This feature is part of the CN&R’s 2023 Entrepreneur Issue.
“Are you aware of the old children’s book with Ferdinand the bull?”
It’s a sunny January afternoon, and Scott Barwick is talking as he walks up to the construction site that will soon be the bar he’s opening in Meriam Park with business partner Carlos Gonzales. Before we go through the door and into the dust and debris of the work in progress, he is trying to plant some visuals in this reporter’s head.
The Story of Ferdinand, a classic children’s book by Munro Leaf published in 1936, is about a bull who would rather sit under a tree and smell flowers than fight matadors in a ring. “It’s kind of like, nonconformity-meets-strength and beauty,” Barwick explained.
This concept is at the heart of the pitch given to the bar’s builders and designers, and it’s beautifully realized in the logo for the business drawn by Kansas illustrator Frank Norton, which features a tiger with a flower in its mouth. The flower is from the roselle plant—aka hibiscus—a nod to one of Barwick’s cocktail recipes and the name of the business, Roselle Bar & Lounge.
The tiger and the flower are the jumping off point for the rest of the bar’s intended look, which Barwick described as “mid-century modern-meets industrial-meets plant life, with a little bit of an artsy vibe” and what he stressed would be “subtle” jungle elements.
Upon entering the corner space inside Meriam Park’s newly constructed steel-sided Market Building, none of those elements is readily apparent. The wavy zebra-striped tile floor is completely covered by protective tarps and the long bar is still a cinder-block skeleton. With a firm April deadline for opening, the build out is on a very compressed schedule.
“I wanted to create a space that could be a spot for community interaction, and try to bring something a little bit different—really focus on cocktails,” Barwick said. “It’s not going to be restaurant-forward; it’s going to be bar-forward.”
It’s not surprising to hear that Barwick is about to open his own place. When it comes to the art of mixology in Chico, there’s perhaps no one more recognized in the local scene. Over the past decade or so, he’s crafted drink menus for and managed multiple bars—The Maltese, Argus, the Hotel Diamond and Duffy’s Tavern—and been voted as the top local mixologist in four of the last five Best of Chico contests.
So, owning a bar would seem to be a natural progression of working on and refining a craft to the point that you’re recognized as one of the best. However, Barwick figured he would never be able to raise the capital needed, that is, until he was approached by his would-be business partner. It was 2021, and Gonzales had recently shuttered Pacific Culture, his fermentation company of seven-plus years. Barwick said Gonzales was familiar with his work and initially approached him about opening a liquor store together. That idea was scrapped in favor of a bar in Meriam Park, and the two pooled resources and got to work on a concept that took over a year to come to fruition.
“At first I was weird about not doing it downtown because my whole life has been downtown,” Barwick said. Given the post-pandemic re-growing pains that Chico’s city center has been experiencing, Barwick said “it felt right to bring something somewhere else.”
“Most towns you go to there are little neighborhoods and spots that pop off; Chico’s just always had the downtown,” Barwick added. “As much we have to be careful about development and how we expand as a city, I’m open to more neighborhoods getting [going].”
Once the bar is up and running, Barwick will be the partner involved with day-to-day operations.
“I’m excited to create a positive space and an environment that’s not a binge-drinking environment,” he said. “It’s going to be a destination spot.”
Roselle Bar & Lounge
Coming soon to:
1920 Market Place, Ste. 140