Name of Bar: Restaurant Roy
Address: 7 West Carrillo Street
Location: Just a half-block west of State Street
Days/Hours: 6 p.m. to midnight every day
Known For: Unique drinks, homegrown art and music, and a posh patronage
Special Draw: Dinner served until midnight every night!
Notable Decor: Mosaic scuba diver sculpture wearing a gas mask and a propeller
Patrons: Cultured young professionals and supporters of the arts
Guilty Pleasure: An exquisite chocolate martini
Discovery of the Night: Monthly artist residencies, featuring the same artist every Saturday at 10 p.m. for a whole month.
Food: Creative cuisine served in delicate portions, but consumed much less delicately
Before you leave you should…: Ask about their backgammon tournament!
My Experience: Roy. A posh little lounge and restaurant tucked just off of State on Carrillo, hiding in plain sight. When I open the door, I’m hit with thrilling blues and sultry reds, soaring walls hung with graphic art and strange artifacts from another world. A curious scuba man sculpture and a behemoth wrought iron chandelier allude to a mermaid’s treasure trove. A quick look along the shelf tells me this is a wine and cocktail bar. (Are the beers stocked to please the barbarian songsmiths who drift here and there?) I order the house cabernet. From the tiny stage to the left, obscured from my little corner, an acoustic frontman asks how you’re feeling tonight and rolls out smooth jazz vocals.
It’s a night for sexy love songs on Carillo tonight. Listeners lean in close over low-lit tables with the smiles that say, ‘Let’s get out of here.’ Primal expressionist art speaks the words that none else dare. It really is quite impressive, what they’ve done with this small space. Booths of tailored red leather are arranged to maximize capacity sacrificing neither intimacy nor privacy, and lofty industrial ceilings create easy space.
Roy doesn’t feel at all cramped, but I’m lucky to find a seat. I finish my wine to applause not meant for me, and turn to face the neon sign hanging behind the bar. “Jolly Tiger,” it reads, in joyful bounding font. I ask for a drink menu and open it to find the dancing scrawl of a second grader. I discover classic quaffs and novel concoctions all reasonably priced. Here, the Jolly Tiger: aperol, St. Germain, and blood orange syrup. I order one and worry aloud that I could drink 10 of these things.
A new act takes the stage, this one more thunderous and powerful, righteous, even. I look around at the audience. A few seats away, a man in a plush track suit orders an old fashioned and waxes prophetic about the future of the Funk Zone. Listening, nearby patrons peer from the undersides of wire-rimmed glasses, caressing neat facial hair. They were human rights do-gooder types and artists greying around the ears. They seemed like they might be the type to care about what you really thought, not just whether you were “fun.” I gazed at my drink, through the bottom of the glass. It made me feel sad in a longing sort of way.
The next week, I came back for a romantic night on the town. That night, Santa Barbara Sings presented “Girls of Rock.” To be sure, some of these women were talented and powerful and came to the stage with real stories to tell. However, most performers were high school girls whose self-esteem outreached their talent. Too much ukelele and faltering falsetto. They covered rock classics and pop songs in the style of lo-fi indie folk.
I remember looking over to study my rocker boyfriend, who makes his living doing sound for bands like Snakefist and A+ in Evil, but he maintained a pleasant demeanor. He insisted that his lobster entree was exquisitely prepared and presented, but I worried that this man of large appetites might not be satisfied with such lilliputian proportions. Fortunately, the desserts were a bit larger, and a luscious dark chocolate mousse hit the spot just right.
Roy is an asset to the downtown scene. It’s classier than Lower State Street dives but more daring than the typical Midtown joint. Its swanky, artsy vibe makes Roy a perfect place to relax after a show and enjoy some light music and good conversation, and it’s your best bet outside of the Funk Zone to find fine ingredients and a coolly mature late-night feel.
While Roy caters to a wide audience, those with gruffer tastes and larger appetites might find Roy a bit too dainty, a bit too posh, a bit too polished. But for me, someone who perhaps spends a bit too much time in those dingy dives with cheap drinks and cheaper tastes, Roy provides welcome respite and shows the patron a different side of Santa Barbara.