The popular Cantina 76 puts a sophisticated spin on traditional “Tex Mex” foods.
But the frequented foodie haven – whose locations include Devine Street in Shandon and Main Street, just down from the State House – owes its success not only to its delicious menu but also to its assortment of margaritas.
“It’s a fun drink,” laughed Rob Ward, one-fourth of the brain that opened Cantina 76 back in November 2009. “It’s one of those drinks that if someone brings them up, it can get the whole group sidetracked. We push those hard.”
When we decided to get into the restaurant business we went out on a limb with this concept. Columbia didn’t have anything like this.
Rob Ward, one of owners of Cantina 76
The bar carefully crafted 10 unique margarita mixes, one to fit just about every personality or mood.
“We worked with our liquor reps and came up with specialty margaritas that were creative and tasty and a little bit different than just your standard sour mix, lime juice and tequila,” Ward said.
“You have a whole plethora,” added Beth Fairbanks, head bartender of the Devine Street location. “People are really interested in having different kinds of margaritas, not just a margarita.”
If a girl doesn’t like tequila I suggest the Prickly Pear margarita. It has a splash of grenadine and that’ll offset the bite of the tequila.
Beth Fairbanks, bartender, Cantina 76
The bar’s signature margarita, “The Cantina,” is the most popular choice, Fairbanks said. Served over ice, the drink is comprised of fresh-squeezed lime juice, tequila, agave nectar and a little water.
“It’s very light, very refreshing,” Fairbanks said.
And, Ward added, “It’s low-calorie and delicious.”
Other popular margarita choices at Cantina 76 include a strawberry basil margarita made of tequila, fresh lime juice and triple sec served with muddled strawberries and basil, and a margarita simply named “Texas.”
“People who want a little buzz while they hang out with their friends, I tell them it has a little extra Grand Marnier in it that gives it a little more kick and people love it,” Fairbanks said of the Texas.
Another popular margarita is made with Cathead honeysuckle vodka. Comparable to a mojito taste-wise, the “secret menu” drink is like the Cantina, but with fresh mint and flavor-infused vodka.
“It’s a drink we came up with when we started carrying Cathead,” said Ward. “We worked to come up with our own concoction, and it sells like wildfire.”
The bar also carries a selection of wines and beers, but they pale in popularity to their salted-rim counterparts.
“When we first opened, we had a lot more wines,” Ward said. “But margaritas are right in play with what people want when they come here. We sell a lot of beer, and we try to have a pretty diverse selection. Based on the theme of the restaurant, we focus heavily on the Mexican beers (Corona, Modelo, Pacifico) and then build out the offerings to some of your standards (Bud, Bud Light) and then a few craft beers (SweetWater, Westbrook, Fat Tire). Unfortunately we’ve run out of room to store the beer, so we’re not able to blow it out as much as we’d like on the craft beer selection due to space.”
In truth, the well-stocked bar can make you any drink of your choosing. So when winter’s cooler weather starts to move in and you need a reminder that warmer days are not far off, all you have to do is stop by one of the Cantina 76 locations and order what your heart desires – a margarita, aka liquid sunshine.
If you go
WHERE: Devine Street: 2901-A Devine St. (803) 708-6004. Main Street, 1301 Main St. (803) 764-1769.
INFO: For hours of operation and a complete list of menu and drink items, visit www.cantina76.com.