My father used to come home from work exhausted, and my mother would be stirring a martini for him in the kitchen. He would take off his coat, loosen up his tie, and the two of them would sit and have cocktails together. Gin martinis. My mom would stir the drinks in a pitcher so as not to “bruise the gin.” Martini glasses, vermouth, and gin bottles were kept in the freezer. We grew up modestly-and this cocktail hour was a sign of upward mobility to them. “Isn’t this civilized?” Dad would ask rhetorically. He’d call his martini “a silver bullet” (this was before Coors Light began using that term) because he liked his martinis dry-with nothing but a faint whiff of vermouth-and besides, a martini, he said “took the sting off the day.”
My father would be happy to know that meeting friends for drinks to unwind after work is more customary than ever here in Santa Barbara-this statement is based on my unscientific evaluation of several watering holes at happy hour-and martini cocktails are a staple of our social scene. The one thing that would disappoint my dad is that the majority of us now drink vodka martinis. In the 1990s, the vodka martini supplanted the traditional gin-based martini in popularity. Today, when you order a martini, most bartenders assume you have in mind a drink made with vodka. Martini purists like my dad curse this development. Mind you, he doesn’t object to me drinking vodka martinis; he’s upset I call it a martini. He thinks we should call it a vodkatini.
Despite this difference of opinion, I decided to evaluate the best places to have a martini in this town. I took into consideration not only the quality of the drink but the atmosphere, for, according to my dad, “a martini needs to be savored, and the setting is important.”
This is my favorite place to have a martini. The atmosphere is crisp and exciting, with the who’s who of Montecito surrounding you. (Is that Oprah in the corner?) But the martini’s the thing. The glass is frosted, the shaker’s brought to the table, and the drink is ceremoniously poured in front of you.
It’s the perfect place to have a meeting over cocktails. The bar has a cozy patio with private cubicles. The free appetizers during happy hours are a plus. And bartender Meredith not only makes one of the best martinis but is also one of the warmest pourers in town.
One of the sexiest places to have a martini. And the view isn’t bad either; the Sunken Garden and the courthouse background are spectacular. The ideal meeting place before heading to the Santa Barbara Bowl. And chef Paul’s food is some of the best in town.
My secret place to meet my best friends for martinis on Friday afternoons. It’s on the Westside-and one of the friendliest bars in all of Santa Barbara. There’s a pool table in back, and Paesano’s Pizzeria delivers from next door to your table. There’s a great jukebox, but no dancing allowed!
Its youthful and fun atmosphere makes it one of the hippest places to hang out in Santa Barbara. The generous size of their martinis is what makes me a regular. The staff is one of the best in town.
Ty’s Lounge at the Biltmore (1260 Channel Dr.)
Sipping on a perfect martini while sitting on the patio overlooking Butterfly Beach is one of the most amazing experiences, and worth the price. From Tuesday through Saturday, there’s live music. Whenever I want to impress out-of-town guests, I bring them here.
Hands down, the best late-night martini in town. Things don’t get really hopping until after 10 p.m., but once they do, watch out! They have the best deejays and great music. My favorite night is Wednesday, when Gavin Roy spins ’90s tunes. And martinis are served until 2 a.m.
I love the mellow, casual vibe in this corner bar adjacent to the main dining room. It’s great for conversation, and the room’s quintessential Santa Barbara.
This is the place for the cultural types to hang out before and after going to the Lobero. Don’t be surprised to hear about the latest jazz concert or dance performance-and the light menu’s superb. It’s also the best piano bar in the city.
Is this New York or Santa Barbara? It’s one of the chicest bars in town, and it serves great tapas. The fact that the kitchen remains open until 1 a.m. most nights is a plus. One of the best places to have a martini and a small meal after that performance at the Arlington.