It’s kitchy and campy, funky and fabulous – and it’s got a bartender on roller skates. It’s none-other than Elsie’s Tavern, a lounge tucked away on a low-key block of De la Guerra St., behind Paseo Nuevo. Devoid of Santa Barbara snobbery, the signless entrance invites in only the nonpretentious local hipsters who are drawn to the bar’s urban ambience and conversation-friendly hangout.
Cosmopolitan lovers and lemon drop aficionados can head elsewhere, because Elsie’s offers just beer and wine at their cash-only bar – keeping it simple with a short and sweet wine list that features a regular rotation of offerings from local wineries, plus 15 beers on tap and more in the fridge.
It’s like a dive bar, but with more panache, setting the scene with an off-beat collection of couches, free pool games and a smoking patio often filled with as much heated political discussion as smoke. The first room, with its comfy seats, fireplace, and magazines, reminds you of a coffee house minus the caffeine. The art-covered walls, which feature local artists, change every few weeks. The canvases usually look a bit drugged-out and psychedelic, but none-the-less provide plenty of topics for thought-provoking conversation.
My favorite decoration, however, is the bicycle, draped in Christmas lights that hang above the pool table in the next room. The room features a bar on the right and a concrete floor that serves as a dance space and stage area for open mic nights. Here, a weekend DJ spins his groove salad of ambient beats, folk sounds and quality lounge music or the occasional acoustic guitarist sings his woes. Odd antiques and relics from grandma’s attic fill any empty space, creating that warm atmosphere without overdoing it.
If paintings, politics and poetry aren’t your thing, then you have to enjoy a competitive round of Pac-Man – the most laugh-inducing throwback in the joint. Located near the restroom, it’s the ultimate entertainment while waiting in line for the loo.
It’s an eclectic mix for sure, but it has a laid-back mood and artsy scene for any group of friends looking for a great place for a chat and a drink. Or two.
Elsie’s is located at 117 W. De la Guerra St. in downtown Santa Barbara. The hours are Monday-Sunday 4 p.m. – 2 a.m., with a daily Happy Hour going on from 4-7 p.m.