The Avenue does not usually look like this, I am assured by a friendly, pigtail-wearing bartender, as if in apology, when she catches me gawking. No apology necessary, because the way The Avenue looks right now (and presumably through the end of the month) is unfathomably awesome. These people take Halloween to heretofore un-scaled heights: bloody heads spin slowly from the ceiling; the bar is lit by fake cauldrons somehow jury-rigged so the synthetic flames flicker and flare; the bathrooms are flanked by a knife-wielding executioner; the back corner is consumed by a grisly murder scene; and there's pretty much no surface in the entire bar that doesn't look like H.P. Lovecraft's wet dream. Near the front, bar staff managed to yank out a foosball table to make way for a gruesome exorcism tableau; a few feet away, a dummy bartender presides, blank-eyed and blood-spattered, over the room. (I watch a girl tipsily bump into him and apologize, apparently not realizing he's fake; hilarity ensues.) Altogether, the scene falls somewhere between delightfully campy and genuinely scary — where exactly it lands is probably related to how drunk you are — but suffice it to say, this goes a couple steps beyond the seasonal aisle at Walgreen's. (Owner Curtis Howard apparently pays for a storage unit all year 'round to hold on to all of this stuff; "Yeah, he gets into it," explained a bartender.)
It helps, of course, that The Avenue — cavernous, cobwebbed, dim at all hours of the day and night — is already the kind of place that looks like it could be haunted, or at least has some stories in it. As it turns out, before Howard and partner Davey Herrick bought it in the late aughts, the space belonged to Connolly's, which, according to its Yelp archives, featured a women's bathroom wallpapered with copulating illustrations and what Yvette B. calls "one of the weirdest vibes I've ever encountered at a bar." Since then, The Avenue has been cleaned up quietly but considerably: not quite so much that it transcends the "dive" description, but certainly enough so that people are no longer describing it on the Internet as a "hellhole." The Connolly's pool table and wallpaper remain intact, and there's also foosball, a digital jukebox, four TVs playing various sports, plenty of space, and, very occasionally, a DJ and dance floor. As for spirits of the drinkable kind: The Avenue has a full bar — nothing super-fancy, but certainly capable of a rock-solid (and strong) Manhattan. Plus $8.75 pitchers of PBR, and they take cards! The crowd is more neighborhood-y and convivial than most places, perhaps as a function of the fact that as the only bona fide bar on the Temescal stretch of Telegraph, it's something of a catch-all for anyone who may be around, and also more drunk, perhaps as a function of The Avenue's insanely cheap drinks. On this particular evening, such drunken conviviality manifests itself in the form of skinny tattooed guys swapping stories from the night before; a guy in matching T-shirt, do-rag, and Bluetooth loudly disciplining his dog; a handful of football fans bemoaning the Bears' devastation at the hands of USC; a trio of older dudes wordlessly beasting a full pizza near the fireplace; a cumbersomely large and seemingly uniformly stripes-bedecked group of young hipsters; and my personal favorite, an extremely wasted guy in a tie-dye hoodie and a guitar-pick necklace who is ostensibly advertising an upcoming acoustic show but whose degree of drunkenness tends to mean long lapses into incomprehensibility. He claims to know how to text-message God, and repeatedly stumbles over the hollow-faced, ghostly-looking dummy abiding by the pool table. Another apology and more hilarity.
Big news for recently shuttered East Bay bars this week. First up: The space recently vacated by Kitty's at 6702 Hollis Street in Emeryville will soon become The Prizefighter, helmed by Jon Santer and Dylan O'Brien, both alums of the trendy San Francisco bar scene. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that pedigree, the two of them look to be taking The Prizefighter's drinks program pretty seriously. There will be a full bar, several beers and wines on tap, and — wait for it — no fewer than three different types of ice. It's expected to open sometime next month. ... Elsewhere, the space at 311 Broadway in Oakland — formerly occupied by Sweet Jimmie's, which has been open sporadically since it was the site of a double homicide back in April — will soon be re-opening as what co-owner Douglas Sangalang describes as a speakeasy-style bar and music venue with a "not stuffy" vibe. Sangalang and partner John Edward Nackley are hoping for a December opening. ... And finally, the owners of Oakland's inimitable Kingfish Pub & Cafe are seeking official landmark status for their building, which dates back to 1922. The process may be a long one, but if it's successful, the Temescal institution will be one of the few historically landmarked bars in the area — and may be saved from being knocked down and turned into condos, which the landlord has reportedly wanted to do for years.