WEATHER »

Dawn O’Brien: Design on Her Mind

Owner of Elsie’s, The Mercury Lounge, and The Imperial


After working at Zelo on State Street and as an art restorationist, O’Brien broke out on her own in the early 1990s by opening Elsie’s and The Mercury Lounge, both under-the-radar, craft-beer-before-it-was-even-a-thing bars that thrive to this day. In 2013, she took over the shell of the Bak Dor ​— ​a dive bar in every sense of the phrase ​— ​behind the old Sizzler on Hollister Avenue in Old Town Goleta, and she built a retro cocktail palace.

Here’s how she does it:

What’s first? I take out what I don’t want. That left me a pretty hollow shell!

A centerpiece? Then I usually find a piece of some kind ​— ​something interesting always comes along ​— ​and that dictates which way to go, as does the room itself. In this case, it was a big, gold sconce that was from The Firebird [a Cota Street bar she opened in the early 2000s]. Also, I found a killer couch. It fit perfectly.

Storage unit? I’m always hunting, so you have to have one.

Why vintage? It’s so well made and people feel that. Nowadays, everything is so disposable. My cash register is almost 70 years old, and it works like a champ. People feel that quality on a subliminal level somehow.

Outdoor seating? The patio changed every­thing. I got to bring all my vintage rattan furniture from home. We were really lucky.

The City of Goleta was so encouraging!

Design to drink? We’re drawing from classic cocktails. We’re using the highest quality and freshest of everything we can get out hands on. That combined with the base of classic cocktails makes for a beautiful thing.

To submit a comment on this article, email letters@independent.com or visit our Facebook page. To submit information to a reporter, email tips@independent.com.



Be succinct, constructive, and relevant to the story. Leaving a comment means you agree to our Discussion Guidelines. We like civilized discourse. We don't like spam, lying, profanity, harassment or personal attacks.

comments powered by Disqus
event calendar sponsored by:

New Insights on Butterfly Migration Revealed

Monarch migrating from Oregon to Santa Barbara found to be breeding out of season, a first in ...

Water Managers, County Wrangle Over Lake Cachuma Supply

In some ways, the South Coast is in a worse drought fix than in 2014.

Brooks Is Back

UCSB PaCE to offer two Brooks courses this winter.

Heroin Bust in Santa Barbara

Three men were detained at three locations, one arrested.

Woolsey Fire Grows, Two Reported Dead

Highway 101 remains closed between Thousand Oaks and Westlake Village; Highway 1 also closed at Pt. Mugu; ...