Hot to Trot in Albany 

The itty-bitty city gears up for its 35th annual Solano Stroll.

Lest you deride Albany for still housing a bar called "Hotsy Totsy" right across the street from a bar called "Club Mallard," keep in mind that it remains the epicenter of outdoor festival entertainment in the East Bay. Could it be, you ask? Indeed. The annual Solano Stroll has no challengers in the festival circuit — not Art & Soul, not Lakefest, not Eat Real. Now in its 35th year, Solano Stroll still kicks off with a pancake breakfast in Memorial Park, hosted by Berkeley Lions Club. That's still followed by a huge parade featuring art cars, marching bands, baton-twirlers and every single scout within a one-mile radius. Then you have the festival itself, which spans 26 blocks (and two cities), from the bagel shops up top to the doorstep of a newly refurbished Ivy Room, right at the crest of Solano and San Pablo avenues. More than 500 merchants, restaurateurs, gallery owners, craftsmakers, fashion designers, and artisan vendors will hawk their wares. On top of that, the food booths will offer everything from vegetable samosas to churros to kettle corn. Then there's the entertainment: folk dancers, garage bands, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, aikido demos, Berkeley High jazz combos, La Peña Community Chorus — and that's just a small sampling. In keeping with the times, Stroll organizers will also set up a green zone on the east end of Solano Avenue, with tank-less water heaters, solar panels, compositing demos, and other forms of green technology.

So, why Albany? Really, it's mostly a matter of Solano's long-entrenched history as a business district. Local historians trace the area's genesis to the 1906 earthquake, and say that by 1911 Solano was lined with railroad tracks that connected it to the ports in Jack London Square. (In 1912 the rail line became a Key System street car line that connected Solano to downtown Berkeley.) So even a hundred years ago it was a bustling district, with trollies gliding up and down the street and people arriving in droves via the Southern Pacific. Now Solano is bookended by two movie theaters — including a Landmark-owned venue that plays foreign films and arthouse flicks. Its midsection is crammed with bistros, clothing boutiques, cycling shops, grocery stores, and some higher-end restaurants. And the Hotsy Totsy — which lies several blocks from Solano, but is enough of an Albany institution to get name-checked in plays by the local middle school — got a makeover in recent years. Someone apparently came in to shine up the jukebox and the shuffleboard, fix the pool table, and install free wi-fi. It now has a web site. Solano Stroll happens Sunday, Sept. 13, on Solano Ave. 10 a.m.-6 p.m., free.


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