Restaurants commemorate Cinco de Mayo differently, or not at all
Sandbar, a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in a buzzing block of Santa Barbara’s lower State Street, planned to pour out hundreds, or maybe even a thousand, margaritas Wednesday in celebration of Cinco de Mayo. The restaurant was decked out in Mexican flags and gave 100 customers mini sombreros.
But over on Milpas Street, where there’s a taqueria every two blocks, the scene was quieter. Many restaurants didn’t plan any specials.
Cinco de Mayo isn’t like the Fourth of July, although the holidays’ names follow the same format. It’s not an independence day; it’s a celebration of winning a small battle.
The holiday honors Mexico’s victory over France in the 1862 Battle of Puebla, when the Mexican army was outnumbered but not overcome by the French.
In Mexico, the battle is commemorated with military reenactments or parades, but it’s not celebrated throughout the country.
Perhaps that’s why some of Santa Barbara’s Mexican restaurants decided to forego a celebration.
Palapa Restaurant, at 4123 State St., usually brings in a mariachi band for Cinco de Mayo. (It’s not unusual to hear a mariachi band at Palapa, though, because it featured the band every Friday pre-pandemic.)
Because the pandemic isn’t over, Palapa skipped hiring the mariachi band, one of its employees told the News-Press.
Sandbar had a DJ playing everything from rock to Latin flair.
The restaurant/bar’s Cinco de Mayo poster featured a large mustache with a sombrero, margaritas, a pinata and a pin-up model in a serape-patterned dress. It advertises its drinks and crusty queso taco specials.
The News-Press asked Justin de la Fuente, manager and bartender at Sandbar, if he feels uneasy about cultural appropriation around the holiday.
“Me personally, no,” he said. “We’re just trying to celebrate the holiday. I don’t think anyone is going to be too concerned.”
He was born in Puebla, the city where the battle was fought. But he moved to the United States when he was very young.
So while he doesn’t remember the commemorations in Puebla, he recalls the Sandbar’s Cinco de Mayo before the pandemic when he served “an absurd amount of drinks.”
So this year, he was ready to serve up some Espolon.
“We pretty much have enough tequila for the whole city,” he said.
Across the street at Baja Sharkeez, which has the same owners as Sandbar, more mini sombreros were handed out. Its specials looked similar as well.
But being a sports bar, it got a crowd more interested in soccer games than tequila.
Still, supervisor Jake Speer was ready to serve over “a couple hundred” margaritas.
Far north of Sandbar and Baja Sharkeez, Carlitos Café y Cantina was booked with reservations Wednesday.
It didn’t have music or a full list of specials, but bartenders prepared hibiscus margaritas with Patron Silver for the occasion. Customers also participated in giveaways.
The restaurant was also decorated festively with flags hung around.
“Of course we are going to have Mexican flags all around and decorations,” Ramsses Noeggerath, front-of-the-house manager, said. “It doesn’t feel like a stereotype; it’s just hanging out at a Mexican restaurant.”
Los Agaves Restaurant prepared for celebrations at home with carryout family meal specials, like it did last year.