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Best Place to Sing a Little Night Music 

The Alley

For a fancy dress-up piano bar experience, there's always Bing Crosby's in Walnut Creek. But if you want to relax and howl along, the classic spot is Oakland's the Alley. A battered place decorated with hanging laundry and a grimy fake pawnshop window, the Alley doesn't appear to have changed since the 1930s when it opened on Grand Avenue and people started attaching their business cards to the walls. Rod Dibble's been behind the Alley's piano for nearly fifty years. The neatly organized three-ring binders list about four hundred songs, but rumor is that Dibble knows at least 5,000, with emphasis on the Great American Songbook. He can effortlessly find your key, regardless of how wobbly you might be. Just don't ask for anything much newer than the Beatles; the most recent song in the book is 1982's "Memory," from Cats. We wish we could report more, but just one of the bartender's $8 triple-strength Manhattans (prepared classically with bitters, if light on the sweet vermouth) obliterates the details. Happily, before 9:45 p.m., there's food to soak up all that alcohol. A grandpa-pleasing steak dinner is available complete with baked potato and salad for just $9.75. Other choices include chopped sirloin, fried chicken, or those new-fangled hamburger sandwiches. It's good that the food's so cheap, because the Alley is cash-only.
(Sorry, no information is currently available for other years in this same award category.)

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