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.
Ahh... Au Coquelet, the welcoming Berkeley cafe where you can get a cup of coffee at the crack of dawn and come back after midnight for another cup with an Irish kick, indulge in a fresh fruit torte or any of the homemade desserts. No matter what time of day you opt to sit for a spell in the brick-walled Berkeley institution, the tables are sure to be dotted with people typing at laptops, thumbing through books, or just shooting the breeze.
The mantra is simple food done very well. Nearly everything — from the dressings to the desserts and the soups to the sauces — is made in-house. Café Aquarius serves locally roasted shade-grown coffee as well as beer and wine. Come for breakfast, lunch, weekend brunch, or just for a cup of joe. If you fancy a cup of tea, the selection is top-notch.
Like an old-fashioned Eastern European bakery, Crixa Cakes has everything from chocolate-cherry mousse cake to Fatima’s Thighs. Also, all of Crixa's delectable delights are baked from scratch on-site. The cafe boasts an expansive coffee bar, which features various espresso-based beverages in addition to the standard-issue cup of joe. Surf the 'net while you sip and chomp; they've got free wi-fi as well.
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.
At the sidewalk tables outside, attractive hipsters enjoy a late brunch — grilled panini, poached eggs and toast, or the waffle of the day with fruit. Inside, animated with the buzz of excellent espresso drinks, still more attractive hipsters converse as soulful beats play in the background. At the counter, laminated tributes to subversive visionaries from Mother Jones to Bob Marley kindle activist sparks. Owners Andrea Ali, Keba Konte, and Rachel Konte are artists who select thought-provoking work to showcase on the walls. Never has the leftist cafe community been so tasty, creative, and mod. Organic, fair-trade coffee served.
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.
The Junket is a European-style cafe in the El Cerrito Plaza shopping center. The cafe mainly specializes in German and British products. They offer many imported cheeses, meats, and gourmet sandwiches. Aside from tea or espressos, customers can try their fill at German beer on-tap along with imported wines.
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.
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 (Mondays) or dollar oysters (Tuesdays) 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 Voodoo Wedesdays for free salsa and timba lessons.
Husband-and-wife team Hisuk and Sanju Dong preside over what, on a busy night, feels like the fiercest party in Uptown. The 6,500-square-foot loft sprawls in an L-shape through most of the old Rim and Wheel building, a cavernous former garage. It's part bar, part hang-out zone, and part art studio -- plus a restaurant menu highlighted by fare like skinny fries and fried chicken.
Located a couple blocks from Ashby BART, Nomad provides the soy-latte crowd a place to discuss their recent trips to Guatemala and work on their laptops, thanks to free wi-fi. In addition to the espresso menu, Nomad serves sandwiches, beer, and smoothies.
With big-name chefs and a serious foodie following, Plum the restaurant is a fine dining establishment, and with average drink prices scraping $11 and containing ingredients such as tea foam, Plum Bar, its lower-fi appendage, is most definitely a fine drinking establishment — but it's a fineness that speaks less to pretension than to premium attention to detail, the kind you have to pay a little extra for: marigold flowers in your drink; beef-tendon chicarrones just seconds out of the fryer; a bar staff that'll slide an ice-cold glass of water to you from across the bar when they hear you clearing your throat, without you having to ask — or even noticing.
Amy Murray’s bustling downtown Berkeley venue celebrates the Bay Area’s bounty of fresh, organic foodstuffs with flair and a sense of fun. Fig and marrow flatbread, creamy pork rillettes with lemon chutney, handmade pasta with pea tendrils and trumpet mushrooms, and a mixed pig plate of sausage, tenderloin, shoulder, and belly are among the standouts.
This California bistro joint, housed in a grand-looking 1920s-era building, features more than one hundred vodkas, plus specialty cocktails.