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Paul Wellman

Best of Santa Barbara® 2017: Drinking


Coffee House

The French Press

Multiple locations, thefrenchpress.com

By the looks of The French Press’s patio, most Santa Barbarans are more than sufficiently caffeinated. Owned by Dune Coffee Roasters, The French Press transformed from a small shop to a Santa Barbara establishment in just a few years. It opens at 6 a.m. The service is always fast. With three locations, it’s the easiest place in town to book a meeting. Keep in mind that you will definitely run into someone you know.

Finalist: Handlebar Coffee Roasters

By Paul Wellman

Tea Selection

Vices & Spices

3558 State St., 687-7196, vicesandspices.net

You can’t find more little glass jars filled with tea leaves than you can at Vices & Spices. There are more than 50 varieties. It’s a small, mellow place, perfect to enjoy a cup of whatever you want. The jasmine pearl green tea and the Assam tara tea are the most popular. (For coffee drinkers, try the Obama blend, made with coffee beans from Kenya, Indonesia, and Hawai‘i.) It’s tucked away on upper State Street ​— ​don’t miss it.

Finalist: The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf

Juicery

Juice Ranch

Two locations, juiceranch.com

If you’ve had enough coffee for the day, or want to boost your Southern California identity, head down State Street to Juice Ranch. The pressed juices, in glass milk-style bottles, come in every color of the rainbow, especially green. If you can’t decide, the fun names ​— ​The Yoda, Dandy Liver, Fennel in the Machine ​— ​might help you narrow it down.

Finalist: Pressed Juicery

Smoothie Bar

Blenders in the Grass

Multiple locations, drinkblenders.com

At Blenders, you can pretend you’re on a juice cleanse, but really you’re enjoying a milkshake made with enough calories to get you through the afternoon. Add whey protein, chia seeds, bee pollen, and more for no additional charge. If you want to limit calories, they offer shots of wheatgrass and fresh juices, including orange, apple, ginger, parsley, garlic, spinach, and more.

Finalist: Backyard Bowls

Happy Hour

Enterprise Fish Co.

225 State St., 962-3313, enterprisefishco.com

When your friends call to say they’re grabbing a drink at Enterprise, don’t think twice about whether or not you have time to meet them. With well cocktails at $5.50 a bucket, they aren’t going anywhere. Margaritas are $5.50, as well. If you’re a beer drinker, 20-ounce draught beers are six bucks. For hors d’oeuvres, get the steamed mussels, popcorn shrimp, fried calamari, shrimp quesadilla, or poke, all nine bucks or less.

Finalist: Lure Fish House

Beer Selection on Tap
Funk Zone Spot

Lama Dog Tap Room + Bottle Shop

116 Santa Barbara St., 880-3364, lamadog.com

There’s a new Dog in the Zone, and he’s got a lot of friends. Lama Dog was named after owner Pete Burnham’s Tibetan mastiff, and it’s got some of the same loveable qualities attributed to that noble breed, like being independent and intelligent. Fortunately for us, this Funk Zone spot also has an incredible revolving selection of top-quality craft beers, along with hard-to-find bottles and Norbert Schulz’s nifty street-food-style restaurant, the Nook, nestled right inside its Waterline location. The Dog’s personable staff of beer-loving adventurers will be sure to cater to your every whim, whether it involves IPAs, porters, stouts, sours, or all of the above.

Finalist: Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

S.B. County Brewery

Figueroa Mountain Brewing Co.

Multiple locations, figmtnbrew.com

When Fig opened in the Funk Zone in 2013, patrons rejoiced over cheap, tasty beer; free pretzels; and the relaxed indoor/outdoor atmosphere. Since then, several breweries have mimicked its successful model. And even though it’s only been a few years, many of its beers ​— ​Hoppy Poppy, Hurricane Deck, and Lizard’s Mouth ​— ​have become staples in Santa Barbara. Go with friends, or make new ones sitting solo at the bar. Either way, you won’t have a bad time.

