Families enjoy the expansive backyard area at the Guadalupe Social Club. | Credit: Courtesy

When I first visited Guadalupe — getting lost in the dunes, eating sopes at El Tapatio, appreciating the colorful architecture, learning about its multiethnic history — I was smitten and vowed to return regularly. More than 20 years later, I’m embarrassed to say that I’ve only been back a handful of times, rarely finding a visit convenient, given that the remote city in the northwestern corner of Santa Barbara County sits so far off of 101.

Meanwhile, I’ve watched Guadalupe endure years of heartache. It was one of the few cities in California to nearly go bankrupt (it didn’t), then the first in 40 years advised to dissolve (it didn’t), and even lost its primary landmark, the Far Western Tavern. That restaurant moved to Orcutt in 2012 due, in part, to the costs required to retrofit the old brick building. Those expensive earthquake-safety requirements scared off new businesses from investing as well, so I was left thinking that Guadalupe’s somewhat subdued status quo would go on forever.

Guadalupe Social Club is a new face for the city’s historic downtown strip. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

I’m happy to report that I was wrong. I finally made it back to Guadalupe earlier this year, and found a much more vibrant downtown strip than I remember. It still showed the charm of a sleepy Mexican farming pueblo — which makes sense, given the population is nearly 90 percent Latinx, most employed in agriculture — but there was palpable energy and bright coats of paint to the mercados and taquerias along Cabrillo Highway.

In the midst of it all sits Guadalupe Social Club, a wine bar, casual eatery, and event space that immediately became a community hub upon opening in February. Attracting a mix of longtime Latinx residents who are increasingly interested in wine, retirees who live up the coast in Nipomo’s Monarch Dunes development, and the recent influx of middle-class families who bought homes in the Pasadero subdivision, the Club comes at a prescient time. As the nearby Royal Theater — opened in 1939, closed since 1989 — undergoes a $5 million renovation, Guadalupe’s star is decidedly on the rise, with more than a few thinking that it could be the next Los Alamos.

“We wanted a place where you could drink wine, eat good food, and have a safe place for your kids,” explained Brooks Van Wingerden, who purchased the building with her husband in 2021 and founded the Club with her next door neighbor in Arroyo Grande, Lexie Bell. Both are moms of three young kids, and acutely appreciated that parental need for having fun, but with ample fencing. Others craved that too, said Bell, confirming, “They’ve charged in.”

Wine, food, games plus comfy seating are the key elements of Guadalupe Social Club’s century-old building. | Credit: Courtesy

The formula — wine, food, games, occasional entertainment, etc.  — appears straightforward, but the story behind the wines they pour is anything but. Since 2010, Van Wingerden has managed the day-to-day business operations for Margerum Wine Company, from Santa Barbara to Buellton and beyond. As she embraced parenthood, she evolved her job to build projects that expanded the brand’s reach beyond the high-touch, small-batch bottlings that are Doug Margerum’s primary concern.

Flatbreads are a primary part of the Guadalupe Social Club’s menu. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

That led to negociant labels such as Valle de Inez, Riviera Wine Company, and Diseños de California, which are affordably priced and sold by larger retailers across the country. But the Guadalupe Social Club is their only direct-to-consumer outlet. “There’s no other place where you can taste these wines,” said Van Wingerden. A flight is $15, glasses range from $10 to $12, bottles are $30 to $40, and there’s the occasional offering from small brands, like Ann Albert or Soul, that don’t have their own tasting rooms. There’s also beer, hard seltzer, and non-alcoholic options like apple cider and sparkling water.

The food service is much like what you find at Margerum’s Santa Barbara tasting room: extensive snacks, cheese, and charcuterie, plus paninis and flatbreads. They’re aimed to share while tossing cornhole or bocce, playing a board game, or chasing your kids around the expansive backyard, which looks out over the dusty end of the Santa Maria River and toward the mountains above San Luis Bay. That malleable outdoor space — more than half-an-acre of what was previously a junkyard — may prove to be the Club’s top asset, able to host food trucks, live concerts, and even substantial festivals one day. (More than 500 people enjoyed the grand opening, for instance.)

The century-old building — retrofitted before the Van Wingerdens bought it, then designed by Bell — is split down the middle into two long rooms, allowing ample space for overflow when the main room gets busy and the opportunity to host private parties without closing out the public. The Club throws its own events as well, like flower-arranging classes, mother-daughter teas, trivia night, and wine tastings, often featuring visiting winemakers.  Upcoming are a trivia night on July 20, Mestizo concert on July 29, progressive tasting on August 3, and winemaker night with Doug Margerum on September 7.

Guadalupe Social Club co-founder Brooks Van Wingerden (left) and Lexie Bell pour affordable wines blended by Doug Margerum. | Credit: Matt Kettmann

If the hour-plus drive from Santa Barbara seems daunting — more so that drive home, of course — consider the train, which leaves State Street just before 10 a.m., gets to Guadalupe before noon, and then gets you back by 8 p.m. “It’s a great summer day trip, “ said Van Wingerden, who suggests lunch at El Tapatio or La Simpatia and a tour of the Dunes Center before settling in at her Club. “Then you can take pizzas from us or Two Guys Pizza to go on the train along with a bottle of wine and you’re set for your sunset ride home.”

Margerum is especially proud of his longtime collaborator, and bullish on the potential for Guadalupe. “It will boom,” said Margerum, who was on hand to share his wines during my visit. “History will reward you for opening this and being the catalyst.”

Of course, not everyone wants Guadalupe to become the next Los Alamos, as even well-meaning gentrification of the culinary and cultural kind often uproots those who’ve lived there longest. We’re probably a few years away from that point, so hopefully strategic planning can ensure that everyone keeps their place at Guadalupe’s table. I’ll surely be back to take my seat someday soon. I promise.

Guadalupe Social Club, 945 Guadalupe St., Guadalupe; 805-356-6018; guadalupesocialclub.com

The backyard at Guadalupe Social Club | Photo: Courtesy


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