After successfully turning several formerly grotty inner city pubs into ultra-fun drinking palaces, the folks at Drink & Dine (owners of the The Norfolk, The Abercrombie, The Carrington and Forresters) have decided to mix it up. And they've decided to do it in a neighbourhood not known for its civility or sophistication come witching hour. This is a brave move.
Squashed beneath the Coke sign and featuring sweeping vistas of the desolate canyon that is William Street, Santa Barbara is part bar, part diner and part nightclub. And like its sister venues, it's filled with several garage sales' worth of kitsch. Ascend the stairs from the street and you'll be met with the first selection: a large feature wall with a mechanical stuffed bear and a blazing neon sign spelling out the bar's name.
Further inside, there are plush booths, nooks and crannies hiding behind red stucco walls and a clutch of tables overlooking Darlinghurst Road. The walls are covered in a stunning collection of memorabilia, ranging from American number plates and photos of muscle men to retro tropical prints (surely excess from Queenie’s). The bar's at the back and is long, shaded by roof tiles and backed by retro cafeteria-style photos of food.
At the bar, Heineken, James Squire and Mount Kosciusko Pale Ale are tapped, while Pacifico, Corona, Tsingtao and Bintang come in bottles. Cocktails include a Singapore Slang (gin, Luxardo, lemon, pineapple, Orgeat, Grenadine and bitters) and a Santa Colada (rum, coconut puree, pineapple and Amaretto).
The food is categorised as 'US Asian Bar-B-Q' and is a twisted mix of Korean, Mexican, Chinese and American. Bings (Chinese pancakes) make good drinking snacks and come in Peking Duck, Kung Pow Chicken and Korean Short Rib varieties. Seafood enthusiasts should sample the Kingfish Poke or Santa Barbara swordfish. A Dragon Dog has fried octopus, pico de gallo and coleslaw.
Santa Barbara will be a hit. Its location (not to mention the massive sign) will mean it will draw a thick knot of punters every night of the week. Despite its name, it's not really American-themed, so don't go expecting that. And whether it can contend with the squalid nonsense of the Cross on a weekend remains to be seen. But give them credit for trying.