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The Alley

Rod Dibble plays piano nightly at this Lake Merritt bar, often with vocal accompaniment from local amateur cabaret crooners. Designed like an old saloon with relatively private diner-style booths (where you can order a burger, steak, or fries to go with your drinks), the Alley is characterized by its vintage clotheslines, pink and baby-blue restroom stalls (much cleaner than those at your average East Bay haunt), and the thousands of marquees and business cards stapled to its walls. In contrast to the swankier Kingman’s Lucky Lounge across the street, the Alley stays true to its namesake, and the cluttered decor makes it seem homey.

The self-professed "spirits-driven meat sanctuary" in Oakland's Uptown district will surely satisfy your cocktail and cured-meat craving with an array of delicious offerings, from hearty meat and cheese platters to a ginger-y cocktail with house-made ginger syrup.

Beta Lounge

This sleek, loungey little wine/sake bar boasts an interesting menu of nigori cocktails, a dozen or so largely satisfying noshes, and an ambient conviviality that belies its proto-IKEA design scheme.

Folsom Street may not be the most picturesque destination in San Francisco, but that doesn’t stop musically inclined and hip thirtysomethings from hanging out at this popular cafe. Known for its unique combination as a cafe and Laundromat, Brainwash also features predominantly acoustic solo acts seven nights a week, as well as a Thursday comedy night. During the day, Brainwash attracts suit-and-tie types to informal business lunches over burgers and delicious french fries. At night, it’s a haven for young aspiring songwriters.

Located on the Oakland estuary, Brotzeit Lokal is a view restaurant without the usual trappings of a view restaurant. Modeled after Germany's biergartens, it features casual food (most notably sausages) and about eighteen different beers on tap, split between German beers and local American brews, with a couple of Belgians mixed in for good measure.

This neighborhood sports bar and restaurant dates back to the early-20th century, but has been the Connecticut Yankee since 1989. Located on the corner of Connecticut and 17th streets in Potrero Hill, it hosts live blues and funky jam bands about three or four nights a week. It has a dark, woody feel, perfect for seeking refuge on days when dreary fog blankets the city. A sports-lover's paradise, the bar has large-screen TVs, and serves brunch, lunch, and dinner.

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