Name of Bar: The Press Room
Address: 15 East Ortega Street
Location: Ortega Street, tucked away just off State
Days/Hours: open every day from 11 AM to 2 AM….unless football begs to differ
Happy Hour: 4 – 7 every day, $1 off well drinks and beer
Known As: the place to watch football matches with fellow die-hards and listen to classic punk – live or juke – in an intimate setting
Tagline: “The Best Place to Get Shagged”
Notable Decor: a toilet seat hanging from the window painted like the Union Jack
Patrons: a motley crew of older Santa Barbara locals, young alternative rockers, and anyone passing through with a British accent and an eye for the extraordinary
Special Draw: a real laser disc jukebox crammed with nothing but the best
Music: rock and roll to its roots, with a streak of punk
Draw of the Night: Waiting Around to Die, a local punk band, plays live on the bar floor!
Awesomely Questionable Observation: Awfully pro-shagging signs on bathroom doors reading “I love dick” and “I love fanny.”
Patron Quote: “I’m from Scotland and, I’ve gotta tell ya, they really get punk here.”
My Experience: The Press Room. I’d heard more than I’d seen of this place. This was where people went when they wanted good music, when they wanted to watch their match live at odd hours. When they wanted to relax but not get too comfortable. I’d saved this visit up, waiting for the right moment to capture it. My friends’ band was playing on Sunday.
So I came early to scope the place out. It was narrow, but tall, and not too filled with unnecessary things. The décor was a pastiche of patron contributions, local artwork, football jerseys, and punk rock memorabilia. One should be wary of any bar that looks like everything inside was bought at Cost Plus World Market, and that was certainly not an issue here. A skeleton in the corner wore a St. Patrick’s Day hat, and dozens of 4×6 photos edged the counters and beams. The bar seemed well-loved. Who but an enthusiastically deranged regular would make a gift of a stained glass Italian-Greek Market sign, and what but a kind-hearted, community-minded bar would accept it? Touches like this told me that the bar was malleable, a small-r republican community wherein regulars were encouraged to contribute, and newcomers could hope one day to become infamous. They told me that the bar’s roots went deep, but it was just as likely to ignite.
And the jukebox: real vinyl. It had all the best, from Sinatra to the Black Keys, from Tom Waits to the Cure. Scrolling through the clicky-clanky pages, you wouldn’t find anything that wasn’t rock and roll deep down in its bones. My eyes followed the sharp jaw lines of rock heroes on posters and pieces of art. “Vivre rapidement,” coaxed a collage by the doorway; “Sex, Drugs, and Rock and Roll,” urged another by the jukebox.
What future could we expect? The band was called Waiting Around to Die.
With no stage and no dance floor, the Press Room might be the most unlikely place downtown to hear live music. But it’s probably also the best. The lights stayed on full, there was nothing separating the artists and the audience, it was like a house concert. There was no set list; Kip called out the tunes. Kip with her glass of chardonnay and Ryan with his top-heavy gait. Tonight they had four amps and a duct-taped tuning key. Ryan, a Cheshire cat wearing Chelsea boots worn thin at the toe, paws at his dirty greeny-blond hair. Kip crouches in an athletic pose, ready to pounce or swoon. Her sleeves are cut off to show the killer muscles that twitch and jerk as she plays lead. They stoke a warm punk rock sound, and you feel like you’re wrapped in a wool blanket, sweating from something you took.
The audience grows. A couple long-haired Mods in smart leather boots augment the small group of older rockers and die-hard punks. We’d all been looking for something different, something random, something extraordinary, and we’d found it. The last song comes, and we’re all clapping to the beat, screaming lyrics we’ve just learned. We’re warmed up, rosy-cheeked and smiling. At the last moment, Ryan falls into one of the cloisters that flank the threshold, and Kip lunges after him, starting a pig pile of bodies and instruments and sweat. We call for an encore.
After the show, no one left for a long time. It – the music, the company, the bar – brought us together into this beautiful, spontaneous punk rock moment. We talked about music and football and wet British winters. A Liverpudlian improvised a tune about the movie-star Glaswegian. As we left the bar that night, I wondered who I’d meet next time, and through what adventures.