By Zachary Rosen
After the year-and-a-half we’ve had, many of us are in need of some socialization — and this summer, in particular, seems like a perfect time to go for a drink with friends.
So, venture out and taste some of the best summer cocktails the Central Coast has to offer; give some support to the bars and restaurants that have stayed open throughout the pandemic, and especially the ones that opened during it.
Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust
Husband-and-wife team, Brandon Ristaino and Misty Orman, have actually opened two new bars in the midst of the pandemic while running their other three establishments. These three bars — The Good Lion, Test Pilot, and Shaker Mill — are all based in Santa Barbara and are known for their stylish touch and distinctive themes. For a while, Brandon and Misty had been interested in opening a new bar in Ventura. They couldn’t believe their luck when they discovered a historic Italian bank building was available on Main Street in Ventura. They quickly jumped on the property and began developing it. The building had previously been a clothing shop, so the site needed a complete rebuild, including adding a kitchen. This restaurant and bar would be the first of Brandon and Misty’s establishments to have an integrated kitchen, and they had big plans.
The week they submitted permits, the statewide (and eventually worldwide) shutdown began, and they were stuck in development. It was tough to decide whether to continue, but they knew that they would never find such a cool building again.
Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust’s decor celebrates the architecture and design of the historic Baroque building. Brandon has Italian roots and they both share a deep love for the culture and cuisine. They wanted to combine a range of Italian influences, pulling largely from southern and coastal Italy with many bright citrus flavors, vermouths, and amaros, like an Amaro Sazerac. The Fluffy Garibaldi cocktail combines fresh orange juice with lemon, Campari, and cherry bark vanilla bitters. The menu also features more “brown and boozy” cocktails, with one of their best-selling drinks being a mezcal cocktail. For something mellower, there is a selection of Italian natural wines available that fit the “quirky Italian comfort food” they serve in the restaurant.
Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust,
394 E Main St, Ventura
Venus in Furs
It was a love for natural wines and punk rock that inspired the second bar, Venus in Furs, that Brandon and Misty opened during the quarantine. At first when they discovered a possible spot was available in downtown Santa Barbara, they were not necessarily that interested in the place. As soon as they toured the location though, they began dreaming of what it could become.
Brandon and Misty had just signed the lease and gotten the keys when minutes later the government closure of bars and restaurants was announced. Suddenly, they had two new bars on their hands, and no idea when they’d be able to open them. They were quiet for a long moment, but then began figuring everything out and putting in the arduous work to make it happen.
Venus in Furs opened in August 2020 as an all-natural wine bar and bottle shop that features small bites and a popup by Barb’s Pies.
Natural wines, made with traditional techniques and less additives, have long interested Brandon and Misty. They became enamored with the rebellious French farmers in the 1970s and ‘80s who began to reject the more processed techniques that had become normalized in the industry, and who revitalized the historic production methods and organic farming processes. The punk rock attitude of these farmers inspired Brandon and Misty and had them listening to a lot of rock music from those eras. Misty was inspired by the Velvet Underground song Venus in Furs, which was originally named after a book on female empowerment. They named the bar after the song, feeling it perfectly captures the moody vibes and lush interior they envisioned.
Their selection of wine cocktails doesn’t have any hard alcohol but does bring a full set of flavors that is easier on you the next day. The New Rose in Town adds strawberries and lemon to a lush red wine, with cherry bark vanilla bitters bringing a dash of complexity. The bar has a curated playlist to fit the theme and the drinks are named after different rock songs. The *Real* Wild Child, a reference to the Iggy Pop track, is their take on a cucumber Tom Collins. Black Leather captures the rocky edge of the Sex Pistols’ song by blending the smooth yet sharp
herbal notes of amaro and red vermouth with a punch of Angostura bitters and a lemon twist.
Venus in Furs,
18 E Cota St, Santa Barbara
Grapes & Hops
Open since 2013, Grapes & Hops is located just one block away from Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust on Main Street and is known for its curated wine selection. The owners of Grapes & Hops have found the local Ventura bar community incredibly supportive during this difficult time, especially as they launch a new cocktail program. The recent opening of Main Street into a walking promenade has also been a saving grace, with the area now being a more accessible destination point. Being just blocks off the beach, Grapes & Hops is in the heart of a thriving social scene. This classy bar has the feel of a winery with wood stave walls and barrel furniture to complete the theme.
Grapes & Hops was originally started by Tami White, a wine sales rep in the area. In November of 2019 Teri Formanek, a friend of Tami, jumped on as a partner. One of the first changes they decided to make was to introduce a full cocktail bar to the space. They recently obtained a liquor license and a new sign with their updated name, Grapes & Hops With a Twist.
