Name of Bar: Reds Bar and Tapas
Address: 211 Helena Avenue
Location: in the Funk Zone, at the corner of Yanonali and Helena, city side of the tracks
Days/Hours: 3 PM – 2 AM Tuesday through Friday, 1 PM to 2 AM Saturday and Sunday
Happy Hour: 3 – 7 Tuesday through Friday, $4 cocktails, wine, and tapas; $3 beer
Known As: the standard bearer of the Funk Zone and champion of local art and high-quality ingredients
Famous Staff: Jason and Dana, the Jewel of the Funk Zone and Patron Saint of Noncommercialization
Patrons: an authentically chic crowd of 30- and 40-somethings who’ve invested themselves in the transformation of the Funk Zone
Special Draw: creative cocktails made with farmers’ market fruits and berries
Open Since: 2002, first as a coffee shop, then as a tasting room, finally as a full bar and tapas joint.
Notable Decor: chalk line “photo booth” out back
Before you leave, you should….: …try the Cherub’s Cup, made with citron vodka, sparkling wine, and fresh berries – and ask Liz to put her own spin on it!
My experience: Tonight, Gatsby reigns in the Funk Zone: Fedoras and fascinator headbands, leggy women with drawn-on beauty marks and mixologists with bowties. I feel wrapped in the perfumes and melodies of the Jazz Age. D.on Darox plays his dirty gypsy cabaret down the street, and tonight I’m reviewing Reds, home of prohibition-themed drinks and speakeasy airs.
A mellow din pulsed from a modest building at the corner of Yanonali and Helena. Men and women smoked outside near trays of gourmet cupcakes. Surrounded by the shanty town chic of funked out warehouses, Reds looks like a post-apocalyptic remodel populated by rare, sultry beasts. So this is how we’d rebuild our world? Inside, I found a stained cement wasteland graced with ambient light and sensuous fabrics. There were spaces quartered off for intimate gatherings, a dance floor blocked out by sofas and area rugs. Before glancing at the drink menu, I ordered up a whiskey ginger. Yes, I said, well. There was an air of the primitive here, perhaps of starting over. Candles on the wall illuminated paintings of women distorted by magic or alchemy. Are these the cave paintings of the new race? One in particular catches my eye, a woman with a low, round belly and two sets of breasts. To call her “nude” seems too polite; “naked” feels a bit too Yahwehian. She is pagan, a fertility goddess.
A boyish-looking man with graying hair and a sun-baked grin came and sat down next to me. His name was Jason and he was one of the owners. He’d seen my scribblings and wanted to answer any questions I had. He was warm but breezy, like he knew he had something good here. I asked him to tell me more.
Not too long ago, the Funk Zone was dead. There was nothing there that anyone wanted, other than trouble. It’d survived the 1925 earthquake, but not, apparently, the 1980s. But then people started digging in, establishing these little nooks. They had to; they didn’t belong anywhere else. For years, these little establishments in the Funk Zone nursed themselves on what business they could: a small group of believers. Their strength is owed to those patrons and innovators who’ve invested their lives in creating a space in Santa Barbara for quality ingredients, local flavor, great art, and a sense of history, whose loyalty fostered in Reds an ethic of quality and non-commercialization.
My eyes traveled over the minimalist bar top, over to the candles and the cave paintings, to the jellyfish chandelier. Perhaps the Funk Zone is our post-apocalyptic self-recreation.
A group of 40-year old women were dancing near the DJ’s table. I hadn’t paid much attention to them before, but now they’d been joined by two three policemen, and all eyes were on them. The pair stood in the threshold, silhouetted in the yellow light of a street lamp. They were breaking up the party. Reds doesn’t have a dance permit, Jason explained.
Dance permits have always puzzled me. Are our city officials really as uptight as the grownups from Footloose? Hardly. State Street is lined with dance clubs all operating within earshot of hotels and apartments. My admittedly anarchic impulses triggering, I fill in the blanks. Apparently, only unregulated debauchery poses a threat to decency. Buy a permit from the police, strip your celebration of its spontaneity, its revolutionary potential, and you won’t get any trouble. But most patrons that night held that it’s the new influx of moneyed foot traffic that’s brought Reds under the microscope. A man who’d overheard our discussion came up and slapped a sticker on my arm. It was Johnny Cash, striking an infamously defiant pose.
I thought back to the ‘20s as I drank from a high ball glass garnished with farm fresh fruit. What about that time intrigued these Funk Zone Barbarians? Crime and corruption, underground parties, music and fashion that burned through expectations? Experimenting with freedom requires living outside the law, or at least outside its surveillance. The Funk Zone is a tumbler of small batch bourbon swilled in silence in the shadow of a tree. The Funk Zone is the lifting hem of a sequin skirt that only you can see. Decadence hiding from the light.