There is no doubt the vast majority of Santa Barbara bars and restaurants have done their best to comply with the state’s strict and ever-changing COVID-19 health orders, often at great sacrifice to their bottom lines, and sometimes their very futures.
Of course, there were slip-ups here and there ― masks riding below the nose, tables packed a little too close ― but more often than not a friendly reminder or two or three from county officials brought the businesses back into compliance. Sometimes the conversations happened off the record. Many chances were given.
A handful of locations, however, have stubbornly refused to follow the rules, even after multiple warnings and outright threats to their licenses. The notices often piggybacked off public complaints. But because the county has taken such a light touch with enforcement ― preferring to communicate and educate rather than issue fines or injunctions ― these businesses have so far escaped any consequences.
That may change as authorities said earlier this month they’re exploring both legal and administrative actions against “some of our more egregious and repeat offenders,” or who they called our “frequent flyers.”
In response to a California Public Records Act request filed by the Independent in January, we now know the identity of some of the top offenders. They range from State Street bars to Santa Maria steakhouses. All were given an opportunity to answer questions from the paper about their recorded violations. As of press time, none had responded.
Eos Lounge, Santa Barbara ― On June 25, 2020, reacting to multiple public complaints and firsthand observations by staff, the Public Health Department issued a “Notice of Violation” to the popular downtown Santa Barbara nightclub. Officials had seen customers “not wearing required facial coverings while moving around inside the business” and a “lack of social distancing between groups of customers / separate parties inside the facility.”
On November 19, 2020, the Health Department hand-delivered another letter detailing new issues, including a party of 20 people sitting inside at a single long table as well as “multiple guests standing up, mixing, mingling at the facility.”
The department threatened to close Eos and ordered the club to attend an administrative hearing, where it could defend itself. The owners did so successfully, but since then, Eos has racked up eight more public complaints.
The Swiss Restaurant, Santa Maria ― The North County steakhouse received its own notice on February 3, 2021, after six public complaints over a short two-week period just before the New Year. When inspectors arrived, they saw the business was serving the majority of its food and drinks indoors in direct defiance of Health Officer Order 2021-12.1. Since that warning, other patrons have observed similar activity.
The Chase, Santa Barbara ― The Chase, a State Street mainstay, was cited December 14, 2020, as a “repeat violator.” Customers were continually allowed to order and eat meals on the restaurant’s front tables, inspectors said, despite the takeout-only order. Waitstaff were routinely seen without masks on the crowded patio.
“To have patrons seated in the chairs so close to each other’s adjacent tables is infuriating,” one of the public complaints said. Since then, the restaurant has received four additional complaints.
Tap & Cork, Lompoc ― Since the start of the pandemic, the Lompoc craft beer and wine bar has been the target of a record number 13 calls and emails from concerned citizens. The most recent was logged last week.
On February 19, 2021, county staff knocked the business for “continuing to provide indoor service” and said its operating permit was at risk. Records include mentions of late night karaoke and customers eating and drinking at the bar after closing.
Jack’s in Old Orcutt, Orcutt ― This rural restaurant and bakery had no known record until December 9, 2020, when it started racking up violations. Records show indoor and outdoor dining when it wasn’t allowed.
Sandbar and Baja Sharkeez, Santa Barbara ― No fewer than 23 complaints have been filed against these two State Street bars. The most common grievances from both citizens and county staff were bartenders and servers not wearing masks, indoor and outdoor tables placed right next to each other, and people “generally not giving a damn.”
Two more Santa Barbara businesses ― Santo Mezcal and O’Malley’s Bar ― found themselves in serious hot water during the first few months of the pandemic. Santo Mezcal was close to losing its license for serving customers at its inside bar, despite at least three written warnings. But after conversations with Public Health staff, both locations made the necessary corrections and haven’t had any issues since.