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Rob Tran

About that Festering Corpse …

Ahem, Umbrellas in Tiki Cocktails Are Fun


As a reader of the Santa Barbara Independent since being lucky enough to move to town in 2014, I’ve enjoyed Nick Welsh’s columns and found them to be thoughtful, well written, and oftentimes quite funny. Reading “Lamentations for a Latte,” I was surprised to see a series of derogatory comments directed toward some local coffee shops and the cocktail bar, Test Pilot, which I own with my wife. Owning a business requires a thick skin, and while I’ve made a habit out of not responding to negative and nonconstructive feedback, I found these comments worthy of a rebuttal.

After tending bar, hustling, and gritting through almost 20 years in the restaurant and bar industry, my wife and I were able to scrape together the funds to open what are now two successful Santa Barbara cocktail bars. Our original bar is located on what you refer to as the “deader than dead … festering corpse” State Street corridor that includes the historic Granada Theatre, next to which is The Good Lion. We also own what we call a contemporary tiki bar in the Funk Zone, called Test Pilot. We are incredibly proud of our staffs, our product, and, most importantly, our hospitality at these two venues.

To speak directly to your critique of our “retro-ironic tiki joint,” may I suggest the following:

• Tiki cocktails (and tiki-inspired cocktails) have been a passion of mine for well over a decade. We are hoping to honor the legacy of great drinks from Donn the Beachcomber and Trader Vic from the 1930s through 1970s with our cocktail program, and we do not find anything about this to be “ironic.”

• Our drinks have between 2 and 4 ounces of spirits (including rum) in each cocktail. Measure that against an industry standard pour of 1 - 1.5 oz, and we believe we are more then generous with our pours.

• Pricing is relative, and our average cocktail price is lower then any other cocktail bar in town — even with our usage of fine spirits made with integrity, produce sourced from local (and oftentimes organic) farms, and with a location in the middle of some of the most expensive real estate in Santa Barbara.

• Umbrellas in drinks are fun. Drinking tiki cocktails in the Funk Zone is fun. We like to have fun.

• We believe the Funk Zone to be one of the most exciting areas in town to enjoy incredible food, wine, beer, and cocktails. We are honored that (as you imply) folks from L.A. or Costa Mesa take the trek to enjoy our neighborhood and support our local economy, especially after the impact of our recent catastrophes.

• Speaking of irony, we enjoy the irony of reading your statement that our drinks do not have “enough alcohol” and then (just one sentence later) complaining that the area has IPA beers that “make your eyes cross after three sips because of the high alcohol content.”

In addition to the above, we are proud to say that The Good Lion is the first green certified cocktail bar in the Central Coast. Test Pilot is well on its way to being the second. Our bar was recognized for its efforts in sustainability by Tales of the Cocktail (our Oscars, if you will) and has received awards from your own publication proclaiming us the “best place for a craft cocktail.” We’ve created many new jobs, supported countless charities and nonprofits, helped our cities coffers with new tax revenues, and have supported our local farms and vendors as best we can.

Since moving to Santa Barbara, we’ve become diehard fans of two locally owned coffee spots, Handlebar and The French Press. What makes these venues unique and wonderful to us is their uncompromising adherence to quality of their technique and roasting, as well as their overwhelmingly kind and welcoming staff. Sometimes, perhaps, a barista will sniff a beverage to ensure quality control. While the usage of one’s olfactory system to ensure quality control may be shocking to you, we enjoy the dedication to excellence of these venues and their staffs. We acknowledge that the staff at these venues are young, but I’m not sure they qualify as the “self-satisfied waxed-mustachioed millenialist” as you suggest in your piece.

We’ve been working on a new cocktail at Test Pilot that has your name written all over it. The drink has locally produced Handlebar cold-brew coffee in it and a bunch of fine rums. Now, it’s not Spring Break so I can only have two of these (due to the presence of almost 3 oz of great rum), but I believe I may take the rest of Sunday off, give my Handlebar coffee a good sniff, shove a couple of umbrellas in my boozy tiki cocktails, and then head down State Street for some incredible Indian food and to catch the latest Avengers movie (experiences?).

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