Saturday, October 24, 2020     Volume: 21, Issue: 34
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Santa Maria Sun / Eats

The High Roller Tiki Lounge offers a tropical getaway in Solvang

CAMILLIA LANHAM

 A tiki bar is never done, according to Michael Cobb, but phase 1 of his new High Roller Tiki Lounge bar is just about complete.


Feels like vacation
Travel to Solvang for a tropical getaway in The High Roller Tiki Lounge from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. The lounge is located at 933 Alisal Road in Solvang, and you can learn more by visiting highrollertiki.com.

KITSCH AND CLASS
Have a mug full of tiki-tastic pleasure at The High Roller Tiki Lounge’s new location on Alisal Road in Solvang.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STILETTO MARKETING

The Solvang winemaker (Sort This Out Cellars) and wine cocktail shaker closed his Copenhagen Drive location in January with the intent of relocating. Then COVID-19 hit, Cobb said, and it threw a wrench into things as it did with everyone else in the world’s plans. He said it put the approval of the business’s new liquor license—to be able to serve beer and other wineries’ wines—on the back burner. 

“It took about four months for that to get approved. It was kind of a blessing in disguise,” Cobb said, adding that due to COVID-19, there wasn’t much business anyway. When the license finally got approved in July, “the next day, California closed inside again.” 

And like everyone else, Cobb pivoted, creating an outdoor patio area and finding local food purveyors willing to collaborate and serve food to High Roller Tiki Lounge patrons. 

The bright side to all of the coronavirus changes seems to be that Solvang was full of people during the week this summer. Usually, the weekends are when the city gets busy.


WINE-TAIL PIONEER
The High Roller Tiki Lounge in Solvang has been serving up wine cocktails for about a decade.
IMAGE COURTESY OF STILETTO MARKETING

“The last six or seven years there hasn’t been much traffic during the week in Solvang. It’s been kind of a ghost town,” Cobb said. But this summer “every day was like a Saturday. I guess everybody was in town.” 

Since schools started back up again, he said, things have slowed down a bit. But business is still good. Of course, navigating some of the changes with longtime customers (and new customers) has been a bit tricky, Cobb said. 

With the move from Copenhagen to Alisal, the winery became a wine bar. And the rules for a wine bar are different. For instance, all of the patrons need to be 21 or older, so no kids allowed. And although wineries are exempt from the COVID-19 food rules, as a wine bar, the tiki lounge isn’t. 

Cobb said people will stop by the podium out front and say that they were just down the street at another winery and didn’t have to buy food. So Cobb’s staff has to explain the rules to them. Or potential customers will say that they just ate and aren’t really interested in food—just an adult beverage.

“We get the tummy rub from everybody, like the universal sign for ‘I’m going to walk down the street,’” Cobb said. “About 75 percent of people who come up to the podium end up walking down the street.” 


NEW DIGS
Once located inside Sort This Out Cellars winery, The High Roller Tiki Lounge took over as the main attraction with a move to Alisal Road and a new wine and beer license.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STILETTO MARKETING

Luckily, there are quite a few places right in the High Roller’s backyard that are all willing to deliver food. Customers have a variety of shapes, sizes, and flavors to choose from for tiki lounge nibbles: Copenhagen Sausage Garden (no delivery), Silk Road’s Kitchen, Cailloux Cheese Shop, and Tower Pizza are on the menu. 

For the most part, though, Cobb said he’s met a ton of people who are just happy to be out. Happy to be out in a tiki bar, Cobb said, and happy to have a little escape. Because being in a tiki bar is like being in a little slice of tropical paradise. 

About 10 years ago, Cobb said his winery, Sort This Out Cellars, started making wine cocktails. 

“We find at night, people are kind of done wine tasting and want something cold in a glass with a few ice cubes,” he said. “We were a winery, so that’s what was available to us.”

They started with three original drinks, and it turned into about a dozen different creations. Cobb said they built out the back room at the winery and turned it into The High Roller Tiki Lounge, complete with live music that included rockabilly. And they loved the spot they built, so they essentially picked that up, moved it over to the new location, and expanded on it. 


ROCKABILLY READY
The High Roller Tiki Lounge’s stage is ready for its next live music act when COVID-19 restrictions lift.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STILETTO MARKETING

Tiki culture is something that Cobb’s been into since his days at Disneyland’s Polynesian-themed Tahitian Terrace, which has since closed. Hula girls, fire dancers, semi-fine dining, and lots of island-themed everything. 

“It was my favorite place I ever worked at Disney,” said Cobb, who worked at Disney for more than 17 years. 

He loves the art, creativity, and laid-back vibe that tiki culture puts out there. Being in a tiki bar is like being on a relaxing vacation, and it’s something his customers constantly comment on. 

As word got around about The High Roller Tiki Lounge at the winery, Cobb said the wine cocktails eventually outsold the wine about 3-to-1. One of the questions they always get, he said, is whether they’re going to get a full liquor license, and the answer is always a quick “no.” Eventually, Cobb said, even the “hardcore tikiphiles” get swayed his way. 

“Most tiki drinks at a regular tiki bar, you’re not going to taste the rum necessarily, or all the 14 other ingredients that go into making a drink,” he said. “Once they actually experience it, and once they allow themselves to have an open mind … people will nine times out of 10 walk away with a positive experience.” 


GET THAT SOUVENIR
Sort This Out Cellars wines, tiki mugs, and High Roller Tiki Lounge swag is ready for your suitcase.
PHOTO COURTESY OF STILETTO MARKETING

The Painkiller, one of their most popular wine cocktails, is normally made with rum. But at The High Roller Tiki Lounge, it comes with a neutral chardonnay, pineapple juice, cream of coconut, orange juice, and a little bit of nutmeg on top. With the new liquor license, the tiki lounge is also bringing in something called Sabe, a rice wine and liquor blend that’s 48 proof—so an establishment with a wine and beer license can serve it. 

Now, the bar is using a Sabe rum product for cocktails like the Mai Tai, which Cobb says is great. Plus, they basically double the serving, so you get the same amount of alcohol you would in a regular cocktail. 

Although The High Roller Tiki Lounge and Sort This Out Cellars’ new location hasn’t been able to fulfill its potential quite yet due to the pandemic and associated rules, Cobb said they’re really excited about the layout of the new spot. They built a nice stage for live music, have a wine club members-only lounge, and plenty of space for customers to spread out and drink a beer. The patio, a COVID-19 inspired afterthought, is also on Cobb’s list of things to be excited about. 

“I didn’t even think about it before,” he said. “It’s kind of like, when you’re forced to do something, your mind kind of opens up a little bit, and you’re forced to widen.” 

Editor Camillia Lanham is in the mood for a tiki lounge vacay. Send tropical food and drink tips to clanham@santamariasun.com.









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