrated the spring season by turning to Arnold’s “Almond Blossom.” The Hollister Brewing Company cocktail features not only almond and vanilla bean–infused vodka, coconut milk, and coffee but also orange blossom honey “from our local farmers market and also found in our new specialty beer Orange Blossom Special.”
Finally, Sean Sepulveda, Cielito’s head bartender, went and gave the assignment an, er, twist. “I remembered reading John Milton’s Paradise Lost some time ago; it’s a dark, difficult read. Given the name of our restaurant, which means ‘little bit of heaven,’ I thought perhaps Paradise Found would be an appropriate name.” The serrano-infused blanco-tequila–based drink hides other surprises like peach juice, but it far from hides its exotic, if suitably local, garnish: an edible orchid.
Toast Poetry Month with themed cocktails at Bacara (8301 Hollister Ave., Goleta), (805) 968-0100, bacararesort.com; Cielito (1114 State St., in La Arcada), (805) 965-4770, cielitorestaurant.com; Hollister Brewing Company (6980 Marketplace Dr., Goleta, in Camino Real Marketplace), (805) 968-2810, hollisterbrewco.com; Intermezzo (813 Anacapa St.), (805) 966-9463, intermezzosb.com; and Sly’s (686 Linden Ave., Carpinteria), (805) 684-6666, slysonline.com.