Last call: How long can bars survive without business?

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Test Pilot Cocktails. Photo Credit: Ashley Perry

“Last call” took on a new meaning this week. Bars, nightclubs, wineries and breweries in California were asked to close immediately, and restaurants to offer delivery or takeout service only. That’s all in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19. 

“We've got about 40 on staff,” says Brandon Ristaino, who co-owns three bars in Santa Barbara: Good Lion, Test Pilot and Shaker Mill. “They were tough, tough chats to have. I think ultimately, though, our staff is fairly supportive of our decision.”

He’s encouraging staff to file for unemployment, as are most employers in the hospitality industry. He hopes the state and federal government will provide relief by developing a commercial mortgage and rent abatement plan, postponing sales taxes and providing exemptions on unemployment taxes.

“We could probably survive without any cash for a few months, but most businesses can't, certainly in hospitality. It's going to become a big issue really soon,” Ristaino says.

In the meantime, here’s Ristaino’s favorite drink to make for all of you stuck at home, bereft of craft cocktails.

A Negroni at Good Lion bar. Photo courtesy of Brandon Ristaino.

1.0 oz london dry gin (we like Sipsmith)
1.0 oz campari
1.0 oz sweet vermouth (we like Cochi Vermouth di Torino)

Directions: Add all ingredients to a stirring glass. Stir with high quality ice for approximately 30 seconds. Strain into a chilled coupe or Nick and Nora glass. Alternatively, stir the cocktail for less time, and strain over new fresh ice in a double old fashioned glass. Garnish with orange twist.

Variations: The negroni cocktail is spectacular as is, but is incredibly fun to riff on. Try substituting your favorite spirit for gin, another bitter for campari, and another fortified wine for the vermouth. The variations are endless. I had an Irish Negroni last night with pot still Irish whiskey, madeira (for the vermouth), and Select Aperitivo. Lovely!




Matt Guilhem


Kathryn Barnes