Kate Gerwin had never been to Santa Cruz before relocating to open the Front & Cooper bar at Abbott Square Market, the new gastro hub nested beneath the Museum of Art & History in downtown Santa Cruz. As a restaurateur and in-demand consultant, the Santa Rosa-born mixologist has spent her adult life hopscotching the country, opening restaurants and bars in New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Georgia, Texas and Washington. Along the way, she nabbed the prestigious title of Bols Bartending World Champion in 2014. Now the creative director of Front & Cooper and the general manager of the entire market, Gerwin is feeling right at home in her new town.
When looking for inspiration for the bar’s grand opening menu, the wildly creative cocktail designer turned to one of her favorite movies: The Lost Boys, the cult teen vampire classic that was famously filmed in Santa Cruz and is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. Gerwin re-watched the movie seven times for research, filling a notebook with ideas. The result is a menu that pays homage to this piece of local pop history down to every last detail, from the book’s comic book presentation (a nod to the comic book store in the film) to its playful roster of drinks.
The Santa Carla is named for the film’s fictional setting and is a “glorified lemon drop,” says Gerwin, adding that part of her philosophy entails “taking the classics—the things that are tried and true—and making them the best we possibly can.” Case in point are her martinis, which aren’t shaken but rather perfectly “thrown”—a historic and theatrical mixing technique that maintains the aromatics from the booze while adding just the right amount of aeration.
In the case of the Santa Carla, lemons are peeled and vacuum sealed, transforming into a beautifully sweet lemon sugar oil called oleo saccharum. The drink is topped with a flamed lemon meringue emblazoned with the words “Santa Carla,” formatted in Santa Cruz Skateboard’s iconic Santa Cruz Dot logo. The Cereal Murder Capital cocktail is a Cinnamon Toast Crunch-infused clarified milk punch that hints at Santa Carla’s (and once Santa Cruz’s) reputation as the “murder capital of the world.” Another drink from The Lost Boys menu is an Asian lemongrass mule served in Chinese takeout containers, crafted to honor a scene in which Chinese noodles turn grotesquely into worms.
Patrons can expect an entirely new and equally inventive menu from Gerwin every three to four months, when a new niche of Santa Cruz history will take over as the theme. Being neighbors with the museum is key to this strategy, says Gerwin. In all the drinks, everything but the spirits will remain lovingly, and often painstakingly, handmade by the staff—including the sours, tonic water, cola drinks, and even the ice, which is frozen into blocks and cut into solid squares with a chainsaw every day. Gerwin may possess a fanatical passion for cocktail perfection, but, for her, it all comes down to enjoyment. “We aren’t pretentious about making drinks,” she says. “You’ve gotta have fun with it.”