Not content to simply gift the Westside with a sophisticated saloon with creative cocktails and tasty small plates, entrepreneur Sean Venus is on the verge of giving Aptos and South Beach residents their very own spiritual destination. Yes, Venus Spirits Cocktails and Kitchen Beachside plans to open for signature cocktails and a matching menu in mid-June. Where? Well, on the beach, of course. Specifically in the space that has been Café Rio for the past four decades.
“It’s a big project,” Venus told me last week, “and we’ll add menu nuances little by little.” But for the short term, the focus will be on “from the sea” items, plus Westside kitchen favorites translated over to the new establishment.
The distiller says he’s had his eye on the Café Rio spot for a long time.
“My wife’s family had been dining there forever. I knew that the owner Jeanne Harrison was looking to move on, and when I saw the possibility I just kind of jumped in.”
Endless sunsets, the soothing sound of waves, the salt air. What better spot for a cocktail-intensive dinner house. The plan is to feature cocktails crafted with the justly popular distilled spirits from Venus’ Westside Santa Cruz distillery. Personally, I’m hoping the new beachfront Venus will still keep a few of my favorite menu items, especially the irresistible crispy Brussels sprouts with jalapeño cashew cream, and the addictive cornbread with bourbon bacon jam and honey butter. Many out-of-towners have found redemption in these shared plates, especially in the company of the gin and tonic with No. 2 gin, orange, star anise and bay leaf.
“We’ve still got touch-ups to the outside and the inside to finish. New outdoor furniture, artwork, signage,” he says. But less than a month before the planned opening, Sean Venus has the liquor license plus all the licenses submitted.
“I cut through bureaucracy pretty well,” he says with a chuckle. “Looking through the old permit records, I saw that the 1979 opening of the original Café Rio really brought a renaissance for the neighbors and for that area. And we hope to do the same.”
Founded nine years ago, Venus Spirits specializes in small-batch spirits such as vodka, aquavit, the now-legendary line of botanical gins, El Ladrón Blue Agave Spirits, whiskey and rum. Always surfing the point, Venus began a line of canned cocktails in 2019, just ahead of lockdown. Now the galaxy expands to a prime beachfront location. Stay tuned for official opening date.
Mystery on the Menu
Leslie Karst‘s sizzling Sally Solari mystery series strikes again! Former attorney/writer Karst—who divides her time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawaii—has just finished her latest, The Fragrance of Death, to be released in August. Santa Cruz fans of Karst’s home-based cozy mysteries will eat up her latest tale starring a restaurateur turned accidental sleuth. In this installment, Solari’s recent sinus infection has left her without a sense of smell. Not good for a cook! At the center of the plot is a murder that happens at the annual Santa Cruz Artichoke Cook-Off, and there are enough suspects to fill the entire Bookshop Santa Cruz, where, incidentally, Karst will appear at a book talk and launch for The Fragrance of Death on Thursday, August 4. Mark your calendars!
Stay Calm and Chew
Yes, we too experienced some sticker shock at dinner at a venerable downtown landmark last week. Prices had been adjusted upward to keep up with inflation. They have to. But don’t abandon our restaurants. If you don’t frequent your favorite places, they can’t weather the current economic storm.