Ye Olde Hut: Half Dive, Half Ski Lodge, All Good 

A visit to Rockridge's best-kept secret.

This is not a glowing review of Ye Olde Hut. That would be in explicit violation of the promise I made to the friend who took me there, Ellie, a UC Berkeley grad student who'd waxed wide-eyed about it so many times I had to see it for myself. We finally went on Saturday night, but only after I swore that no matter how much I loved the place, I'd tamp down the effusiveness so as to not render the place unenjoyably full with my mighty sphere of influence. With the great power of alt-weekly alcohol criticism comes great responsibility, and all that, alas.

From the outside, The Hut — most people wisely dispense with the "Ye Olde" — is a little odd, an authentic- and old-looking Tudor-style house set incongruously amidst the genteel sleekness of Rockridge. It's odd on the inside, too: Pull open the heavy door and you'll be greeted on your left by a pair of full-size ping-pong tables(!) and on your right by a mini-gallery of framed, sepia-toned photos, as though a frat house has somehow been airlifted and plunked down inside an ancient hunting lodge. Move into the sprawling main room and the cabin-versus-dive cognitive dissonance continues: There's a neon-lit digital jukebox, a couple (unobtrusive) TVs, and a pool table complete with a low-hanging, Corona-logo-emblazoned lamp. But there's also a fireplace, a high, pitched ceiling, and plentiful cozy nooks. It's not a bad fusion, though, and at the bar, this slight schizophrenia has distinctly best-of-both-worlds implications: The cocktails are sturdy, simple, and cheap (around $4-$6 for wells and draft beers, cash only), but the people making them are auspiciously un-surly, and among the PBRs and Coorses, you'll also find local and local-ish microbrews like Russian River's Pliny the Elder and Drake's Amber.

Perhaps because of its neither-here-nor-there-ness, or maybe because it doesn't really work hard to make itself the kind of destination bar people travel far for, The Hut has a diverse, local-feeling clientele. On Saturday, that meant gray-bearded Free Speech Movement types playing pool and talking politics, plaid-bedecked grad students over by the ping-pong, a trio of halter-topped women talking bad dates and corporate-sounding jobs near the fireplace, a wild-eyed caricaturist who asked us to sit for a drawing, and a young woman quietly reading alone in stocking feet, each party appearing equally at home and equally happy to be there.

Because — sorry, Ellie! — how could you not? The Hut is friendly but not decorous; well-loved but not dirty; lively but not claustrophobic, and, mercifully, quiet enough to have a conversation. Whether it's a dive with unusual self-respect or a non-dive with a sense of humor, it is inviting and warm and frankly wonderful, which is why you probably shouldn't go there.

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