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Misty Orman and Brandon Ristaino are putting the “Italy” back into their new bar, the Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust. The bar is located in the heart of downtown Ventura and first opened up its doors back in March. They serve a wide array of cocktails, beers and wines inspired by both Italian and Central Californian Coasts cuisine, alongside what they call “quirky Italian comfort food”.
The couple are veterans of the industry owning several bars in Santa Barbara, but they’ve decided to open a bar in Ventura that gives them the freedom to flex their creative muscles.
“Santa Barbara is tough to get anything too funky in, so we thought we had the opportunity to do more fun stuff,” said Ristaino.
They were drawn to this location in particular because of their shared love of Italy (Brandon is half-Italian, and the couple spent their honeymoon there).
“We love Ventura,” Ristanio explained, “we had been kinda kickin’ the tires down there and looking for a space for a while”. In late-2019, they came across the listing of the space that had previously housed the clothing retailer, Parts Unknown. After looking at the building they knew they had to have it.
Originally built in 1924, the Bank of Italy is a Ventura Historical Landmark because of its age, location, as well as its beautiful carved marble relief inside and out. “The day Parts Unknown closed we had the lease signed and ready to go,” he said.
This was back in September of 2019, and what should have been just a few months of renovations turned into nearly a year and a half of work due to delays brought upon by the Covid-19 pandemic. “It was brutal,” said Orman. “We thought we would be open last summer. Everything was closed, and we just had to sit paying rent for 6 months, scared we were going to lose it.”
Although for most, it would seem that opening a bar in the midst of Covid-19 would be hard enough, but for Orman and Ristaino it wasn’t a new challenge.
“The wild part is that it’s actually the second business that they’ve opened during Covid” said Thomas Woolsley, head of training and education for the Good Lion hospitality company which Orman and Ristaino also own.
The first establishment that they opened was Venus in Furs, a Velvet Underground-themed wine bar in Santa Barbara. Woolsley said that the changing regulations regarding Covid-19 sometimes felt like hitting a moving target. But with the opening of Cocktail Trust coming right on the heels of Ventura County hitting orange tier, which allows for indoor dining, “it’s nice to finally have people enjoy the space.”
They’re also no stranger to concept bars. Among their previous ventures are tropical-
themed Test Pilot and Shaker Mill, a cocktail bar inspired by the Golden Age of Cuba.
The menu at Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust was influenced heavily by the shared flavors of Italy and California’s coastal regions, with a surprising wizardly twist. Think Gandalf the Greyhound, a drink with vodka, grapefruit, “Italian stuff,” and lemon, paired with a sandwich such as the Italian-American Superhero made from locally and sustainably sourced produce, meats and cheeses. The wizard theme extends from the menu into the decor, including a modified Bank of Italy logo with a wizard astride a black horse, and a large tile mural affectionately dubbed “Giuseppe the Wizard,” which was commissioned by an artist friend of Ristaino’s and brought to life by tilemakers in Italy.
Bank of Italy Cocktail Trust is located at on 394 E Main Street in Ventura and is opened every Monday through Thursday from 4 p.m. to midnight, every Friday and Saturday from 2 p.m. to 1 a.m., and every Sunday from 2 p.m. to midnight.