When I went to UCSB, Cajé was my sacred coffee shop. A far cry from Starbucks, the Isla Vista shop, which opened in 2004, felt intentional, complete with latte art, freshly roasted coffee beans, and personalized service. Now, 15 years later, they’ve grown up with a new location on East Haley Street, and I’m happy to hear that their commitment to quality is only expanding.
“It’s fun to take something we’ve done for so long to a new level,” said owner Ryan Patronyk. For this new iteration, he’s partnered with longtime Cajé Isla Vista barista Troy Yamasaki and award-winning bartender Sean Sepulveda to bring their coffee shop-by-day, speakeasy-by-night concept to the blossoming Haley Corridor.
Patryonk noticed a lack of coffee between Milpas and Haley as well as the dearth of speakeasies throughout Santa Barbara. They got lucky in winning the liquor license lottery, so were able to turn their dream into a reality.
“To be in coffee for so long, you have to take the trade further if you can,” Patronyk said. The team’s selection of innovative drinks speak to their progressive mindset. Highlights include the Bela Rose, a dreamy iced matcha latte with strawberry elderflower syrup, pomegranate ice cubes, strawberry and beet powder, and a delicate garnish of rose petals.
Another standout is the Burnout, a breve short latte with bourbon pecan syrup, activated charcoal, ginger salt, candied ginger, and blackberry. Under the gentle hand and watchful eye of Patryonyk and Yamasaki, these drinks achieve a perfect balance of flavors and leave you plotting your next visit.
With house-made syrups and milks from almond to coconut, and macadamia, and beans roasted at their I.V. location, every sip sings of their meticulous attention to detail.
This thoughtfulness also applies to their eco-friendly “exchange program.” In order to prevent single-cup waste, customers who’d like to enjoy their drink to-go yet don’t have a cup can pay a deposit for a reusable one, which is repaid when the cup is returned.
“It’s cool to create a business where you’re setting an example for other businesses,” Patronyk said.
In the spirit of this tight-knit town, the team enlisted well-loved restaurant Sama Sama Kitchen to create their menu, which includes a tortilla espanola made with egg, potato, roasted onion, romesco sauce, lemon garlic aioli, and Oat Bakery bread. Their avocado toast features crushed avocado, roasted garlic, lemon, radish, and almonds layered atop Oat Bakery bread. Their friends at Corazon Cocina have contributed a sal de mar ceviche to the thoughtful menu as well.
“What all of our companies share is that we care a lot about what we put out,” Yamasaki said.
The space was originally built in the 1920s and features exposed ceiling beams, tile patterns, rustic wood tabletops, and plenty of greenery, from the vines hanging over the top of the bar to the intricate succulent arrangements on each table. The space combines the excitement of a hip city haunt with the breezy peacefulness we’ve come to expect in Santa Barbara.
Said Patronyk, “We try to make an environment where people have memories generated that stick with them.”
Lab Social Turns On
When it hits 5:30 p.m. at Cajé, the blinds go down, the music goes up, baristas become bartenders, and guests are treated to drinks a tad stronger than espresso.
Every night of the week, this new coffee shop on Haley transforms into a Prohibition-era themed speakeasy called Lab Social. Sean Sepulveda, the award-winning mixologist who spearheaded the drink programs at Santo Mezcal and Cadiz, is managing the speakeasy side for Cajé owner Ryan Patronyk, who is also a childhood friend.
“I just like to give people what they like,” Sepulveda explained when asked about favorites on the drink menu. With a combination of clever cocktails, beers on tap, and excellent wine, there is truly something everyone will like, if not love, on their menu. Traditional drinks are elevated with whimsical twists, as evidenced in The S.B. Margy, which includes cimarron blanco, lime juice, agave nectar, and a lavender-salt cloud of “air,” which sits atop this dreamy drink.
Another of their most popular offerings is the Churchill Sour. If the combination of Old Crow bourbon lemon juice, earl grey gomme, black walnut bitters, lemon, mint, and orange essence mist doesn’t already have you feeling special, the “rose” garnish, handcrafted from a lemon peel, is sure to bring a smile.
Drawing inspiration from a rabbit that he and his wife acquired, Sepulveda created one of my favorite drinks, Lucky’s Revenge. This cocktail refreshes the palate with Ford’s gin, carrot juice, lemon juice, house chamomile syrup, celery, bitters, and cinnamon. Said Sepulveda, “It’s very much like a rabbit running through a garden.”
The small plates menu, created by the foodie folks at Sama Sama, matches the innovative spirit of the cocktails. Highlights include the cheeseboard served with thick slices of Oat Bakery bread, honeycomb, and calabrian chiles, as well as the chorizo madeleines, a sweet and salty perfect bar snack, elevated with creme fraiche and chives.
As the name Lab Social implies, Sepulveda hopes to bring in bartenders from other spots around town once a month to create a drink that they’ll put on their menu. “The idea is to cross-promote within the cocktail community,” Sepulveda explained.
With live music Monday through Wednesday and happy hour every night of the week until 7:30 p.m., it will be hard to keep this speakeasy on the down low.