Finalist: M.Special Brewing Company

Valley Tasting Room

Demetria Estate

6701 Foxen Canyon Rd., Los Olivos, 686-2345, demetriaestate.com

Demetria Estate traces its name and heritage to Greece, where founder Jack Zahoudanis grew up on a farm. The winery, one stop on Foxen Canyon Road, is named after Demeter, the Greek goddess of harvest and agriculture. Its pinot noirs have received high reviews by wine critics, specifically the 2014 label. For wine tasting, Saturday is the busiest day, so if you’re bringing a big group of friends, call ahead.

Finalist: Sunstone Vineyards & Winery

Urban Tasting Room

Municipal Winemakers

22 Anacapa St., 931-6864, municipalwinemakers.com

Eleven years ago, Municipal Winemakers became one of the first tasting rooms in the Funk Zone, when the neighborhood was still mainly an artist enclave. Now, though dozens of wine-tasting rooms exist there, Muni has still been voted the best. What’s new is that owner Dave Potter now produces wine ​— ​with French and Australian influences ​— ​in downtown Santa Barbara at The Mill on Haley Street. He still sources locally from a dozen different vineyards.

Finalist: Corks n’ Crowns

S.B. Wine Tour Company

Captain Jack’s

564-1819, captainjackstours.com

With Captain Jack’s, you can find yourself paddling above the kelp forests or riding horseback along the beach, but our readers tip their glass to the tour company’s Wine Country excursions. Heading over the San Marcos Pass in comfy, temperature-controlled SUVs and passenger vans, a trip with Jack’s knowledgeable tour guides glides through beautiful Santa Ynez Valley with many a stop at wineries along the way. There’s nothing like an afternoon wine buzz enhanced by the knowledge that someone else is driving. It’s for sure cheaper than a DUI.

Finalist: Santa Barbara Wine Country Tours

S.B. County Winery

Margerum Wine Company

813 Anacapa St., 845-8435, margerumwines.com

At Margerum Wine Company, paying close attention to every aspect of the process seems to come naturally. Raised on family trips to France and in the fertile atmosphere of his parents’ various kitchens, founder Doug Margerum continues to approach the wine business with deep curiosity and a passion for its distinctively personal and seasonal aspects. “The wine business is very collegial,” he writes; “we enjoy our customers and our competitors.” He attributes the consistency with which his team produces exceptional wines to maintaining an optimal scale of production, one at which, he says, “We can touch and know the wine as it is raised to the bottle ​— ​the antithesis of mass production.”

Finalist: Grassini Family Vineyards

By Paul Wellman

Restaurant Wine List

Les Marchands Wine Bar & Merchant

131 Anacapa St., Ste. B., 284-0380, lesmarchandswine.com

There’s no better place in Santa Barbara to drink French wines, and no better place anywhere to compare our own Rhône rangers to their amis from overseas. Les Marchands offers impeccable programming for the oenophile every night of the week, with events ranging from Chicken and Waffles Monday nights to somm-guided tastings and elaborate winemaker dinners, and their deep team of distinguished wine professionals somehow carries the whole thing off as if it were not a big deal. Whether you go for a $15 late-afternoon educational tasting session with retail manager Jeremy Bohrer or hand the keys to your chateau to Ned Creed, director of private cellar management, you’re sure to drink incredible wines that you’re unlikely to encounter anywhere else.

Finalist: Opal Restaurant & Bar

Wine Shop

The Winehound

3849 State St., Ste. 163, 845-5247, thewinehound.com

Frequent wine-shop category winner The Winehound continues to stand tall among our readership despite strong competition. Possibly it’s the uncommon care with which they curate the large selection of Santa Barbara wines to be found in their discreet establishment at La Cumbre Plaza, or maybe it’s the excellent deals they offer on hard-to-find and undervalued wines through their email list. Either way, The Winehound remains a consistently great place for every kind of wine customer, from the collector to the quaffer. Thanks to the proprietors’ nonstop tasting of everything under the sun, there’s always something special on special in this Santa Barbara institution.

