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Writer Eric Smillie, picture

The Downtown Santa Cruz Cocktail Scene

Posted by Eric Smillie on March 31, 2014
Solaire cocktail, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Tim Cattera Photography
Photo caption
Lemon Ginger Drop, one of Solaire's signature cocktails, is made with Absolut Citron, fresh lemon, hibiscus, and ginger.

The friendly downtown area of Santa Cruz, Calif, packs lots of restaurants into a small area, making it an easy walk for a cocktail and a bite to eat. Area code is 831.

515 Kitchen & Cocktails It’s all about the craft cocktails at this small restaurant, where the bar has revived classics such as the widow’s kiss, a pleasantly bracing, herbal drink drawn from an 1895 mixing manual that combines Calvados, green chartreuse, Bénédictine, and angostura bitters. Other, more contemporary creations include the mandala, which calls for, among other things, house-infused chai spice gin and cardamom bitters. The food is reason enough to visit, so it’s worth reserving ahead of time and coming with room for at least the flatbread topped with spiced ground lamb, feta cheese, and pine nuts, or the roasted fingerling potatoes with whole grain Dijon aioli. 425-5051.

Solaire Restaurant + Bar Modern chic rules at the restaurant in this relatively new downtown hotel, and the cocktails fit right in with cedilla acai liqueur adding a dark berry and cinnamon spin to the Pacific sunset, a blend of tequila, orange juice, lime, and agave nectar. For the full experience, order it poolside along with a plate of flash fried Monterey bay calamari with crispy lemon chips and basil. 600-4545,

Red Restaurant and Bar The fireplace, couches, and low lighting make this second-floor room feel like a lounge. Once it fills with people, the bar gives rise to a relaxed and unpretentious party. The cocktails play along, as with the flux in-capacitor, whose pleasantly sophomoric name suits the bubbly, tangy-sweet flavor of thyme infused bourbon with maraschino cherry, sugar, and orange, then topped with champagne. For snacks, try the paprika fried chickpeas and the chicken and waffle bites with maple butter. 425-1913.

Hula's Island Grill This tiki bar runs the theme to the hilt, delivering celebrated scorpion bowls and tropical drinks in oddly shaped glasses, such as the fearsome zombie, a mug of three rums mixed with passion fruit, pineapple, and lime juices. The sweet and sticky Kona-style chicken wings sprinkled with cilantro should top any food order. 426-4852.

This blog post was first published in April 2014. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.