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Story


Joe’s Cafe, a venerable Santa Barbara dining and drinking institution, is the oldest restaurant in the city.  Over the years, it has become a favorite for locals and tourists alike, who mingle over cocktails or chat during dinner in a buzzing, traditional atmosphere.  The exceptional ambiance underscores its rich heritage and long history.

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Story


Joe’s Cafe, a venerable Santa Barbara dining and drinking institution, is the oldest restaurant in the city.  Over the years, it has become a favorite for locals and tourists alike, who mingle over cocktails or chat during dinner in a buzzing, traditional atmosphere.  The exceptional ambiance underscores its rich heritage and long history.

 

THE HISTORY OF JOE’S CAFE. SINCE 1928

Joe’s Cafe, a venerable Santa Barbara dining and drinking institution, is the oldest restaurant in the city.  Over the years, it has become a favorite for locals and tourists alike, who mingle over cocktails or chat during dinner in a buzzing, traditional atmosphere.  The exceptional ambiance underscores its rich heritage and long history.

 
 

In the Beginning

The original location of Joe’s Cafe was 512 State Street, just down the street from its current site. Before becoming Joe’s Cafe, the lot hosted many diverse businesses over the years, including: Sing Lee’s Chinese Laundry, “Lord” Harry Harcroft blacksmith shop, Boston Restaurant, K. Konda Restaurant, De Hart’s Second Hand Store and Domenico Pignocco’s Soft Drink Stand & Pool Hall, which later became the Channel Bar.

Joe’s Cafe is Born

Joe Ferrario, an Italian immigrant, and his wife Adelina bought the Channel Bar in 1928 -- and Joe’s Cafe was born.  The advent of the Great Depression the next year did little to squelch Joe’s enthusiasm for owning his dream restaurant.  His hard work and magnanimous personality quickly established Joe’s as a favorite.

The repeal of the 18th Amendment in 1933 ended 14 years of Prohibition. Seizing the moment, Joe became a distributor of Acme Beer, brought from San Francisco by boat and unloaded at Stearn’s Wharf under tight security.  The good times – and draft beer – were here again.

Joe’s Cafe flourished during World War II with the opening of two sub-assembly defense plants in Santa Barbara. The transplanted servicemen and workers enjoyed the friendly environment of the restaurant and the potent beverages at the bar.

Every Joe, Joe & Harry

Joe retired from the restaurant business in 1948 and sold to another Joe, Joe Govean, who further cemented the reputation of Joe’s Cafe as a great family restaurant and meeting place. When the second Joe retired, the business passed to Harry Davis who made his mark on Joe’s Cafe in two major ways.

Harry decided that it was difficult to see Joe’s Cafe from the street, so he designed a new, bolder marquee. This landed him in a tousle with Santa Barbara City Council, who didn’t immediately see the perfection of the dazzling sign resplendent with more than 100 light bulbs.  Harry eventually had his way, and the sign is still used today.

Harry also hired Mildred Kelly to work at Joe’s Café.  She was the first waitress/hostess and joined an all-male staff who threatened to leave because they thought a woman couldn’t do a good job. Mildred proved them wrong in short order – and paved the way for future women at Joe’s Café.

Nancy Peery’s Influence

Harry passed the torch in 1969 to Carpinteria native Nancy Peery whose deep understanding of the restaurant’s iconic status served as her guiding light and helped keep Joe’s, Joe’s.  Nancy’s community involvement put Joe’s Cafe at the forefront of many events.

Joe’s Cafe moved to its present location – 536 State Street – in 1985. For the next 18 years, patrons continued to enjoy the place, eating great food, drinking stiff cocktails, and soaking in the local color.

Joe’s Today

Gene Montesano

Gene Montesano

The present owner, Gene Montesano, purchased Joe’s Cafe in 2003.

Gene's entrepreneurial spirit has played a central role in many companies, such as Lucky Brand Jeans, Lucky’s Steakhouse, Cafe Luck, Tre Lune Restaurant, D’Angelo’s Bakery, Bucatini Restaurant, Civilianaire, Jean Shop, Ever Clothing and more.

Under Gene’s stewardship, the legacy of Joe’s Cafe continues into its ninth decade: a vibrant downtown destination with the stiffest cocktails around, great meals, a fun atmosphere, and a diverse crowd.

Joe's Cafe is a Santa Barbara tradition. Wonderful food, great value, good times.

