Stiffest Drinks 

Cafe Van Kleef

It's bad enough that Robin, the bartender at Van Kleef, pours some of the meanest martinis in California. But Peter Van Kleef, owner and operator of this hip downtown watering hole, takes this year's prize thanks to his ubiquitous bottle of tequila. Sidle up to the posh bar on a weeknight and Peter will amble over to you with a couple of shot glasses and an open bottle of the stuff tucked under his arm. Don't try to deny him; you'll only make things worse for yourself. Just take the free shots and slowly nurse your beverage until he wanders off to pour for someone else. It's a safe bet that after only a few beverages in this swanky joint, you'll be feeling the sledgehammer impact of liquor throughout your system. While it's never advisable to get out of control in public, Peter and his staff do know how to take care of a drunk: cabs and friends are often called in to retrieve patrons who underestimated the true potency of a Van Kleef vodka and tonic.

Readers' Pick:
1515 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-883-0222

Most Authentic British Pub If you can't make it to the Eagle and Child in Oxford, take a trip to what most people simply call "The Pub" on Solano Avenue. Walk up the stairs and through the front door and you'll enter what appears to be a lounge room (and is, in fact, as the pub is located in a house), complete with oak floors and tables, small library lamps, and comfy, if a bit threadbare, couches. In California, where smoking in public places is a crime, Schmidt's sells more than fourteen blends of tobacco -- including an American blend -- and a healthy selection of pipes, lighters, and cigarette holders. A small card advertises "roll your own cigarettes" for 35 cents. Tap beers include Bass, Fullers, ESB, Guinness, Boddingtons, and Harp, and if you ask for a pint, the bartender wonders whether you would like American (500 milliliters) or imperial (600 ml). If you ask for a half-pint, the owner just might give you a pint glass that is three-quarters full. Here, bartenders wash the glasses by hand, guests gather on the back porch for a smoke, and old English beer trays decorate the walls. If you're feeling nostalgic -- or homesick -- peruse the house selection of Monty Python's Flying Circus videos before heading back to California through the inevitable cloud of roll-your-own smoke on the front porch.

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