Envision a group of Santa Barbara natives as a brewery and what you get in Union Ale.
By that, I mean this is a place that seems to be built on a good foundation and privilege, but always feels a need to find itself. Unfortunately, this business can’t take off to Bali for a year, so it carries on awkwardly and unbalanced.
A place titled as a brewing company that doesn’t actually brew anything is confusing. If you can get over that, then the wide range of offerings on tap is commendable.
Also confusing is the ordering process. Food comes from the front bar. Beer comes from…the back bar? Or part from the front bar and part from the back bar? Or maybe it’s cocktails only from the front bar, and beer from the back bar? I never figured that one out. I just know that food is ordered at the front bar.
Next hurdle: the menu. The gestalt is good. It’s a snazzy design, almost a little steampunk. Then you start reading it and it all gets confusing. The font is BIG OVER HERE! And really really small over there! But no Tufte training will reveal the logic of why the design is like that. Good luck looking at the menu online. It’s a 5.4 mb pdf, as if I want to print it out in high-gloss and frame it on my wall. No, I’d rather have some simple text.
Someone had recommended that I try the sweet potato fries. But I can’t find them on the menu. Oh, they are listed as a side dish in the ribs portions of the menu. The staff don’t know where else it is on the menu, but sure they can offer it as a standalone item if I’m not getting ribs. How much? Only the register knows.
AND WHEN YOU ASK THE BAR GUY QUESTIONS, OR PUT IN YOUR ORDER, YOU HAVE TO YELL IT LIKE THIS BECAUSE THE MUSIC AND/OR TV IS REALLY REALLY LOUD.
That said, the food was good!
The order of sweet potato fries is $6 and enormous. A meal for 2 people. It comes in a bucket, with a side of ketchup and a choice of two other dipping sauces. We got the truffle mayo and buffalo sauce.
Our service, considering the noise levels, how busy it was, and the high douche bag atmosphere, was very good! The fellow who brought the food gave us updates on food prep speeds, brought napkins, checked up on my water, checked up on how we liked the food. We weren’t even in a high traffic and eye contact area, he really went out of his way. For all this attentiveness like a waiter, it’s confusing that this bar/restaurant doesn’t officially have waiter service.
So, Union Ale is four stars on food, and loses a star for not knowing itself and for its DB atmosphere and stoopid promotion of hemp ale which keeps the public assuming that hemp is the same as pot. And that damn menu!