In the past Grapes & Hops had around 250 wines, focusing largely on California labels but making sure to include a few global vintages in the bottle shop. As they add a full bar, they will be streamlining the wine and beer selection to make way for the new range of spirits. They will be putting together eight or so signature cocktails to launch their bar program that will fit their chic interior. They have also expanded the kitchen and menu to now include a range of flatbreads, warm sandwiches, and other tasty bites to have alongside your drink. The outdoor patio offers live music from Thursday to Sunday and while many of the shows have been outside since reopening, they plan to bring the performances back indoors soon. In a time that has been challenging for so many, they feel grateful that they have been able to turn this moment into a success story, using this past year to grow Grapes & Hops With a Twist.
Grapes & Hops, 454 E Main St, Ventura
(805) 641-0053; grapesandhops.org
In nearby Westlake Village, Nonna brings a more familial experience. Nonna first opened in 2018 and serves authentic Italian meals and cutting-edge cocktails in an ambiance that owner Jacopo Falleni describes as “classy but cozy.” Jacopo brings 25 years of industry experience in mixology, bars, and restaurants, and this is his third establishment in the area.
Nonna means ‘grandma’ in Italian, and Jacopo wanted a grandmother’s touch throughout the restaurant. The silverware and dishware intentionally do not match and look as if they came from a grandma’s cupboard. For the food, Jacopo wanted to make it as authentic as possible, focusing on traditional ingredients and techniques, including a pasta maker that comes in each morning to make that day’s pasta. Drinks are served in different vintage glasses that they collected over the years. Jacopo incorporates a lot of ingredients into his cocktails that are often found in the kitchen and not a drink. These unique flavors also reveal his skill behind the bar and vast mixology experience.
For Jacopo, cocktail making is a “360-degree passion” covering everything from the drink’s execution and a full ice carving program to his coaching of the staff. Photographing each drink has led to a side passion for food and drink photography.
Beyond his restaurant and bar experience, Jacopo has authored books and made media appearances over his extensive career. Having been in the industry for so long, those who have followed Jacopo through his different restaurants know him for a Balsamic Vinegar Martini, which has become one of his signature drinks. In addition to this distinctive martini, Nonna has many unique cocktails with whimsical ingredients, like the Avocado Toast. Muddled avocado is mixed with orange and lime juice plus a touch of simple syrup, and then completed with mango-infused rum and Cointreau. For something more summery and uplifting, try the Loredana that blends orange vodka and St Germain with a balancing bitterness coming from grapefruit juice and Aperol. Of course, they have more classic cocktails like a Negroni and an Americano as well.
While dining at Nonna, Jacopo wants guests to enjoy authentic Italian meals and feel awe and surprise while enjoying a drink that shares the same flavors.
Nonna, 951 S Westlake Blvd #102, Westlake Village
(805) 497-8482; nonna.restaurant
The Alchemist’s Garden
Up in Paso Robles, The Alchemist’s Garden, which opened this past year, has had its own struggles during the pandemic. This restaurant and cocktail bar is the brainchild of friends Tony Bennett, Alexandra Pellot, Andrew Brune, and Quin Cody, all of whom bring their own experience in the food and drink industry.
The idea to start a restaurant together came about when the four of them went to the well-known Tales of the Cocktail conference and festival in Puerto Rico when it was on tour. They kept talking about the idea, and in January of 2020 an opportunity for a place opened up and they quickly signed the paperwork. Shortly after, COVID-19 swept the world and, as with Brandon and Misty’s bars, threw off their plans. However, they were able to open The Alchemist’s Garden in August 2020. During this time, they transformed the property to have the feel of a garden environment. Even the menu has a colorful and ornate floral touch to it. Plants line the outdoor patios, and bright, open interior spaces give it an airy ambiance. Enjoy the botanical atmosphere with their Garden Spear.
Much of their menu is family-style dining and showcases the skills of chef Danelle Jarzinski with dishes like Coffee Rubbed Skirt Steak and Duck Chalupas. With such strong flavors on the menu, many of the cocktails are designed with the food in mind. Salt Circles is built around their popular curried deviled eggs and includes turmeric-infused vodka with a hint of turbinado sugar, egg white, and citrus to brighten up the other flavors. To make the exotic drinks more familiar, their menu lists the general families that each cocktail belongs to. The Belladonna is their take on a Painkiller. Butter-washed rum from nearby KROBĀR Craft Distillery is added to pineapple and orange juice with some soothing spice coming from cream of coconut and the Caribbean allspice liqueur, falernum. The drink comes out in a special copper goblet and is flamed tableside with high proof rum and cinnamon dust to add a little extra warmth to this already inviting environment.
