From rowdy bar to concert venue to unlikely wedding chapel, the Maverick Saloon serves Santa Ynez in a variety of colorful guises. Perched at the east end of town, this neighborhood hangout with the rough-hewn facade welcomes imbibers with the lively spirit of a Wild West watering hole.
“We’re the only bar in town,” declares Travis Burnett, whose family owns the Maverick Saloon. “There’re restaurant and hotel bars, but there’s not another pure bar-bar in the Santa Ynez Valley.
“Our outdoor deck’s a nice place to sit back and enjoy the beautiful scenery,” he adds, “and it’s a very friendly place.”
Burnett, who runs the Maverick as a family operation, takes pride in the fact that most of his trade is generated by word of mouth.
“You go to any store or the casino,” he says, “and say, ‘Hey, I want to get a drink,’ and they’ll tell you, ‘Go to the Mav.’ They send them here, because we’re the local place.”
The Burnetts bought the Maverick in 2003, and though they had no experience running a bar, they’ve succeeded in revitalizing a beloved institution. While the ceiling still flutters with aging dollar bills, much has changed for the better.
“We doubled the size of the bar,” Burnett says. “Shaped it into a big ‘U’ and made it very open. We redid the deck outside and brought in live entertainment for weekends.
“It’s come a long way,” he admits. “It’s no longer a crazy cowboy bar with fights and all that. We have security every weekend and we take care of people. If somebody has a little too much to drink, we’ll drive them back to their hotel or we’ll pay for the cab.”
Summer weekends find customers gathered for afternoon concerts on the open-air deck. On Friday and Saturday nights, folks line up for dance lessons in the adjoining Dance Barn and often stay for an evening of dancing.
Throughout the year, regulars can test their skills at darts or pool, and on Thursdays take advantage of Free Jukebox Night: “You play, we pay.” When hunger strikes, patrons dig into a plate of Big Tom’s Backyard BBQ, prepared by local pitmaster Tom Perez.
“Big Tom usually barbeques out front or in back,” Burnett explains. “He uses oak wood to cook burgers and his world- famous tri-tip and chicken sandwiches.”
In the wake of the Maverick’s refurbished reputation has come a spate of weddings, partly because bar manager Tyler Storey is also an ordained minister.
“Recently, we had a full-blown wedding,” Burnett laughs, “and Tyler performed the service. The bride wore a gown, and she and the groom marched down the center aisle of the bar. Once or twice a month there’s a rehearsal dinner, and they usually stay for the dance.
Though the Maverick looks like a 19th century landmark, it was built in the mid-1960s from wood salvaged from demolished Victorian homes. Bearing the unmistakable patina of a bygone era, it enjoys new life as a not-so-rowdy neighborhood bar, where some things just never change.
“During Old Santa Ynez Days,” Burnett laughs, “cowboys still try to ride their horses into the bar. If we see it coming, we block it off for security, but the last one got all the way through!”