I like to think that I have a few different personas. Now hear me out. I’m not confessing to you all that I have multiple personalities, but rather different modi operandi given certain situations.
After Work Tara prefers dry vodka martinis with three olives. Weekend Tara likes a citrusy gin cocktail that is booze forward and easy on the palate. But Vacation Tara likes a steady stream of piña coladas served around the clock until it’s time to go home.
It would seem that a beach town like ours would be rife with beach-themed bars, yet I haven’t found that to be the case in our foodie forward-thinking town. In fact, I’m starting to think we’ve overthought the cocktails in this city.
While there are a number of inventive cocktails that range from Instagram-worthy to standard fare, there aren’t many mixed drinks one can find around town that truly embody the beach vibe. Even harder to find, in fact, are booze-forward cocktails that let the alcohol be the star of the show.
In my opinion, Santa Barbara has been long overdue for more than just one tropical-themed bar, not to mention a place that serves more than just standard bar food.
The creators and owners of the trendy Good Lion and tiki-inspired Test Pilot — the other tropical-themed watering hole — recently opened the Shaker Mill on Lower State Street.
Owners Brandon Ristaino and Misty Orman-Ristaino have struck gold yet again with an inspired space covered in custom-designed lanai furniture and Italian tiled art pieces that bear the name of their new bar.
The major bonus to this new establishment is their foodie counterpart nestled inside that boasts a better-than-average bar food menu.
Cubaneo, co-owned by Jessy Gaddy, Julian Martinez and Kris Brown, is Barbareño’s sister restaurant that pays homage to Martinez’s Cuban heritage.
But Martinez isn’t the only one with ties to a Cuban history, as Ristaino spent his growing up years in Miami, where everything from the food to his first cigar were heavily influenced by the neighboring country.
Combining his love of mixology and his own Cuban-infused history, Ristaino has created an inspired tropical cocktail menu that rivals the overly sweet cocktail craze that currently plagues our city.
“Every drink on the menu was designed to pair with the food,” Ristaino said.
And he’s not wrong. I must have tried just about one of everything on both menus and was pleased to discover that each drink does, in fact, pair well with each dish.
I recommend not just a visit but a staycation with multiple trips to this bar, starting with an order of the Hemingway Daiquiri Royale. The bone dry prosecco in this rum drink makes for a clean, light start for your taste buds’ travels. Or try the Mango Lassi, a lighthearted, tropical, Indian-inspired libation that is a nod to the former tenants of the now shared space, paired with the Ropa Nueva from Cubaneo.
The Porto Guava also should make your to-do list as this rum and ruby port concoction literally pairs well with all of the dishes at Cubaneo and was one of the drinks I just couldn’t get enough of.
Finish off your exploration with a Media Noche that Ristaino said is an “unapologetically brown and bitter nightcap” that pairs perfectly with the dish from Cubaneo that shares the same name. Make a plan to stay for a spell as you bask in the bitter warm glow of this amaro-type digestive.
This new project in the trifecta of the Ristainos’ libation business is perfect for travelers and locals alike with inventive new concoctions as well as reinvented classics, plus incredible food next door where everything on both menus costs less than $15.
And that’s right in line with Staycation Tara’s modus operandi.
— Tara Jones Haaf leads Eat This, Shoot That! and welcomes reader tips and ideas for future columns. She can be reached at email@example.com. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.