It’s been a while since I’ve prowled the lower reaches of the downtown club scene and even longer since I’ve participated in the ever-popular collegiate State Street Crawl. But in the last few months there have been some noteworthy changes, and a new arrival on the nightclub landscape is hard to resist. Such trusted options for stiff drinks and go-go-ogling as Joe’s Cafe and the Wildcat Lounge have become venerable downtown mainstays, and even Tonic already has a year beneath its belt. So in an attempt to try something new, I rounded up my cohorts and headed downtown to sniff out the new cocktail scene.
We heard the Santa Barbara Brewing Co. folks had reincarnated the former Green Room space into Whiskey Richard’s. Though we suspected that, like its predecessors, it would be more of a scruffy college bar than a nightclub, we decided to have a look. On that particular Friday night, music was blaring and the place was next to empty. The main room has little to distinguish it from the other watering holes on lower State Street that cater to local coeds. Other than some groovy art-glass lights, the only decor in the cavernous room was a collection of mirrors emblazoned with whiskey logos and brand-new pool tables and dart boards to keep patrons occupied between shots.
But Whiskey Richard’s boasts Santa Barbara’s only whiskey shot bar and an extremely liberal happy hour timeframe, with specials such as $1 off whiskey until 9 p.m. and $1 off beer and $4 off J¤ger shots until midnight. They also advertise bottle service and draft beer from Santa Barbara Brewing Co., but when asked what they were pouring, the bartender offered the white-trash standby, proudly crowing, “We’ve got PBR in a can!” I decided to sample from the extensive whiskey offerings, ranging from an 18-year Macmillan for $15 to Crown Royal XR for $30. After butchering the pronunciation of Caol Ila and Glenmorangie, I opted for an oaky 10-year Laphroaig, served in a Vonpok rocks glass.
By 11:15 p.m., the barstools were mostly filled, but the rest of the room remained woefully empty. I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned to find a guy holding a T-shirt emblazoned: “Spit in my eye, bitch.” He thrust a shirt into my hand. “Dog Faced Gods,” he said. “We’re a hard rock band.”
You meet the nicest people at Whiskey Richard’s.
In search of something livelier and more our style, we crossed State Street and headed east toward the Anacapa Street corridor. The area seems to be transforming itself into a haven for the older-than-30 set who prefer a more upscale environment not dominated by college night specials. Though the building at the corner of Anacapa and Haley streets has changed hands for years, the martini-glass-emblazoned window that materialized when Cooney’s closed hinted at something decidedly more refined than the nightclubs of years’ past.
The teaser proved to be an accurate representation of the much-awaited new club. EOS Lounge reminds me of my favorite Turkish seaside hideaway with a more sophisticated vibe. Borrowing from a chef’s approach, the bar creates mouthwatering culinary cocktails from the finest spirits, mixers, and organic ingredients. I made the mistake of ordering my standard-very dirty martini-before perusing the specialty cocktail menu. The choices, all made with C®roc vodka, include adventurous options such as my personal favorite, the Greek, crowned with a feta-stuffed olive.
We claimed a candlelit alcove and I nestled happily into the voluptuous cobalt cushions with my generous, filthy martini and checked out the reincarnation of the venue. Named for the Greek goddess of the dawn, the decor evokes the islands of the Mediterranean with whitewashed plaster and organic finishes. The best elements of the space-such as the indoor-outdoor bar, inviting patio, and statuesque central tree-have been preserved, while the addition of fountains and booths add ambiance, as does the blazing fireplace.
“We’ve just secured our dance permit from the city,” said owner Jeff Clark, relief flooding his face as he gestured to the dance floor. The music playing was an ’80s mix with some interesting choices; AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long” was blaring when we walked in around midnight. But aside from the tunes, Clark’s mission to attract an older crowd for “hours of happiness” is well on its way.
I’d also heard the buzz about a multimillion-dollar venue taking over the Sleep Center space in the Anacota Plaza, just up the road from EOS. Though still in the earliest stages of renovation, Executive Manager Gary Bollinger toured me through the 9,500-square-foot space, exuding palpable excitement about the future Cafe Gliss. “You can come in the evening and never leave,” said Bollinger. “Everything you want will be under one roof.”
No detail has been spared in preparation for Bollinger’s vision. The world-class, state-of-the-art nightclub, scheduled to open in the fall of this year, will present top-tier music performances coupled with superb food and beverages, all offered with impeccable service. The club will accommodate 200 patrons in an intimate environment reminiscent of the grand nightclubs of the ’30s and ’40s. Entertainment will have a diverse focus, ranging from touring jazz, funk, and blues artists to top local talent. The space will also house an elegant white-tablecloth restaurant, featuring an eclectic, innovative menu, and a well-balanced wine program that represents the great wine-producing regions of the world.
I know where I’ll be the next time the lure of the cocktail calls. Although the college crowd has a new place to liquor up with the advent of Whiskey Richard’s, you’ll find the thirtysomething crowd convening on lower Anacapa Street at EOS and, come autumn, at Cafe Gliss-until another hot spot pops up.