At Santa Barbara’s Farmers Markets, professional chefs — identifiable by their crates of fresh veg, and, often, branded baseball hats — have become a fixture. Bartenders, on the other hand: not so much. But if you pay attention, you just might spot one — recognizable, sometimes, by his speakeasy-inspired suit — gathering fruit, bundles of herbs, and bags of pistachios. And if you follow him, you just might land at the Wildcat.
From 4-8 p.m. every Tuesday (and, soon, Saturday), Patrick Reynolds — who bartends regularly at the Kitty — takes a break from mixing vodka tonics and kamikaze shots to do what he really loves, conceiving and mixing cocktails featuring fresh ingredients and inventive homemade syrups and infusions.
He calls this operation Farm to Bar, and he’s been at it since July 2011, when, as part of a one-night, citywide, multi-establishment fundraiser for area surfer/snowboarder Andre Barbieri, who lost his leg in a snowboarding accident, Reynolds proposed the farm-to-bar idea to Wildcat owner Bob Stout. (As for Barbieri? He’s currently training for the Rio Olympics, as a triathlete. Feeling inadequate on your two legs?)
The concoctions Reynolds comes up with are not your regular — or even your standard above-average — cocktails, a fact likely owing to his résumé: He’s worked in restaurants for years, often not behind the bar at all but in the kitchen. In fact, he trained at SBCC’s culinary school.
“But I started to burn out,” he said, of his gig at Epiphany (which occupied the space that’s now Arlington Tavern, prior to HobNob). “After 15 hours, all you want to do is peel your socks off. Then you go home, and it’s like, ‘you want me to cook?’”
He thought about quitting, but his boss had another idea: “They asked if I wanted to be a bartender. I thought I’d try it, and it was the funnest thing.”
He’s good at it, too. He won the Arch Rock Fish cocktail contest last year, and his entry for The Santa Barbara Independent’s cocktail contest — the “Hot Tamale,” made with corn-tortilla-infused Tito’s vodka and homemade cinnamon/chile simple syrup — was described by Matt Kettmann as “nothing short of eye-opening.”
Walking the market on a recent Tuesday afternoon, he said, “I can’t really make a menu ’til I get here. I used to get really nervous, but I thought, well, if you get nervous once a week, that’s good because you care.”
It might be easier to mix drinks he could practice and perfect over time, using ingredients that are always available, but, in naming the endeavor Farm to Bar, Reynolds presented himself with a challenge — one he’s embraced. “Back when I first started at the Hungry Cat, the rule was, everything around you is what you can use; things that grow here and are in season. And I was like, I like this idea, I can understand that. … I love flavors and putting things together,” he said, grabbing some guavajillos to take a sniff. “They’re like Hawai‘i. Makes it easy to get someone excited about your rum cocktails!”
For the evening, he picks up some fresh lemongrass, cilantro, thyme, sage, and a bag of hickory-smoked pistachios. “I call this vegan bacon. I love them with Bourbon.”
Back at the Kitty, Reynolds gets down to business. But first: ambiance. The TV is tuned to TCM (“Either that or Kung Fu or Old Westerns”); Buddy Holly’s “Early in the Morning” on the stereo. Actually, at this time of day, the Wildcat could be mistaken for an entirely different animal than the one it resembles at last call; the vinyl, the stripped-down tunes (The Black Keys playing now), the last of the day’s light peeking through the opened blinds (and nary a caged dancer) transform it into a spot fit for a crowd that’s a little bit older, maybe, and much more serious about its drinks.
Speaking of, Reynolds is mixing up one he calls Thaiphun. He starts with his Thai-inspired cold-pressed simple syrup, made from sugar-macerated ginger, lemongrass, cucumber, Thai chile, and jasmine flowers; that’s then mixed with gin and rice wine vinegar and garnished with fresh lemongrass and cilantro. It starts off sweet and fragrant but packs some serious heat. Much like good Thai food. And it’s impossible to put down.
“I’ve always lived here, so I wanted one of those badass bars that everybody talks about, like in Chicago or New York,” he said. “It’s like, if we all love speakeasies and craftsman cocktails, well, make ’em!”
Farm to Bar takes place every Tuesday evening at the Wildcat, 4-8 p.m. Saturdays coming soon. For info, email@example.com.