The Alchemist’s Garden,
1144 Pine St, Paso Robles
In front of the Paso Robles Downtown City Park and right next door to The Alchemist’s Garden, the Irish pub Pappy McGregor’s has been serving up brews and comfort food since 2006. What began as a beer and bottle shop soon evolved into a gastropub, as owners Donovan Schmit and his cousin Troy Larkin worked to heighten the dining and drink experience over the years.
Along with cocktails, 20 taps, and a wine list, Pappy McGregor’s has a little of something for everyone, including an award-winning Bloody Mary. Their cocktails focus on bringing new twists to old favorites. The Red Eye Old Fashioned combines bourbon, cold brew, chocolate bitters, and a demerara syrup with a lemon peel garnish to sharpen the toasty flavors. Senorita Rosalita is a spin on the classic margarita with the addition of freshly muddled strawberries and a basil-infused agave to round off the fresh lime and silver tequila. The drink is poured
over a large crystal rock before serving and is garnished with a little basil.
Their menu offerings focus on high-end comfort food like a lobster mac and cheese with some healthier options to balance things out — although Donovan mentions that the Red Eye Old Fashioned goes particularly well with their chicken and waffles dish. With a back and front patio, plus live music on the weekends, Pappy McGregor’s has a local yet vibrant vibe.
Pappy MacGregor’s, 1122 Pine St, Paso Robles
(805) 238-7070; pappymcgregors.com
Eleven Twenty-Two Speakeasy & Cocktail Lounge
Walk into the back patio of Pappy McGregor’s and you will find a small structure that is home to Donovan and Troy’s latest venture, the speakeasy bar Eleven Twenty-Two (1122), named after the property’s address. Being a speakeasy, the bar is all indoors, and true to the style of these hidden spots, is only accessible through a secret entrance.
The room is lined in dark wood and golden accents, with a marble countertop filling the space. Jazz music in the background and bartenders wearing themed clothing while using all golden bar tools takes guests back to a bygone era.
The elegant interior pairs well with their top selling drink, the Butter Pecan Old Fashioned. Bourbon with a dash of Angostura and orange bitters is balanced by a butter pecan syrup and comes to you in a glass dome, where the drink is smoked with hickory. For the Forgotten Cocktails list, bartenders dug into historic cocktail books and rediscovered antique drinks and defunct ingredients. Each one on the list has the year and location to put the cocktail in context. The Delicious Sour (1892) incorporates applejack, a type of apple brandy that was traditionally freeze-distilled (referred to as jacking) and is rarely used in cocktails today.
In 2018, Eleven Twenty-Two (1122) was named as one of the Top Must-See 50 hidden speakeasies in the world by the Venue Report. When designing the bar, Donovan and Troy wanted guests to have an “elegant and elevated experience” that would transport them back to the Prohibition era. They recently began taking cell phones away, checking them at the door. Guests are sometimes hesitant at first but will often thank them on the way out, mentioning how much they enjoyed being away from their phone.
Eleven Twenty-Two Speakeasy
& Cocktail Lounge,
1122 Pine St, Paso Robles
The Pour House
Just four blocks away from Paso’s Downtown City Park is Robin Fields Park, where The Pour House delivers local brews and moods. With warm wooden interiors and tap handles lining the walls, The Pour House has the coziness of a local drinking hole. Offering 27 taps and a selection of bottled beers and wines, The Pour House is the perfect place to grab a pint and enjoy some socialization.
The tap list circulates with many of the beers coming from local breweries like Central Coast Brewing and SLO Brewing Co. Freshen up your day with a Barrelhouse Brewing Co. Strawberry Daze, which is brewed with wheat and fresh strawberries. The menu, of course, includes a range of IPAs like the classically flavored Mustang IPA by SLO Brew, and the ever-changing Luponic Distortion IPA from Firestone Brewing Co. brewed with a new set of hops each time it is released.
The Pour House does not have a kitchen, however they do allow outside food to be brought in. They are conveniently surrounded by local restaurants including Pizza Planet, Cali Grill, and Goshi Japanese Restaurant. Most of the time on Thursday through Sunday, they have live music in the outdoor courtyard so guests can enjoy some tunes with their brews. Come to The Pour House to watch some sports or just listen to a live band while sipping on local suds.
The Pour House, 525 Pine St, Paso Robles
(805) 296-3712; pasoroblesbeer.com