A very festive, jam-packed, hard-to-quiet El Paseo Restaurant played the perfect home to Visit Santa Barbara and the Santa Barbara Independent’s third annual “Official Drink of Santa Barbara” cocktail contest last Thursday, June 20. Emcee Gabe Saglie, senior editor at Travelzoo, couldn’t help but joke that we were in for a “stiff” competition. Indeed it was, as all five finalists had their concoctions built, according to the rules, around one of hometown Cutler’s Artisan Spirits. The drinks had to be “hyperlocal, hyper regional,” said Saglie, and, of course, delicious.
The five finalists, chosen by an online vote via Independent.com, were The Glen Annie, redolent of citrus and fennel, by Angel Oak Restaurant at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara; Lucky Me, a grilled-strawberry and whiskey pleaser, by Convivo; Eucalyptus Lane, a ginger, Ojai pixie, gin delight topped with eucalyptus-tangerine bubbles, by Finch & Fork; The Queen’s Rose, a rose-infused, Campari-fueled sipper, by Finney’s Crafthouse & Kitchen; and Sticky Fingers — which we’ll get to — by The Lark.
Each establishment’s team of two had three minutes to prep and seven minutes to mix up their drink for the panel of judges, all while providing the cocktail’s inspiration and story. That meant stories about the Hollisters settling Goleta, about the Mission and its rose garden (Finney’s team even wore rose T-shirts to underscore their point), and shout-outs to hot spots that have helped make Santa Barbara such a delight to drink in over the past few years. That’s how Misty Orman and Brandon Ristaino of Good Lion, Test Pilot, and Shaker Mill had a presence at the event without even being there.
The illustrious judges no doubt had a hard time, given the level of competition. The panel featured the Indy’s own senior editor Matt Kettmann; John Palminteri of KEYT/KJEE/KCLU fame; Hana-Lee Sedgwick, who writes for Edible Santa Barbara and more; Sarah Chhum, Instagram whiz and winner of the Independent’s local judge contest; and Tyler Ondatje, creator of the 2018 Official Drink of Santa Barbara Cocktail (Ty Lounge, Four Seasons Resort, The Biltmore). While they came to their conclusions, the crowd got to sample the drinks, too, and placed their votes for the audience award.
Almost as a testament to the strength of the slate, the People’s Choice and Judges’ Award went to different cocktails. While the crowd overwhelmingly picked Finch & Fork’s Eucalyptus Lane, the 2019 Official Drink of Santa Barbara is now The Lark’s Sticky Fingers, created and eloquently explained onstage by fast-handed mixologist Nick Priedite. Think Rolling Stones and avocado blossom honey, bay-laurel-infused gin and mezcal, lemon juice and amaro, and a couple of dashes of orange flower water. It’s like a walk in the foothills — mildly sweet and smoky, soured with citrus, scented with laurel.
“The finalists really brought their A game, crafting cocktails that were thoughtful representations of Santa Barbara in a glass,” said judge Sedgwick afterward. “Each drink offered something unique, but The Lark stood out with its Sticky Fingers cocktail. From the presentation to the use of local ingredients and overall taste, they delivered a cocktail that was worthy of being crowned the Official Drink of Santa Barbara.”
Sticky Fingers will now be on the menu for the next year at The Lark (131 Anacapa St.).