There is a bar in Santa Barbara that breaks every rule.
It defies the maxim that a bar should be dark, departing from all those tenebrous taverns to which we’re accustomed, employing fluorescents so bright you can use them to shop for produce.
It rejects the hegemony of jukeboxes and curated vinyl, opting instead for a din of deli slicers and cheese-centric chats between yoga moms and bedraggled soccer dads.
It subverts the standards of conventional bar decor, eschewing neon and pool tables for stacks of artisanal sausage and discounted kale chips.
It also closes at 8 p.m.
Indeed, the most punk-rock establishment in the entire city may well be the Buzz Hive bar in the heart of Whole Foods.
At first glance, The Buzz Hive is a small beer and wine bar set inside the prepared-foods department of a grocery store. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find an enigmatic collection of contradictions. Its menu declares that happy hour cocktails are “$1 off.” The bar serves no cocktails. Its punny signage refers to the Buzz Hive as “a meading place.” The bar serves no mead.
What it does serve, however, is a full menu of made-to-order food and arguably the finest collection of craft beer in town, with an average of 18 rotating beers on tap. Customers choosing to forgo the upscale drafts (with inscrutable names like Knee Deep Still Gonna Send It IPA and Pizza Port Bacon & Eggs Imperial Coffee Porter) are welcome to bring in wine and beer from the store’s retail shelves.
With bottles of wine selling at grocery-store prices, the Buzz Hive may also be the city’s most affordable date spot. And if you’d think the pervasive stink of parmesan and pecorino would deter romance, you’d be wrong.
“I’ve seen more than a couple times where somebody has gone home with somebody,” recounted Anthony Wheeler, the Buzz Hive’s full-time bartender. “There was even one time where this couple was here and they went to the bathroom together and then we had to ask them, please don’t come back.”
But all is not wine and roses at the Buzz Hive. Rumors of an impending remodel at the store have the bar’s regulars feeling uneasy.
“They have two sets of plans right now,” said Stacey Pokluda, one of the bar’s most passionate supporters. “One that has the Buzz Hive at the front of the store and the other does not have the Buzz Hive at all.”
Her concern about the bar’s future has led Pokluda to start an online petition titled “Keep the Buzz Hive at Whole Foods Open,” which, to date, has garnered more than 40 signatures from other customers who find the prospect of the bar’s closure troubling.
“It bothered me more than any grocery store bar closing should ever bother a person,” said Corey Josenhans, who lives in the area and finds himself routinely volunteering to do his family’s grocery shopping.
“We all get the joke that this is a Whole Foods grocery store,” Josenhans added. “But we love it. If there was a hint of a smile and a wink when we first got here, now it’s like I need this place. It’s my grocery store bar.”
Despite the sincere affection of its enamored regulars, the Buzz Hive is not for everyone. Rodney Wagoner, one of Josenhans’s friends who reluctantly joins him at the bar, fails to see the charm of sipping Chimay inside a retail space.
“Why don’t we go to the tire store to drink?” Wagoner asked.
“We don’t just go here to drink,” Josenhans retorted. “We go here to live.”
Open noon-8 p.m. daily inside Whole Foods, 3761 State St.; wholefoodsmarket.com/service/santa-barbara-buzz-hive