JOE’S CAFE TIMELINE

  • 1886 - Sing Lee’s Chinese Laundry, future home of Joe’s Cafe, opens at 512 State St.
  • 1896 - Blacksmith “Lord” Harry Harcroft works partially on the same lot
  • 1901 - The Boston Restaurant opens at 512 State St.
  • 1903 - Santa Barbara Restaurant takes over the location
  • 1905 - K. Konda Restaurant launches
  • 1908 - De Hart’s Second Hand Store begins
  • 1919 - Prohibition starts on January 16 in California. On January 15, people cram into bars and restaurants to drink up the remaining stock amid a festive yet sad atmosphere.
  • 1924 - Domenico Pignocco’s Soft Drink Stand and Pool Hall opens
  • 1925 - An earthquake (6.3 on the Richter scale) damages much of downtown Santa Barbara
  • 1928 - Joe Ferrario buys the Channel Bar – and Joe’s Cafe is born
  • 1929 - Great Depression hits; Joe’s Cafe thrives with help from family and friends
  • 1933 - 18th Amendment is repealed and Prohibition ends. Joe becomes distributor of Acme Beer; Joe’s Cafe becomes known as a “drinking man’s institution” by locals
  • 1935 - Isolated Santa Barbara becomes a favorite spot for rum-running smugglers. Rumors swirl around Joe’s Cafe, hinting it was one of the first “speakeasies”
  • 1942 - Joe’s Cafe flourishes with influx of servicemen and workers to Santa Barbara due to wartime industry
  • 1948 - Joe Ferrario retires from the restaurant business and sells to Joe Govean
  • 1954 - Joe Govean retires and sells to Trevellian Enterprises, who owns the business for nine months before selling to Harry Davis. Harry designs and installs present-day marquee and hires first female employee
  • 1969 - Nany Peery, Carpinteria native, becomes owner of Joe’s Cafe
  • 1985 - Joe’s Cafe moves to present location, once a Maggie McFly’s: 536 State Street
  • 2003 - Gene Montesano purchases Joe’s Cafe
  • 2007 - Gene Montesano remodels and restores Joe’s Cafe to its original 1930’s classic style
  • 2009 - Joe’s Cafe wins “Stiffest Drink” category in Best of Santa Barbara 2009 for the 11th time 
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Group


Gene Montesano's entrepreneurial spirit has played a central role in many companies, such as Lucky Brand Jeans, Lucky’s Steakhouse, Tre Lune Restaurant, D’Angelo’s Bakery, Bucatini Restaurant, the Jeans Shop, Civilianaire and more.

Group


Gene Montesano's entrepreneurial spirit has played a central role in many companies, such as Lucky Brand Jeans, Lucky’s Steakhouse, Tre Lune Restaurant, D’Angelo’s Bakery, Bucatini Restaurant, the Jeans Shop, Civilianaire and more.

 

THE MONTESANO GROUP

Gene Montesano's entrepreneurial spirit has played a central role in many companies, such as Lucky Brand Jeans, Lucky’s Steakhouse, Tre Lune Restaurant, D’Angelo’s Bakery, Bucatini Restaurant, the Jeans Shop, Civilianaire and more.

 
 

LUCKY'S STEAKHOUSE

1270 Coast Village Rd.
Montecito, CA 93108
805.565.7540

Lucky's is widely known for its exclusive selection of USDA Prime steaks, live Maine lobsters, no-nonsense cocktails and world class wine cellar. There's just no other eatery in Santa Barbara that practices the art of serving a prime steak dinner better than Lucky's.

 Lucky's Steakhouse

 Lucky's Steakhouse


TRE LUNE

1151 Coast Village Rd.
Montecito, CA 93108
805.969.2646

Creating genuine Italian cuisine with love and care is Tre Lune’s stock in trade. A favorite with Montecito residents, “Three Moons” is set in a charming two-story building right on Coast Village Road. Diverse diners come for honest, high quality Italian cooking served in the lively dining room, with white table cloths and hardwood floors. Tre Lune is a yearly Wine Spectator award winner.

 Tre Lune Ristorante - Bar

 Tre Lune Ristorante - Bar


BUCATINI

436 State St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805.957.4177

Named for the straw shaped pasta, Bucatini offers mouth- watering Montecito fare at lower State St. prices. Tasty food, good service, a pleasant wine list & a relaxed atmosphere add up to a quintessential California patio experience.

