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Three Bar Crawls That Make the Most of the Bay’s New Booze Belt

A road map to the East Bay’s best drinking trails.

SLIDESHOW

Fun, festive cocktails make for happy clinking at the Miranda in Uptown Oakland.

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The Pull Up to the Bumper at the Miranda.

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Hotel-inspired decor is made for Instagram.

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Hangar 1.

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The Hangar 1 bar offers a bird’s-eye view of the still downstairs.

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Open since 1883, Heinold’s First and Last Chance features a sweet patio and a wildly cluttered interior.

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Heinold's.

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Heinold's.

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The East Bay: Quite simply, it’s where to go to get a drink. Populated by cocktail wizards, upstart microbreweries, experimental distilleries, and odd little bottle shops stocked with rare and obscure spirits, the contiguous cities of Oakland, Berkeley, and Alameda have become the center of the Bay Area’s beverage scene over the last several years. This nascent Beverage Belt is probably where your favorite local whiskey or liqueur is produced, within some warehouse in West Oakland or Alameda. It’s where your favorite bartender’s favorite bartender has set up shop—likely at a new bar in Uptown Oakland. Add all that to what might be the finest, most brimming-with-character collection of old-school dives in the Bay, and it’s hard to know where to start. So we present three itineraries—two weekend day trips and one weeknight adventure—for your imbibing pleasure.


Crawl #1: Highballs and Snifters in Uptown Oakland

As in any great nightlife district, distinct and overlapping experiences exist in Uptown simultaneously: old-school funk music DJs, expertly made $14 cocktails, party-centric little cocktail bars catering to neighborhood hipsters. And all this within a narrow band of streets between two BART stations.

1. The Miranda
Modeled after a hotel lounge, complete with reception desk and interior palm trees, the tiny Instagram-optimized cocktail bar from the Drexl owners features occasional DJ nights, minimal food options (a cheese plate, pork pâté), and colorful cocktails like the Bamboozled ($12, rye whiskey, rhubarb-ginger gin, lemon, ginger syrup, mint).
1739 Broadway (near 19th St.), 510-740-5760

2. Make Westing
Despite the hipsterish indoor bocce courts, this bar feels like a friendly college pub with its plain wooden floors, sports on the television, and approachable cocktails. Food consists mainly of “things in jars” (from hummus to barbecued riblets), but it isn’t overly precious.
1741 Telegraph Ave. (at 18th St.), 510-251-1400

3. Hello Stranger
Located in a former shoe and tuxedo shop, Hello Stranger opened in June with a dance floor and a gold disco ball, serving “crushable party drinks” and bubbly by the bottle. The mezzanine level gets plenty of sun, and a day party on Sundays is in the works for this summer.
1724 Broadway (near 17th St.), 510-505-5050

4. Dogwood
This beloved casual corner bar offers inexpensive cocktails (the $9 Dogwood Toddy, with apple brandy, allspice liqueur, lemon, and honey, might be the best among them) and serves the neighborhood’s favorite grilled cheese sandwich.
1644 Telegraph Ave. (at 17th St.), 510-444-6669

5. Cafe Van Kleef
This cluttered and eclectic bar, outfitted with chandeliers, fish taxidermy, and random busts, serves Uptown’s most famous cocktail: a fresh-pressed-grapefruit greyhound. The space is a delightful throwback to when dive bars looked like something owned by an eccentric uncle who went on an African safari in the 1940s.
1621 Telegraph Ave. (near 17th St.), 510-763-7711

6. The Kon-Tiki
Just past what most would consider the Uptown border, the Kon-Tiki is a dark tropical bar with thatched huts, big booths, and all the classic tiki trappings. Tropical cocktails come in ceramic bowls and hurricane glasses, and the pu pu platters, by Hawker Fare alum Manuel Bonilla, are several steps above the usual faux-Polynesian fare.
347 14th St. (at Webster St.), 510-823-2332

7. Plum Bar & Restaurant
Of the various restaurants in the Daniel Patterson Group, Plum offers the largest cocktail menu and the smallest food menu. While there is a notable cheeseburger, the drinks are some of the most inventive in the area—many of them, like the Oh Honey! ($13), are smartly infused with fresh herbs and orchard flavors.
2216 Broadway (at W. Grand Ave.), 510-444-7586

8. Lost and Found
This welcoming 21-tap beer bar (no hard alcohol here) has an atrium-like front room and a large back patio outfitted with picnic tables, heat lamps, and beanbag toss. Regulars appreciate the wide selection of international-style West Coast brews and the (relative) healthiness of the veggie panini and the cauliflower “wings.”
2040 Telegraph Ave. (at 21st St.), 510-763-2040

9. Flora and Fauna
Flora is a cocktail-focused restaurant featuring bright seasonal drinks—try the Carter Beats the Devil ($12)—in a gorgeous, art deco–style former flower depot. Fauna, attached around the corner, is a tiny, narrow cocktail bar with taxidermy that befits its name and a boilermaker menu to speed up drink orders before shows at the Fox across the street.
1900 Telegraph Ave. (at 19th St.), 510-286-0100

10. Drexl
Located in a small and boxy space with concrete pillars and other industrial touches, Drexl is a casual neighborhood cocktail bar with Skee-Ball upstairs and a short drink menu that features flights of whiskey, fernet, and gin and tonics.
382 19th St. (near Franklin St.), 510-858-5398

11. Here’s How
For her first solo project, Jennifer Colliau (Small Hand Foods and the Interval) will set up shop in the big space across from the Fox, specializing in artful craft cocktails prepared very quickly—perfect for accommodating thirsty show crowds.
ETA: Fall 2018. 1780 Telegraph Ave. (near 18th St.)


