Street-Side Drinking Okay Again in Santa Barbara

Permits in Hand, Restaurants May Serve Alcohol at Outdoor Seats

Restaurants on State Street reopen | Credit: Daniel Dreifuss

California’s alcohol bureaucracy is now allowing alcohol to be served at the new street and sidewalk restaurant areas and is also permitting links between bars and restaurants as of Friday. That’s been unheard of in Santa Barbara since the years when cowboys on horseback rode in the Fiesta parade clutching cans of Budweiser.

Just as good tips make restaurant work worthwhile for wait staff, alcohol sales can tip the balance to profitability for their bosses, who are near-crisis from the two-month COVID shutdown. 

For restaurants, they learned they could reopen on Wednesday, got the go-ahead for sidewalk and street dining on Thursday, and learned on Friday that alcohol service was now allowed by California’s Alcohol Beverage Control’s fourth extraordinary regulatory rule for the crisis. The fifth permitted bars to join forces with restaurants for full-service meals.

The rules are a lifeboat for Brandon Ristaino. He owns three bars in town; one, Shaker Mill, shared space with Cubaneo and stayed alive, but he just teamed up the Good Lion on State Street with Sama Sama a few doors down. “The initial allowance for cocktail/beer/wine to-go and delivery was an essential and welcome relief from our mandated closures, and these new ordinances only serve to help buoy our imperiled businesses,” he said. “The ABC has been proactive and incredibly helpful in assisting bars, restaurants, breweries, and wineries since the beginning of the pandemic.”

For restaurants serving outdoors, alcohol service applications must be filled out and sent in, outdoor areas diagramed, and a $100 fee paid. For bars and restaurants joining forces, applications and a statement describing the relationship are required.

“The statement is a memorandum of understanding,” Anthony Wagner, the city’s new information chief, clarified on Saturday. He’ll be hosting an explanatory webinar on Wednesday morning with a rep from ABC to help owners fill out the applications and understand the rules. The meeting takes place on May 27, 10:30 a.m.-noon. Sign up here to participate:; the webinar ID is 674-578-659. Questions? Email or call (805) 560-7520.

 “It’s our dream to one day have a more ‘European’ model of alcohol consumption in California (piazza drinking!),” Ristaino said, “and these measures may be progress toward this goal.” That dream may have time to take hold. Santa Barbara will keep State Street a pedestrian promenade — just opened Friday afternoon — for as long as the governor keeps the state on a shutdown order, said Jason Harris, who’s running the city’s economic response. Gov. Newsom has indicated it won’t be lifted until there’s a vaccine, which could be a long time coming.

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