<b>EXPLORING INEBRIATION:</b> It’s common to find Ralph Lowe (above) sipping on red wine with ice at Joe’s Café on State Street.

Paul Wellman

EXPLORING INEBRIATION: It’s common to find Ralph Lowe (above) sipping on red wine with ice at Joe’s Café on State Street.

Wine on Ice: Part One, at Joe’s Cafe

Occasional Series on a Retired Teacher’s Search for Santa Barbara Watering Holes

I am, unbelievably, now what they call “retired.” This is a complicated description for the chapter of what they tell me is the rest of my life. My enemies predicted dissolution and the conspicuous consumption of pulp fiction, too many matinees, and, finally, a fatal collision with nostalgia that will certainly leave me embittered and muttering in my tear-salted beer about wrong roads taken and people who have forgotten me altogether.

I was thinking a semblance of the above when I walked to the beach the other day and then stopped in at Joe’s afterward. Joe’s has been on the same street, State, for a very long time. Once it was down the road where Holdren’s is but now resides at the corner of Cota and State. It’s a real saloon. The bar stools are fixed into the floor, on the walls are black-and-white photographs of Santa Barbara’s past, and there are pies in a display case next to the kitchen, the men’s room, and an exit few people use or know about. Modest TVs are above the bar. I don’t think there is any ambient music at all.

The waiters have those cool aprons that run all the way to the ankles. All the waitresses have been there for decades or more. They call you “honey” or “hon.” There is, as there should be, a long wooden bar backed with a cityscape of liquor bottles stacked in the area between the drinkers and the eaters.

Never have more than two cocktails at Joe’s. Beyond that pale lies folly, DUIs, unfortunately inappropriate conversations, and a troubled morning at the end of it all. At Joe’s, they pour with a heavy hand.

I took my copy of the New York Times to said bar, and there was my glass of house red on ice delivered by a bartender with the most ingratiating talent in his trade: a long and accurate memory for faces and tendencies. Niceties satisfied, I settled into the stupor of astonishment that the Paper of Record almost always inspires and inculcates.

A newspaper in a bar at two in the afternoon should signal that a cone of silence has descended on the reader, and he or she is not to be bothered. But that’s when The Guy sat on the stool next to me and started staring at my left, wizened cheek. He was drinking vodka and grapefruit and looked like he had only recently decanted off a long and poorly paved road. He was wearing some sort of poncho or serape. He should have been wearing a hat but wasn’t. He asked me if he could ask me a question, and I said yes but I had to finish this article because my boss wanted a précis of it ASAP, or some other lie in the hope that the question would be brief and then the Outlander gone.

“Who,” he said, “are the five most important people who have ever lived?” I thought long enough and said, “The Buddha, Jesus of Nazareth, Pablo Picasso, William Shakespeare, and Sigmund Freud.”  

“Thank you,” he said and then asked a second question: “Have you ever been to the Sportsman Lounge?” I said I had, and he suggested I might meet him there that afternoon. I said “sure” and went back to the Old Gray Lady. He left by the front door. Not long after, I took the sort of secret exit from Joe’s and went for a burger at The Habit.

To be continued…

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