After Les Marchands ran its course, parent company Acme Hospitality turned the space into a cocktail bar called Pearl Social. The reasoning seems clear enough: there’s no kitchen, so a restaurant was out; the Funk Zone has become saturated with wine-tasting rooms; and you don’t need an entire hand to count the number of good craft-cocktail bars in Santa Barbara. Plus, sister restaurant The Lark could use a place for guests to wait, what with patrons reliably dining at its bar.
Acme has a sure touch with design; its expertise can be seen in each and every one of its properties (which also include Loquita, Lucky Penny, Helena Avenue Bakery, and Tyger Tyger). Pearl Social—named after the late community activist Pearl Chase—is no exception. From the night it opened, the place has felt both fresh and like it has been around forever. There’s seating at the bar, on myriad sofas and chairs, and out on the patio (although it doesn’t appear to have heat lamps). The decor is all highly Instagrammable, if your camera can cope with the light. (These photographs are all courtesy Pearl Social, with the exception of the one with the piano.)
Speaking of the piano, Pearl Social has music every night: sometimes it’s a DJ, other times there are musicians—vocalist Natalie Gelman, pianist Matt McCarrin, the Rent Party Blues band, Téka, and so on. I couldn’t be more delighted with another option to hear live music, but the unnecessary amplification overwhelmed McCarrin’s playing. And last night, Téka was difficult to enjoy over the sound of patrons’ conversation.
While there is a small food menu (via the Lark?)—mainly of nibblybits, with a lone burger entrée—the focus is very much on cocktails. The offerings are creative and varied, and as is the way with modern mixology, you’ll find orgeats, tinctures, and obscure and/or eyebrow-raising ingredients. (I’m talking to you, curry powder.) On both of my visits, the drinks were excellent—with the exception of one with a bit too much cinnamon tincture—as was the smoked trout dip, served with malt vinegar potato chips.
The service is less consistent. If Pearl Social were a pub, I wouldn’t expect much, but a cocktail bar wants poise and sophistication. Instead, every interaction with our first server was awkward. The worst example was that she brought the check as soon as we ordered, well before we’d seen a drink; the bar was nearly empty, and I doubt that we seem like the type to ditch. (Tipping was an act of faith.) The second visit was better, so I’m hopeful. The bar really does feel like a step forward for the Funk Zone, and Santa Barbara in general.
P.S. A promotional email touted Pearl Social as “family-friendly,” which I guess means there won’t be any racy entertainment, such as burlesque. But can we agree that your kids don’t belong in a bar? The other patrons will thank you.
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