Beckett's was the first bar I ever (legally) drank in, as part of an embarrassingly earnest pub crawl on the night of my 21st birthday. Back then, it was a crowded, lively, ceaselessly noisy place, with wood-paneled walls, live music on weekends, an Irish-pub theme, and a truly great little smoking balcony jutting out over Shattuck Avenue from the second floor. Beckett's felt like the kind of place that was probably a lot of people's favorite bar: It was packed, even on a Sunday night, and the bartenders seemed to know everyone (or were good at faking it). The drinks were quite good (at least as I remember them), and upon hearing it was my birthday, one of the bouncers offered me hash, unsolicited. If this was what it meant to be of age in the East Bay, I was excited.
Beckett's is, of course, no more, having been bought and reincarnated earlier this year as the mysteriously-acronymized BEC's. It's no longer Irish, and the new owners have refurbished and recast it into what their web site calls "bar and bistro entertainment" — a bizarre restaurant-nightclub hybrid, though not nearly enough of one or the other. In the back room, it's all cloth napkins and cute Cal-Med accents; in the front, neon lights and throbbing music. A flat-screen TV mounted in the front window broadcasts a video stream of what's happening inside, surveillance style. Inside, there are no fewer than three more TVs, two playing sports and a third bearing a rotating montage of tube-topped waitresses and club-love clichés. On a recent visit, a young couple in Cal sweatshirts made out in a manner that can only be described as voracious, while about twenty feet away in the next room, an older couple shared a $15 plate of mussels. This place manages, miraculously, to try way too hard and not hard enough simultaneously; to be completely overstimulating and utterly lacking in substance at the same time — identity crisis incarnate.
We sat in the back and yelled over the music. No one offered me hash. BEC's apparently has no signature cocktail, and the server had no recommendations — always a bad sign — so I ordered a dark and stormy ($8). What I got was not a dark and stormy at all but rather a vaguely gingery, vaguely alcoholic sugar bomb that appeared to be composed almost entirely of sweet-and-sour mix. So, for the first time in my life, I sent a drink back. It returned to me less sweet, but undrinkable in an entirely new and different way: diluted with club soda and tasting oddly and unmistakably like watered-down Diet Dr. Pepper. I couldn't finish it. The house fries were delicious, and my friend gamely choked down a cloyingly sweet gimlet and a clearly-from-concentrate Greyhound, but it wasn't long before we had to leave. As we clawed past the coeds and made our way out, I asked someone about the acronym. It doesn't stand for anything.
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