Name of Bar: Seven Bar and Kitchen
Address: 224 Helena Street
Location: the up-and-coming Funk Zone
Days/Hours: Monday to Friday, 5 PM – 1 AM; Saturday and Sunday, 12 PM – 1 AM
Happy Hour: Monday through Friday from 3 PM to 7 PM
Champion of: locally sourced food and drink and the Funk Zone Renaissance
Notable Decor: brick, barn boards, and a rotating assortment of art created by local artists with a heavy urban influence
Patrons: young locals looking for an underground feel
Special Draw: a fine collection of whiskeys
Food: American grill food with vegetarian options and a Farmer’s Market upgrade. Try one of their Seven Deadly Sins Sandwiches!
Open Since: March 7th, 2013
My experience: At 10:15 on Saturday night, Seven was packed to the gills. A small mob of men and women wearing fascinators and Oxford shoes stood outside the door and smoked their cigarettes with a silky sexiness. There was no sign, just an old whiskey barrel and a familiar face. At the door, legs apart and wrists clasped in front, stood a man who could only be described as imposing. He wore his suit and maroon shirt with ease, but his neck tattoos and white-laced Docs gave the trick away. Dakota broke his poker face, gave me a card and a wristband, and instructed me to go around back where I could gamble. “Tell him you’re my housemate,” he said, but it wasn’t quite true. I walked back into the emptiness with trepidation, but also with the thrill of discovery. I found a tall black man who wore his scarf and high tops as though he belonged in Crown Heights, and he let me in.
It was Twenties Night, in celebration of the owner’s birthday, and we were playing dress-up; the night was full of whiskey and gambling and flapper dresses. The whole scene looked as though every young socialite in 1920s Atlantic City had gathered at some moonshine distillery. I felt like I was in on a secret. Slinky elegance and barn-board Americana carved out a love nest where they could be as refined as they were dangerous. Mason jar lanterns hung from the trees like an Appalachian Christmas, and young men roared as they threw sevens and knocked back Manhattans.
So this was the new Funk Zone.
A gin and tonic seemed fitting, so I ordered one and found a quiet perch from which I could observe the crowd. I wished I’d worn fishnets. It reminded me of Brooklyn, with its unmistakable cool and crooked smile. It was hip and urban, well-read with a side of danger. But it had a particular Santa Barbarian flair. As though we’d gotten a taste of that debauched elegance, but had passed on the New York neuroses and the ill-fitting sweaters. Women had turned down East Coast pixies in favor of Brazilian blowouts, and everyone wore heels.
Under the glow of a heated lamp, Dakota introduced me to the owners, who told me of their passion for bringing together local businesses. It was clear that their mission went far beyond trying to sell drinks and bar food. They’d worked to cultivate a Funk Zone dedicated to music, art, and wine. And whiskey, of course. They’d succeeded in creating a hip, underground space for young locals to enjoy a night on the town, complete with fine liquors, organic fare, and soulful live music. Their profits went to support the Fishbon Artist Collaboration, and they planned to commission a Funk-style mural to adorn the warehouses surrounding their back patio. They’d only just opened in March, and while they were pleased with what they’d already accomplished, they weren’t finished.
As I stumbled out to my bike at the end of the night, I felt good about Santa Barbara. Hopeful. Santa Barbara needed something between the chaotic roar of Downtown and comfortable domesticity of bars packed with aging regulars. Something that catered to locals but challenged tradition, something with claws. Seven had that energy, that underground appeal, and it was contagious. I couldn’t wait to see how this story unfolded.