Spend an hour in the Funk Zone and you’re bound to hear a gaggle of tourists in festival wear wondering aloud how the neighborhood got its name. And you can’t blame them — while the current iteration of the Funk Zone is well stocked with twee tasting rooms, upscale boutiques, and Eater-endorsed restaurants, it seems to be suffering from a conspicuous deficiency of funk.
In such moments, you may wish to direct curious visitors to the less traveled northern end of Helena Avenue. There, just around the corner from a strip club and an adult bookstore, the Seven Bar and Kitchen is helping to maintain the last vestige of the area’s eponymous funk.
Set on a distinctively grimy and relatively underdeveloped block of the Funk Zone’s outer limits, Seven serves up stiff drinks, live music, good food, and great times to customers in the know. And this year, Seven celebrates its seventh anniversary. That’s no small feat in a town where the lifespan of such establishments is typically measured in months.
Owner Mike Gomez attributes the bar’s longevity to its emphasis on providing attentive service and a welcoming atmosphere for residents. “Santa Barbara locals grab onto this spot,” said Gomez. “They come in and just appreciate the vibe and the staff.”
But with the encroachment of lower State’s gentrification wave and the attendant rise in competition and operating costs, the survival of this slawart favorite is hardly assured.
“We’re in our seventh year, and I’ve never had to try so hard,” explained Gomez. “It’s like everyone’s gunning for us, you know?”
So far, Seven has been able to distinguish itself and keep business flowing by offering shows with no cover charge and serving food and drinks at prices that belie the quality of their ingredients.
“You’re getting a craft cocktail, fresh juices, good liquor, homemade infusions, not, like, this poisonous beverage,” said Gomez.
The recently revamped dinner menu also reflects a commitment to quality. With fresh, never-frozen ingredients, the upscale pub grub offers creative reimaginings of bar food favorites. Highlight dishes include the Truffle Mushroom Burger, the Summer Solstice Salad (featuring heirloom tomatoes and fresh peaches), and the Chicken and Waffle Nugs — chicken tenders dipped and fried in waffle batter.
But the bar’s most compelling feature may well be its palpable air of authenticity. Seven employs a pastiche of styles, with architectural holdovers from the building’s prior incarnations as a motorcycle shop in the ‘40s, and as a gay dance club in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Exposed brick and fieldstone sit behind a hodgepodge of decorations ranging from country kitsch to vibrant modern art. The place is coated with an unmistakable patina of history, serving as an aesthetic counterpoint to the pristine industrial-chic breweries and stark Mediterranean hotels that have become de rigueur in the area.
On November 16, Seven is celebrating its seventh year with the Funk Fall Fest, a collaborative party with the Wayfarer Hotel that features live music and vendors. Proceeds benefit One805 and the Environmental Defense Center.
224 Helena Ave.; (805) 845-0377; sevensb.com