If learning that The Good Lion takes its name from a Hemingway children’s story about a lion that prefers scampi and Negronis instead of fresh kill doesn’t charm you, the bar itself certainly will. Opened last month by recently transplanted Angelenos Brandon and Misty Ristaino inside the Granada building where Marquee used to be, The Good Lion (1212 State St., (310) 770-0899, facebook.com/TheGoodLionBar) exudes old-world charm and ease. But it’s also “Santa Barbara market fresh and seasonal,” said Brandon, adding, “what an amazing market town this is.”
After 17 years in the restaurant business, Brandon decided against opening something down south. “In Los Angeles, we’d be the 98th place trying to do this — here, we’re the 10th or 11th,” he explained. “Plus I’ve always had a yearning for a Southern European lifestyle of small towns with parades and a sense of community.”
That sense shows in their offerings, from cocktails with Ventura Spirits (try the Spanish G+T, accented with cinnamon) to C’est Cheese, Crazy Good Bread, and 24 Blackbirds on the menu, which leans toward Spanish tapas and is provided by next-door neighbor Sama Sama. “We had a friendship right from the beginning,” explained Brandon. “What was supposed to be a meet and greet turned into a three-hour dinner. We’re happy to have their food served here.” The small plate menu features, among other tasty bites, the addictively crispy patatas bravas and gambas al ajillo (garlic-butter-poached shrimp) over rice. “Isn’t that great?” asked Brandon. “I don’t know how they get that much flavor in there.”
The same can be said for the cocktails; take the Rosemary Clooney, pleasantly herbal with rosemary, vodka, citrus, honey, and just the perfect amount of absinthe. It’s clear that the Ristainos know all about balance behind the bar.