Name of Bar: BoHenry’s Cocktail Lounge
Address: 1431 San Andres Street; bohenry.com
Days/Hours: Mon.-Tue.., 3:30 p.m.-1 a.m.; Wed.-Thu., 2 p.m.-1 a.m., Fri., 2 p.m.-2 a.m.; Sat., 3:30 p.m.-2 a.m.
Known For: Stiff drinks, neighborhood feel, good place to meet strangers
Regulars: Salt of the earth, working-class members of the Westside community in their thirties and forties
Overheard: “This is the Westside bar. It’s got deep roots.”
Famous Patrons: Still Jaime, simply a local treasure
Happy Hour Deals: Bottled beers and well drinks weekdays, 4-7 p.m.
Memorable Décor: Abstract and expressionistic-style oil paintings and a shelf of books, all written by the owner, Robert Eringer
Location: Nestled in the heart of the Westside, near some excellent Mexican joints
Fun Fact: They have a phone charger collection, so you’ll always be able to call for a ride!
Recommendation: Order the 120-proof absinthe cocktail with Malibu and pineapple juice and ask the manager, an extremely knowledgeable sous chef, to explain all the different flavors you’re tasting.
My Experience: Palmieri’s was the first bar I visited when I moved to Santa Barbara. Coming back to town from a two-week hiatus, I swung by my favorite bar to find the posters stripped from the walls, the Barbie head long gone. I met the new owner, Robert Eringer, who wore a camel coat and shook my hand excitedly. They were about to clean!
I came back on a Thursday night in May, quietly hoping that not much had changed. If I wanted to drink top-shelf alcohol in some swanky lounge, I’d go downtown.
As I walked in the door, I was heartened. The warmth was still there, but it had a very different quality. Had refinement been bought at the price of charm and comfort?
At the same time, there was Jaime. All the old regulars were in attendance, and they seemed to be kicking back as always. Hip-hop thumped out of the juke, and the bouncer gesticulated wildly. (It seemed the drinks were just as stiff.) The long comfortable booth was gone, replaced with restaurant-style tables and chairs. The walls were covered with oil paintings of cityscapes and portraits of artists. My eyes tripped over the new bar swag: a BoHenry’s polo. I smiled to myself.
Mostly I wanted to know what people thought of the change. I prodded a bit, and people started sharing their opinions, first cautiously then more emphatically. There seemed to be a bit of dissonance between the atmosphere the new owner was trying to create and what the Westside bar was at its core. The makeover was designed to introduce some class to the neighborhood bar, perhaps in an effort to bring in some wealthier patrons or tap into the downtown market.
But the patrons and workers at BoHenry’s are proud that the Westside bar is a neighborhood dive. But that doesn’t mean it’s some grungy hole in the wall. For them, a dive is all about authenticity. It’s a place where pretension gets no special attention and low rent is something to be proud of, where the true owners are the regulars.
So while an inconsistency may exist between the bar’s makeover and its essential character, does that even matter? The bartender put it perfectly: This bar isn’t about the atmosphere, or what kind of art is on the wall, or how many $50 bottles of alcohol are on the shelf. It’s a gathering place. You could make this bar look and smell like anything, and all the old regulars and Westside locals would take it right back to where it was before.
Because the people who come to BoHenry’s don’t come for the atmosphere or for the art on the walls. They don’t choose it for the novelty. They go there because it’s their bar, the only bar on the Westside. It has deep roots, and it isn’t going anywhere, and it’s not going to change. At least not from the outside in.