When Alvaro Rojas sold his State Street burrito joint Chilango’s and opened Alcazar as a tapas restaurant on the Mesa in 2000, he admits, “I couldn’t bartend my way out of a paper bag.” When his bartender didn’t show up one day, Rojas jumped in to make some “antifreeze-looking margarita.” The woman sent it back and left.
“I was heartbroken,” said Rojas. “I totally overcompensated by looking into every cool cocktail culture I could find.” Trips to Los Angeles and New York inspired Rojas to put a “salad in your drink,” meaning tons of fresh juice rather than Rose’s Lime Juice and “all that premixed stuff from the big conglomerates.”
Sounds de rigueur today, but back in 2000, Alcazar became the hub of modern cocktail culture in Santa Barbara, particularly for bringing the mojito to town, which was a craze all its own. In 2007, Rojas brought his cocktail and tapas formula downtown by opening Milk & Honey, and also ran the Bourbon Room from 2013 until the end of 2015.
All the while, he’s enjoyed watching the town’s mixology scene steadily grow so that today’s drinker is much more sophisticated and adventurous. “When I opened Alcazar, I had to tone it back a ton — we’re a little beach town, so people weren’t into stuff that was funky or wild,” said Rojas. “Now it’s a lot easier to have fun and experiment.”