Love on Wheels in Santa Barbara

The Backyard Bistro Reimagines Date Night in the Back of a Van

The pandemic surely marks one of the least sexy eras in modern history. There’s just something about face masks, hand sanitizer, and the persistent threat of infection that is exceedingly antithetical to romance. Moreover, well warranted anxiety has turned many of us into de facto agoraphobes, keeping even the most active couples homebound and sweatpant-clad, rendering date nights and grand amorous gestures relics of the past.

Enjoy the views from a furnished and catered van with Backyard Bistro. | Credit: Courtesy

But now, to our collective rescue, comes the Backyard Bistro, a beautifully appointed Sprinter van that offers couples the opportunity to enjoy dinner and drinks in a safe and stunning environment. Parked alongside a dramatic stretch of Santa Barbara’s coastline, the van features gorgeous ocean views, upscale craft cocktails, a thoughtfully assembled charcuterie plate, and all the nerve-settling privacy and social distance one could ask for. It’s a turnkey solution for a COVID-age outing.

A collaboration between Slate Catering’s Allie Chandler and restaurateur Alvaro Rojas, the Backyard Bistro was conceived as a reaction to the pandemic and its attendant effect on the catering industry. “We were lined up to have a bunch of large events and weddings for Slate, but COVID hit, and we couldn’t do any of that,” recalled Chandler. “So we started getting creative and came up with the concept. It’s been sort of a shining light, for us and also the community.”

Since launching in 2020, the Backyard Bistro has received several reservations a week, with a thorough cleaning performed between each session. Though the van is typically booked by couples, it’s also been used to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, and to provide a celebratory setting for friends. The van can comfortably accommodate four people, making it an ideal venue for a double date.

“We’ve even done ones where the client’s wedding was either canceled or postponed and they did this instead to celebrate,” said Chandler.


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Customization options abound. Guests can choose to add a flower bouquet, dessert, beer, wine, a curated mezcal tasting, or a fully catered meal from acclaimed tapas restaurant milk & honey. Chandler and Rojas are committed to tailoring the experience to each customer’s particular specifications.

“It’s kind of a choose-your-own-adventure type of thing,” explained Rojas. “Allie had a request for a movie night, so we installed a screen, and they had a movie night in there, which was amazing.”

Though the Backyard Bistro can be moved to the location of your choice, the default seaside spot is hard to beat. With the van’s sliding side door ajar, the ocean vista is framed like a landscape painting come to life. Sitting inside among plush pillows, watching the waves and sipping cocktails by the light of the setting sun, one can’t help but be caught up in the romance. Suffice it to say, the van is like an elevated version of make-out point, and one eminently conducive to cuddling up close.

“I wouldn’t encourage too much more than that, though,” Chandler said with a laugh. “If the van is a-rockin’, we will come a-knockin’!”

Though the Backyard Bistro was a COVID-induced innovation, its owners intend to keep operating the van well beyond the pandemic and continue to offer one of the Central Coast’s most distinctive dining experiences.

“It’s a really unique thing to happen with or without the pandemic,” said Rojas. “It’s something outside the vanilla date experience, and I’m stoked that we can provide it.”

Bookings start at $275, slatecatering.com/backyard-bistros, (805) 364-2699.


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