The Good Lion
Ruka and I left The Chestnut Club and returned to our tiny home on the beach in El Segundo. We decided to sit and watch the sun go down over the Pacific Ocean. As we sat there the waves continued to splash on our toes as we buried them in the cool sand. As usual for us, there was silence. We had once again given in to the environment surrounding us; the splashing of the waves, the roar of the planes, the little girl screeches from down the beach, the rumble and the creaking sounds of the RVs rolling into the park and the other RVs running their air conditioning. Off a stretch you could hear music, you could hear voices, the gulls flapping about, you could even hear the buzzing sounds of the insects and far away you could hear cars and a faint siren dissipating into the distance.
That's one thing that Ruka has done for me, she has taught me to listen, moreover, she has taught me to hear. I wanted to talk about cocktails, I wanted to talk about the big f****** ice cube in my drink. I wanted to talk about the lesson that I enjoyed on bitters, but I knew that this was not the time. This was a special occasion. It was one of those awesome memorable glimpses where words had no purpose. As the sun was setting, I was all alone with my girl. And I reveled in how sweet that moment was. Companionship is a funny thing. It has taught me so much about her. It has taught me so much about me. I've learned to hear.
"In the middle of everything, we found the Granada Theater. At first, I thought, oh how nice it is to see an old theater showing movies, but that's not what happens there at all. I won't say more. "
We had already talked about where we were going, we knew that we wanted to do the entire Pacific Coast, but we really didn't know how much time it would take. We had already seen San Diego, Oceanside, and Santa Monica so off we go on our way to Seattle and our first stop is Santa Barbara. I found a place that's very special in Santa Barbara. It's called The Good Lion. If it sounds familiar then you're probably thinking about the children's short story by Ernest Hemingway of the same name. In that story, the good lion has wings. I wanted to read the story to Ruka, but I knew that it would perplex her. She was still bewildered about the flying pig.
In the nearly 40 years that I had lived in California, I had driven through Santa Barbara numerous times. I'd stopped and enjoyed the beach and visited a few coastal restaurants, but I had never made it to downtown Santa Barbara. I was very fascinated with how the downtown community seemed so commercially vibrant. The streets were scattered with people, everyone was so friendly and of course, Ruka was turning heads. In the middle of everything, we found the Granada Theater. At first, I thought, oh how nice it is to see an old theater showing movies, but that's not what happens there at all. I won't say more. I just suggest you click on their website below and see the variety of incredible performances that appear on their stage.
The Good Lion is in the Granada Theater building. In a small space, just to the right of the entrance of the theater, there is this charming little cocktail cave. In what looks like a room that once served banana splits, root beer floats, and soda pop is now a rather quaint bar. The Good Lion was opened in November 2014 by former Angelinos Brandon and Misty Ristaino.
It is an eclectic room with a tall ceiling, mosaic tile that covers the front of the bar, bar stools that are affixed to the floor, old world wallpaper and behind the bar are live enthusiastic cocktail shakers. My arrival at the bar was early, shortly after they opened. I was immediately offered their house punch as a complimentary aperitif to my cocktail choice. I was impressed, I could tell that I was in the right place by how many different bottles of bitters there were on the bar. In addition, there were several other small bottles that were a cocktail mise en place.
I was handed the drink list. As it turned out the list was a 14-page book. Usually, an establishment will have a list of 10 or 12 unique drinks. This is not the case at The Good Lion. They take their drink making seriously. I ordered the Ken-Tiki Kentucky. It is made with bourbon, navel orange, Madagascar vanilla, lemon, Citrus bitter, Nutmeg and it is garnished with mint. At this point in my journey, there are drinks I now recognize. The Hanky-Panky, the Bobby Burns, the Boulevardier, the Brooklyn, the Hemingway daiquiri, the Paper Plane, and the Last Word are just a few drinks I've seen before, but they all appear here at The Good Lion. There is no lack of imagination in the recreation of their elixir combinations. I could only stay for an hour, but I could drink at The Good Lion for an entire evening. Yikes, this place is a star. I doubt that I could ever drive through Santa Barbara again without stopping by and trying a new drink.
They serve food too, which is provided by their neighboring restaurant. But I think the thing what surprised me the most is the drink book includes a list of the staff. It says nothing about the owners. Now, what could that possibly mean, other than the owners believe the staff is an important ingredient in the success of their venue.
Kudos to Brandon and Misty for creating a venue that everyone seems to enjoy. But wait, they have created a second venue that opened in 2016 which is about one and a half miles down State Street, just a couple of blocks from the beach. This location is a tiki bar called Test Pilot.
Geez, I don't know, maybe I'll have to stop by Test Pilot next time I’m in Santa Barbara.
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Author : Neal Murray
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