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Rod Dibble plays piano nightly at this Lake Merritt bar, often with vocal accompaniment from local amateur cabaret crooners. Designed like an old saloon with relatively private diner-style booths (where you can order a burger, steak, or fries to go with your drinks), the Alley is characterized by its vintage clotheslines, pink and baby-blue restroom stalls (much cleaner than those at your average East Bay haunt), and the thousands of marquees and business cards stapled to its walls. In contrast to the swankier Kingman’s Lucky Lounge across the street, the Alley stays true to its namesake, and the cluttered decor makes it seem homey.

Rudimentary yet inexpensive and generously apportioned retro-comfort food — steaks, burgers, and fried chicken with all the fixings — compose the limited menu of this venerable Grand Lake watering hole. But there's more to the place than the food: cheap, potent, well-made drinks; a friendly, convivial atmosphere; and Rod Dibble, the joint's longstanding cocktail pianist extraordinaire. The setting — a neo-noir alleyway in clotheslines, fencing, and thousands of vintage business cards — is worth the price of admission alone.

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