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 Kingmans Lucky Lounge across the street, the Alley stays true to its namesake, and the cluttered decor makes it seem homey.
Forbidden Island is a tiki bar at its best, offering everything it takes to capture that elusive blend of island kitsch, pure spectacle, and festive mood: a nautical wood interior, gaudy cocktails, a jukebox crammed with vintage Martin Denny and Frankie Laine tunes, and a tropical lanai for outdoor guzzling. It’s apparently the only tiki bar in America that makes fresh fruit juice in-house every day, and there are appetizers of the deep-fried variety. Entertainment includes live surf-rock bands and dance parties with DJs.
Ben & Nick's is the perfect place to catch up with friends, with loads of tables of varying sizes, a long bar ripe for hunkering down for a few hours (and pints), and a variety of beer on tap that changes daily (as well as a full bar).
Vintage decor gives this bar and grill a classic feel, but the menu — ambitious, inventive cocktails and well-made snacks like sliders and sausages — is contemporary Emeryville all the way.
This ritzy Spanish restaurant from former Oliveto chef Paul Canales is nothing if not ambitious: a 4,000-square-foot multi-use space that includes a high-end coffee shop, a wine and olive-oil retailer, an art gallery, and a performance venue for experimental jazz.
This Uptown bar is inviting but not desperate; trendy without trying too hard; relaxed but not lazy — a rec room with the metaphorical volume turned up to eleven (the actual volume, by the way, is nicely not too loud — except on weekends). The cocktail list, which was masterminded by Caroline Pagel of Sea Salt, manages to be both decently priced ($6 during happy hour, which runs 4-6 p.m. weekdays, or $8 regularly), and, by and large, unfussy and delicious (try the garden gimlet.) Big bonus: bocce ball!
This Jack London Square anchor tenant lives up to its claim of world-class jazz; everyone from McCoy Tyner to John Scofield comes by at least once a year, and you can also occasionally catch rising stars and school bands in addition to big-name national acts. The acoustics are marvelous, the sushi is fresh and good, and the grilled calamari is also recommended. Tickets range from $5 for a Sunday afternoon children's matinee (with paid adult admission) to upwards of $100 for a special event. Two shows nightly on the weekend.
Catch live music from Bay Area bands every Sunday from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. and Wednesdays 6 to 9 p.m. Expect to hear jazz, world grooves, blues, and roots music from local ensembles and never pay a cover. Cato’s is open for lunch and dinner and has free wireless. Test your wits at trivia every Monday, or come for karaoke every first and third Saturday. The beer selection is impressive. There are also wine options, but no liquor is served. The menu includes pizza and pub fare, and the kitchen is open until 10 or 11 depending on the day.
Furnished with a full bar, restaurant, dining area, pool table, and a lounge with a spacious dance floor and an elevated DJ booth, Luka’s is chic, but not intimidatingly so. The lounge features rotating art exhibits and an all-star DJ lineup every week. Admission is often free, but expect to pay a $5 or $10 on weekends. Enjoy specials like half-priced bottles of wine (Sundays) or dollar oysters (Mondays) and listen to a variety of music, from funk to punk and bhangra to be-bop. Luka’s draws a diverse crowd that’s ready to dance, so arrive early on Wednesdays for reggae dancehall music.
Located in a historic Lafayette building, Petars is a funky place decorated with a Knights-of-the-Round-Table-type English theme that seems to attract the white-hairs. The main draw here is Diamond Dave Hosley, who has been performing every Wednesday through Saturday since 1986. Equipped with his Roland keyboard and headset mic, Hosley sings everything from oldies to current hip-hop hits in Petars bar. In addition, Tuesday nights feature Irish songs from Snead Healy, and Sundays feature blues with the Rhythm Doctors.
Enjoy tasty Mediterranean-style pizzas and a wide variety of house brews on tap in this Berkeley outpost’s beer garden, where live bands perform on a brick patio throughout the week. For no cover charge you get atmosphere -- heat lamps, foliage, lanterns, a huge brick fire pit -- and entertainment ranging from experimental laptop music to bluegrass and Americana. Inside, the restaurant is two stories, and there are tables large enough to accommodate groups.
Mum and da drink and play darts while the bairns mess about with toys provided by the management — just as they do at pubs in England. Most of the menu is British, for better or worse, with faithful renderings of shepherd's pie, sausage dishes, and fish ’n chips; patrons whose Anglophilia ends at the placemat make merry with burgers, pastas, and salads. The staff's willingness to prepare child-size portions has given this place a reputation as the Chuck E. Cheese of the bar world. Ten taps spout American microbrews and English favorites.
This cocktail lounge/hipster hangout/sports bar serves a menu of ambitious global cuisine that changes countries every eight weeks. The cocktails are complex and carefully crafted; the setting is an attractive mix of brick, dark wood, objets d'art, and firelight; and the Old Oakland setting can't be beat.
Henry's is an old-school hotel bar that's been remodeled and reinvented. While you can still sit at the bar and enjoy a reasonably stiff drink, you might be better off sitting down for a full meal, as Henry's offers a full-size and well-executed take on classic pub fare.