It’s easier than ever to imagine Charlie Chaplin hanging out in Montecito, and not just because Coast Village Road’s newest drinking hole sports the silent film star’s name. With black walls and slick leather booths, long red curtains, and a stagelike setting where dapper bartenders mix drinks, Chaplin’s Martini Bar is dark, dramatic, and rather theatrical in nature. Located inside the Montecito Inn, which Chaplin founded in 1928, it’s the sort of intimate place where you could easily imagine Hollywood heroes carousing.
The drink menu is based on classics from 1920 to 1968 — “the years that Chaplin would have been alive and drinking,” said PR rep Edward Allen — from a bold, clean Tanqueray martini (circa 1940) to the Bee’s Knees (1920, with gin, honey, and lemon) and Vieux Carre (1937, rye- and bitters-based). I opted for the Air Mail ($13), a 1949 concoction that combines Plantation Five-Year Barbados Rum with mint leaves, honey syrup, lime juice, and sparkling wine. Served up in a demure cocktail glass, it was tart yet smooth and very refreshing, the rum expertly integrated.
Chaplin’s is the latest addition to Phillip Frankland Lee and Margarita Kallas-Lee’s Scratch|Restaurants empire, which includes The Monarch across the driveway, a number of restaurants in the San Fernando Valley, and the soon-to-come Silver Bough, a 10-seat, high-end dining experience, also inside the inn. The bar is what quickly replaced Frankland’s Crab & Co. — opened in April, closed in August — when The Monarch’s popularity started to take off.
While the crab concept wasn’t as successful, the Lees found that they needed more kitchen space, especially with breakfast and lunch at The Monarch and the Silver Bough on the way. Plus, patrons frequently recalled good times at the old Montecito Café bar that was once there and wished for something similar. So Chaplin’s Martini Bar was born, and now anyone can get a sense of what Tinseltown was sipping way back when, from 4 p.m. until midnight (or possibly later), seven days a week.
1295 Coast Village Rd.; chaplinsmartinibar.com