“When you walk through a garden with a drink in your hand, it’s one of the most amazing things,” Patrick Reynolds tells me to explain why he’s throwing the Spirit of Lotusland cocktail contest on November 5. That’s pretty hard to deny while walking past the meticulously manicured, magically beautiful plants of Lotusland and sipping on a gin, orange blossom, Meyer lemon, tangerine, and hummingbird sage cocktail that Reynolds whipped up from the Montecito garden’s old citrus trees.
Reynolds built his reputation as one of Santa Barbara’s cocktail innovators through his Farm-to-Bar series on Tuesday nights at Wildcat Lounge, which spurred the founding of the adjacent Bobcat Room. But upon seeing an ad on Craigslist for a position in events and marketing for Lotusland, he fell back on his botany studies to land the job, which combines his love for plants with his keen sense of party planning. “It’s my first desk job,” admits Reynolds.
He’s been bringing a bit of youthful pizzazz to the 37-acre garden’s programming, helping Lotusland attract the next generation of fans. “Everyone our age thinks that there is a two-year waiting list still,” said Reynolds, assuring that there is not.
The contest will be an “installation speakeasy walk-through,” said Reynolds, who’s plotted six sipping stations throughout Lotusland’s themed gardens and invited contestants from The Good Lion/Test Pilot, Bobcat Room, S.Y. Kitchen, Seven Bar & Kitchen, The Lark/Loquita, and Alcazar/milk & honey. “People here respect plants so much that I wanted to find people who respect drinks as much,” said Reynolds of his invite list. There will also be bites from The Blue Owl, The Black Sheep, milk & honey, and The Lark, and proceeds will benefit the garden’s outreach program to Santa Barbara County’s 4th graders, who visit the garden to learn about science and sustainability.
Reynolds has matched each bartender with a part of the garden, so the escapism vibes of tiki-inspired Test Pilot will find a home in the Japanese tea garden, for instance, while the Hawai‘i-raised bartender Drew Morehouse from Seven Bar & Kitchen will serve his stuff amid the bromeliads, including variegated pineapples. “The aloe garden is like an underwater garden mixed with Whoville,” said Reynolds, so he’s putting his Bobcat buddy Shaun Belway there. “Shaun will do something really wild.”
Each drink will reflect its surrounding garden in some way, and some mixologists have foraged the resident edible plants over the past few weeks, including the deep purple prickly pears that Alcazar’s Alvaro Rojas plucked from the cactus garden where he’ll be pouring, while others gathered the kumquats, persimmons, pomegranates, and other fruits that hang from trees in the orchard. In fact, since being on the job, Reynolds has actually identified a number of fruit trees that seemed to have been mostly forgotten until he arrived, including yuzu, Buddha’s hand, and a variety of bitter oranges.
The winner will be decided by a panel of judges, myself included, but the unique experience of combining cocktails with a stroll through one of the world’s most exquisite gardens will be the crowning achievement. That’s pretty clear as we finish our drinks and walk. Said Reynolds, “It’s the perfect pairing of pairing.”
Saturday, November 5, 3-5 p.m.; lotusland.org; $75-$95