June 29, 2005
By The Salmon
211 Helena Ave
The Allman Brothers concert let out and we stumbled, with the swarming masses, into the dazed confusion of the of the Shoreline Amphitheatre parking lot. The Psilocybin tea I had ingested was doing what it was supposed to and forced me to question a number of decisions I had made during my last year of college, including the ’63 Alfa with the valve covers that sure didn’t look like they fit quite right . . .
In this mental state I was convinced there was no reason for there not to be a train from Mountain View to San Francisco, given the proximity. My old pal, the Rooster and I waited expectantly outside the station for a few hours, counting and commenting on the condors, trolls and fairies, which were suddenly relentless. Eventually it was apparent that there was not only no train, but no train station. We began the volley for a taxi. Foiled by aging yuppies, who were in a much better position to negotiate, we were left with a handful of vagabond gypsies sitting on the curb staring at the sky, the moon and a rusting Pontiac LeMans. There was a fellow in a grass skirt who looked like Karl Malden, and another Joe who made a hat entirely out of twist ties. He dubbed our experience the “No Cab Game.” The longer we waited, the more points we earned. We ate it up.
It was this scene that came to mind as I sipped a Red Tail on the patio of Red’s Cafe down in the Funk Zone on a blistering afternoon. I was parked on a rich brown leather chair and surveyed the crowd that defies the stereotype of our well-to-do hamlet. This is a place where people seek anonymity and seem to have earned it. Laptops abound and anyone with a Dell receives a dirty look or at least cold coffee.
The glue of the joint is owner Dana Walters. A ceramic artist who decided that a coffee shop is a much more orthodox way to earn a buck, she makes the place hum. If the elevation of your coffee dips below a fathom she is there to replenish. Most of the time she’s hard to find and deep within the innards of the kitchen making sure the food comes out just right. That is when she doesn’t greet you in the parking lot, manning the grill in a plume of smoke surrounded by beef shanks.
For the breakfast crowd, the benchmark is the breakfast burrito or, as I prefer, just a cookie and seven cups of Santa Barbara Roasting Company coffee. This two-dollar, saucer-sized, white chocolate/semi-sweet baked good is provided by a local purveyor, Hot Cookie (805-564-2397). If the G8 leaders had one of these each day, peace would proliferate rapidly across the globe.
The really neat thing about Dana is that she is driven by an intense internal need to please. She wants her customers to leave happy, often at her own sacrifice. I know she loses sleep at night. She thinks outside the box, and is always creating- new BBQ themes, sporting a free coffee to a fellow down on his luck or an employee who can’t make rent. It is real. Personal. Alive.
Despite the occasional Kevin Smith level of service, Red’s provides a warm, intimate atmosphere for meeting an old friend, a new lover or even a business associate you want to catch off guard. The bunker mentality is reminiscent of how this town came to be and the crowd that gathers is what still sets us apart from Santa Monica, Pasadena or even, dare I say, the new Santa Barbara.