Bucatini Trattoria - Pizzeria

Bucatini Trattoria - Pizzeria


D' Angelo's Bakery

25 Gutierrez St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
805.962.5466

D’Angelo's is the kind of bakery locals love and visitors are overjoyed to find. Choose a table indoors or out and enjoy freshly baked European-style breads and pastries, great breakfasts and lunches, and strong Italian coffee. You will without a doubt fall in love with this local decadence.

D' Angelo's Bakery

D' Angelo's Bakery


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Photos


Joe's Cafe Santa Barbara, CA photo gallery. Old school photos and beautiful food shots.

Photos


Joe's Cafe Santa Barbara, CA photo gallery. Old school photos and beautiful food shots.

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360 Tour


360 Tour


To navigate the 360 Virtual Tour: 

  • Use the full-screen option to expand your window (top right)
  • Each scene auto rotates 360 degrees.  Within the photo, click and drag to manually move 360° through the scene
  • Use the magnify icons to zoom in and out
  • Or use navigation controls (upper left)
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Reviews


Reviews


Old school, very good it’s easy to see why Joe’s has been around for a while. The food is on point it has that old school diner / steak house feel. Joe’s on State st in downtown Santa Barbara is a great destination point.
— JD. - Ventura, CA - yelp
No matter what every visit to Santa Barbara will end with a visit to Joe’s Cafe . Iv’e been coming here for about 15 years and I swear it never gets old, from the amazing service to the some of the best food in town and if your looking for a night out for drinks you won’t find any stiffer . The french dip sandwich is the best iv’e ever had and the breakfast well you won’t be bummed with getting anything of that variety on the menu as the food is as memorable as all the great times i’ve had here . If your in beautiful Santa Barbara you gotta give Joe’s Cafe a visit .
— Peter C. - Topeka, KS - yelp
Tell people you’re going to Joe’s and the first reaction is often, “Whoa. STRONG drinks.” It’s true. The food is really good (go for the onion rings!) and, located at the corner of State and Cota, there’s some great people watching activity and local attractions to keep the place busy. The service has always been great, with the manager coming around to each table and talking them up and the servers always being chatty and friendly.
— Stephanie - google
Went to Joe’s last Monday based on a friend’s recommendation who grew up in Santa Barbara. As we walked in, I was a bit hesitant (not really sure why) other than it appeared that it had been around a long time, but the decor was great. The service by our waitress was awesome. She made us feel right at home and was always checking on us at the right times. The Tanqueray martini I ordered was way more in volume than expected for $7. And the meals we had were excellent and priced reasonably for Santa Barbara. This place has a lot of history, and is definitely worth the visit anytime of the day. Also, I asked for the recipe of their salsa; because it is to die for, but it’s top secret.
— Michael - google
Visited from out of town and this was our first stop. Our server Nicole was amazing friendly, helpful not just with the cafe but for our visit to the town.. She was just a genuine person.
I has the pancake sandwich breakfast as found it delicious!! They were very prompt with refills and always checking to see if we were okay. Overall a really great and pleasant experience. The restaurant looked lovely an like it had some good history behind it.
— Laura K. - Burbank, CA - yelp
Great meats and seafood, they could charge much more, its great value. Pork Chop is huge and perfect every time. Steaks same. Its been around for years and several waiters & bartenders have been there over 25 years. They know how to make you feel welcome and itsfun and reliable like few other spots in SB.
— Jonathan B. - Pasadena, CA - tripadvisor
Good food, great service, best breakfast in Santa Barbara. I guess I summarized my review in the title. Joe’s of Santa Barbara has been around since the 1920s. They have great food and excellent service at a really good price. We had breakfast and afternoon drinks several times and always left feeling good - like we made a right choice.
— Dan - Simi Valley, CA - tripadvisor
After several days of seafood, we really felt like having some red meat and wandered into Joe’s Cafe. It did not disappoint. In fact, Joe’s Cafe exceeded our expectations. Our server was friendly, engaging and efficient and the atmosphere nice without being formal or stuffy. And the food...terrific! My husband had Prime Rib and I had Cheese Raviolis, both very straighforward meals. However, Joe’s emphasizes making everything on site from scratch and the seasonings used are terrific. The Prime Rib and accompanying steamed vegetables were perfect and my cheese raviolis I think were the best I’ve ever had. Joe’s isn’t for you if what you are seeking is the latest culinary trend. However, if what you want is a classic meal, prepared to perfection, in a warm atmosphere, then go to Joe’s. We’re glad we did.
— RockyHillGal - Davis, CA - tripadvisor