Finalist: Savoy Wines

Martini

Harry’s Plaza Café

3313-B State St., 687-2800, harryssb.com

When it comes to the coveted martini category, nobody puts Harry’s in a corner! (They don’t have to ​— ​it’s already in one.) The secret to this establishment’s seemingly unbeatable way with gin and vermouth is a clever combination of the pour and the glassware. First, they pour a bucket-sized jigger of gin into a pint glass with some ice and vermouth, and then they stir and strain until the martini glass is full. Finally, they set both the martini and what’s left in the pint glass in front of the drinker. Repeat the order, if you dare, or share the leftover, if you don’t dare. Regardless, with one of these see-through marvels in your hand, you are well on your way to a great night.

Finalist: The Good Lion

By Paul Wellman

Margarita

Carlitos Café y Cantina

1324 State St., 962-7117, carlitos.com

Appropriately enough for a restaurant that rules in the margarita category, the folks at Carlitos define their version of what it means to be the best as “making sure people are having a good time all the time.” Having been in business since 1978, that means having pleased an enormous number of people over the years dishing out both traditional and modern margaritas alongside the kind of food ​— ​grilled Anaheim chiles, albóndigas soup, ribs, tostadas, and enchiladas ​— ​that they love to eat themselves. In response to this recognition from the Independent’s readers, the entire staff, from the kitchen to the front of the house, sends out a hearty “Gracias!”

Finalist: Casa Blanca Restaurant & Cantina

Bloody Mary

[See Eating]

By Paul Wellman

Place for a Craft Cocktail

The Good Lion

1212 State St., 845-8754, goodlioncocktails.com

With a name taken from an obscure Ernest Hemingway story, you just know that The Good Lion will be bringing the same sophisticated yet rugged taste to its cocktail offerings. Master mixologist Brandon Ristaino moved to Santa Barbara from Los Angeles in 2014, accompanied by a wife, Misty, he was delighted to keep and a nickname he was ready to drop: the “Bourbon Baron.” Apparently, his reputation preceded him, because within the first week a towering Santa Barbara local turned up looking for some of the Baron’s legendary bourbon drinks. Ristaino, who hews more to the small-batch gin side of things at The Good Lion, nevertheless obliged, and the two have been buddies ever since.

Finalist: Somerset

Stiffest Drinks

Joe’s Café

536 State St., 966-4638, joescafesb.com

Does Joe’s Café serve Santa Barbara’s stiffest drinks? It’s one of those questions that just seems to answer itself, like “Is the Pope Catholic?” This and other conversation topics await those intrepid souls who brave the convivial atmosphere and three-deep crowds that swarm the bar at Joe’s every evening. Serving honest drinks and delicious food for decades, Joe’s continues to host some of the city’s longest-running social groups, including politicians, artists, actors, and the occasional celebrity. Never mind the clamor, and get yourself another cocktail. There’s only one Joe’s in this town, and it’s up to you to make the most of it.

Finalist: Harry’s Plaza Café

Neighborhood Bar

The Neighborhood Bar & Grill

235 W. Montecito St., 963-7600, theneighborhoodbar.com

David Burkholder and his team own this category as though it has their name on it. With a prime location that’s equally convenient for Westsiders and Eastsiders, and close enough to the beach to make it a prime late-afternoon stop while you’re still in your bathing suit, The Neighborhood Bar & Grill is all things to all drinkers. Sports on television? Check. Games like pool, ping-pong, darts, and foosball? Yeah, they got that. Will we have to sit inside? Not with a giant patio deck, you won’t. You can even wear a cardigan and make like Mr. Rogers, because this Neighborhood will take you straight to the land of make-believe.

Finalist: The Cliff Room

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