In Search of Santa Barbara’s Dive Bars

A Rundown of Where to Drink in Authentic Circumstances

Jimboz Lounge on De la Vina

Anita Reyez

Jimboz Lounge on De la Vina

There are dive bars in New York City, and I’ve been to them: Places where one can sit beside the quasi-homeless and quite literally homeless, guzzling rock-bottom-shelf liquor while bartenders hand out bowls of burnt popcorn and insults as cutting as they are profane. Places near the Port Authority Bus Terminal where bikini-clad women with visible C-section scars provide flat beer in grimy glassware and service without even the suggestion of a smile. Places where the walls couldn’t possibly talk, gagged such as they are with a thick patina of errant booze and abject neglect.

I miss them.

Even though I’ve left the mean streets of Hell’s Kitchen for the one-way streets of Santa Barbara, I find that my desire for depravity and the pursuit of passing acquaintances in low places endures. There are times when a man simply isn’t in the market for copper mugs and craft cocktails with names that evoke idyllic days at the beach. Now and again, a drinker needs a dark little den to match his dark little mood, where degradation is the prevailing aesthetic.

Following the demise of the magnificent Sportsman Lounge — which was reincarnated on State Street after I wrote this, though with much more polish — Santa Barbara’s dive-bar stock is running quite low. And so I went looking for Santa Barbara’s dives, the rough among the diamonds, the shadowy spots where paradise is lost and the California sun can find no purchase. Here’s what I found.

The Tully

The Tully, a brief stumble from Super Cucas on the Westside, provides a pleasing alternative to State Street’s culture of undergraduate blisters and barf. Though the space has cleaned up considerably since its time as BoHenry’s and Palmieri’s, there remains an air of authenticity and grit. It’s a working-class bar in a refreshingly non-gentrified stretch of San Andres with generous pours and nary a bit of pretense or refinement. In other words, it’s a great spot.

While drinking there after the Solstice Parade, I was warned by a friendly couple not to engage with the muttering vagrant in the corner. “If you buy him a beer,” they counseled, “you’ll never get rid of him.” Couldn’t the same be said of most of us? 1431 San Andres St.

Roundin' Third

Set behind a 7-Eleven in the hinterlands of west Goleta, Roundin’ Third Sports Bar attracts a distinctive clientele. On a recent visit, I spotted a Wilford Brimley lookalike in a visor sitting beside a Glenn Beck lookalike in a tank top, loudly holding court on matters ranging from golf to farts. The interior of the bar looked like it was recovering from a trash tornado composed of beer ads and sports ephemera while the seldom-heard full-length version of the Cops theme song played on the stereo without an ounce of irony. Sipping Corona on the cigarette-strewn patio, I felt something approximating peace of mind. 7398 Calle Real, Goleta

The Mecca Sports Bar

A creepily unfinished wooden door dissuades curious güeros while loud Norteño music announces in no uncertain terms that The Mecca is principally para la gente. Inside, rugged rancheros guzzle undoubtedly well-deserved bottles of Modelo while fútbol, the bar’s titular sport, plays on muted TVs.

On the back wall, a massive beer banner declares this to be the “fabulous” Mecca. Applying to a dive bar a descriptor typically reserved for Broadway and brunch may seem odd, but is it any stranger than naming a drinking spot after Islam’s most sacred city? 512 N. Milpas St.

Break Time

Goleta’s remaining truck and Skoal enthusiasts congregate here over tense games of pool and a shared disdain for well-functioning livers. Dogs sit on stools at the bar, gobbling popcorn and lapping up spilled drinks like a velvet painting come to life for the sole purpose of provoking the health inspector.

Some weeks ago, while drinking beside a particularly subdued pit bull, I was berated by one of the regulars for being overdressed. In full disclosure, I was wearing a coat. Suffice it to say, I had it coming.

Late into the night, one of the bar’s elder statesmen sat beside me, stating with some degree of quiet pride that he was in his seventies and had lived in the area for decades. “What has changed most?” I asked him. He sat back, letting the question marinate in his mind, cataloging an index of memories and emotions reaching back through the years, before finally settling on the keen observation: “Well, there’s more bike lanes now.” 5977 Encina Rd., Goleta

Jimboz Lounge

At Jimboz, a cycloptic bartender with an eye patch dispenses whiskey and wisdom. The drinks are cheap and the lighting is harsh at this stalwart drinking destination that now sits incongruously beside an Airstream glampground and across the street from Santa Barbara’s most hipsterized coffee house. A vestige of De la Vina’s rougher days, and featuring a robust cast of rapidly aging regulars, Jimboz may well be the city’s closest live-action approximation of Moe’s Tavern as well as its dive bar par excellence.

A few months ago, I sat in one of the bar’s booths, sipping a beer and enjoying the unsettling quiet that occasionally overtakes a room full of drunks who all appear to be taking mental inventory of their past missteps at the same time. A seemingly interminable stretch of silence was broken at last by a man at the bar who announced suddenly, “I slept in a parking lot last night.”

I’ll drink to that.

2711 De la Vina St.