The last five years have taken Guerneville from a sleepy vacation spot to a talked-about foodie destination. Sure, the charm was always there, but it took stylish spots like Big Bottom Market, Boon and, most recently, Seaside Metal to get the buzz going.
Some may claim, however, that a town’s transformation into a lucrative gourmet empire couldn’t be complete without a niche bar. Now Guerneville has one of those too. El Barrio, an agave and bourbon bar, has joined the nondescript sports bars and LGBT-favored disco-ball-spinning clubs.
El Barrio is the new venture by Crista Luedtke, a partner at Big Bottom and the one-woman force behind Boon Hotel and Spa, and it’s a curious one. Earthy tones and Mexican-inspired stripes tastefully dictate the decor, and the lights are muted but bright enough for everyone to enjoy the meticulous styling. Lacking the happy-go-lucky abandon typical to the local bars, El Barrio opts instead for a classy, relaxed vibe.
“Guerneville has changed a lot in the last eight years,” says Luedtke. “While it still remains a great gay scene, we have such a mix of Bay Area travelers that come to explore.”
Chances are, those travelers are into mixology and complex flavors, and El Barrio greets them well prepared. The cocktail menu is based on tequila, mescal, bourbon and coffee liquors, and lists more than a hundred labels. “I love the smoky qualities of these spirits, and how they work so well together,” gushes Luedtke. “There are so many different flavor profiles present.”
The cocktails were crafted with Christina Cabrera, Leudtke’s San Francisco–based bar consultant, and their names carry a fun girl-power message. There’s La Jefa, a fiery concoction of rye, lemon, maple, ancho chile, Angostura bitters and egg whites ($11), and the refreshing La Patrona, featuring tequila, Aperol and grapefruit bitters, adorned with smoked salt ($11). For the less adventurous, there’s Michelada ($7), a house-made sangria with a twist, bottled and drafter beer, and wine by the glass.
Prices may be a little steep, but El Barrio seems to be connecting with the locals. “We have already developed groups of locals who love it and have become regulars,” contests Luedtke. “My ladies group who leaves the hubbies behind and comes for girls night out; the group of restaurant-industry peeps, before or after their shifts; the local Latin crowd who loves Mexican beers on tap and great tequilas.”
All of the above may enjoy the winter Wednesday-night pozole dinner, which includes the famous pork stew and a seasonal vegetable side for $11. On regular nights, snacks include chips with salsa and guacamole, queso dips, a plate of crunchy, spicy cucumbers and, more exciting, Mexican devilled eggs. The classic appetizer undergoes an exotic upgrade here with cilantro lime pesto and chili dust (5$).
El Barrio does exotic, delicious and upscale really well. With time, its novel zest and polished serenity should mix with the potent local flavor—and another winning cocktail will emerge.
El Barrio, 16230 Main St., Guerneville. 707.604.7601.