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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 mellow cafe on Piedmont Avenue has gained a following for its chai tea, fruit- and vegetable-based smoothies, and outdoor patio.

Seize the day at this small Dimond District coffee shop, where the iced drinks come reinforced with coffee ice cubes and the wi-fi is free.

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.

Named for W.C. Fields' character in the 1940 comedy The Bank Dick, the brick-walled bar on the corner of Piedmont Avenue serves up strong drinks such as margaritas and Long Islands. Twenty- and thirtysomethings tend to congregate inside, where a jukebox churns out old blue and jazz numbers, and patrons can order from a menu of Chinese and American food.

"Community in a cup" is the mantra at Farley's, a cozy coffee hub with a local art gallery and a plethora of magazines awaiting your bleary-eyed perusal. The food menu includes plenty of classy salads — pine nuts, arugula, and goat cheese are just a few of the ingredients — and paninis both hot and cold. There's even a store with beans and Farley's T-shirts. Free wi-fi.

The many tables set up throughout the late-night coffee shop attract regular crowds of laptop-using coffee drinkers, and the resulting people-watching opportunities are arguably almost as good as the coffee.

A cute little cafe that's just spacious enough to afford some seating indoors and out front. The cafe's name denotes an effort to combat the daily barrage of bad news with some caffeine-infused positivity. Aside from coffee drinks, customers can order up smoothies, energy drinks, bagels, sandwiches, and more.

Located in Oakland’s Lake Merritt area, Grand Lake Coffee House offers a full selection of specialty coffee drinks, as well as smoothies, sandwiches, salads, Tara’s Organic Ice Cream, and desserts. There’s also free wifi.

First opened in 1988 by brothers Roger and Ken Ham, the Grand Lake-area sports bar is equipped with an array of flat-screen TVs for patrons to catch games while downing drinks and snacking on a wide selection of appetizers (even escargot), pizzas, and more. Includes a banquet room for large parties.

With a tagline like “Good Spirits for Bad People,” you wonder why readers voted Heart & Dagger Saloon “Best Former Dive Bar.” Basically, it has a rock ’n’ roll vibe without the rock-star ego: friendly bartenders, cheap drinks, and a good jukebox. The shaded patio has plenty of seating, which makes it great for groups. There’s free wi-fi, a pool table, pinball machines, and more. Your dog is welcome, but your plastic is not: cash only.

After a change in ownership, the dive-y Piedmont Avenue underwent some renovations. The upstairs smoking room may be no more, but the bar retained its pool table, jukebox, and TVs. And patrons can still order from Raj India Cuisine next door and snack on chicken tikki masala while drinking at the bar.

Deep scarlet walls, gilt mirrors, and house plants correspond with the dressy crowd at Kingman's, which also has a full bar, faux leather couches, and mood lighting. Most nights of the week you'll hear DJs spinning downtempo, house, funk, and hip-hop, and you never have to pay a cover.

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