Crawl #2: Barrels and Taps in Alameda

Alameda might be known mostly as a sleepy residential community, but for the discerning Bay Area boozehound, the island city’s reputation is simply this: It’s where good booze gets made. Seven taprooms, wineries, and distilleries are clustered on one end of the island, most with superlative bay views and all walkable from one another.

1. St. George Spirits
The history-making distillery, open on the island since 2004, serves up tastings of gin, vodka, brandy, and liqueurs as well as specialty spirits like the extremely funky California Shochu and America’s first post-ban absinthe. Stop in for a tasting of six samples ($15) from a menu of 16 spirits, or combine the tasting with an hour-plus tour of the facility ($20).
2601 Monarch St. (near W. Midway Ave.), 510-769-1601

2. Faction Brewing
With plenty of kid-friendly indoor and outdoor seating, Faction is a popular choice for big groups celebrating special and not-so-special occasions. More than 20 beers (IPAs, Belgian-style beers, porters, and stouts) are available on tap and can be procured, variously, by the taste, pint, or 32- or 64-ounce growler. The 5-ounce tasting pours go for as low as $2.50 each, and complimentary sunscreen is provided on demand.
2501 Monarch St. (at W. Midway Ave.), 510-523-2739

3. Hangar 1 Vodka
The brand that was launched next door at St. George Spirits now has a life and distillery of its own, with a gift shop downstairs and a bright, vintage-aviation-themed upstairs cocktail bar overlooking the still. Thirsty visitors can skip the legal limit of six quarter-ounce tasting samples ($15, or as part of a $23 tour) and opt instead for full servings at the bar. Distillery-only flavors (honeycomb, pink peppercorn, or chipotle) are available at the store, and tastings of Hangar 1’s Fog Point vodka (diluted with water from Bay Area fog) start at $55 for two people.
2505 Monarch St. (at W. Midway Ave.), 510-871-4950

4. Building 43 Winery
Across the street from these other tasting rooms, Building 43 offers a quieter adults- (and pets-) only environment for a relaxing alternative to the bigger venues. Sit in a comfy lounge chair and sip heavier red wines (try the cabernet franc and the petit verdot) made via native-yeast fermentation from small-batch varietals often sourced from the Sierra foothills. Taste five pours for $12.
2440 Monarch St. (near W. Midway Ave.), 510-263-0399

5. Rock Wall Wine Company
Big, touristy, and busy, with an indoor tasting room, an outdoor patio, and additional seating inside a geodesic dome with live music, Rock Wall seems to attract an older crowd—perfect for bringing your parents. Food trucks and permanent onsite food vendor Scolari’s ensure that you can keep yourself on the level no matter how much you sip. Taste five wines for $15.
2301 Monarch st. (at W. Tower Ave.), Ste. 300, 510-522-5700

6. The Rake (at Admiral Maltings)
A few blocks’ walk from the other venues, the Rake is a small, white-tiled pub with views looking not over to San Francisco but into the malting facility where grains for beer (and whiskey) are processed. The bar has 20 beers on tap made with Admiral Maltings grains—like Alameda Island Brewing Co.’s Sea Haggis Scotch Ale. The good news is that you can sample as many as you want before committing to one.
651 W. Tower Ave. (near Pan Am Way), 510-666-6419

7. Almanac Barrel House, Brewery, and Taproom
Next door to the Rake, this Alameda taproom is where Almanac’s beer is made, offering fans of the Mission district outpost a chance to drink their favorite brews at the source. Seating is mostly at indoor picnic tables, with a smaller patio and food trucks parked outside. Almanac specializes in fruit-laden beers, both fresh and barrel aged. Choose a preselected flight or build your own out of four-ounce pours that go for as low as $2 each.
651B W. Tower Ave. (near Pan Am Way) 


Crawl #3: Bloodies and Day Drinks in Jack London Square

If you haven’t visited Jack London Square in a while, you might hardly recognize the place. Yes, the waterfront is as picturesque as ever, and Heinold’s isn’t going anywhere. Now add to that mix an increasingly multicultural and high-profile collection of bars and restaurants and frequent large-scale festivals. Come on a Sunday, when the newly revamped farmers’ market is in full swing, and you’ve got yourself a formula for a daylong party.

1. Fat Lady Bar & Restaurant
Start early and you can make brunch out of it at this low-key New Orleans brothel–esque restaurant where the Ramos Gin Fizzes are made in a blender with ice cream. (For an equally old-school brunch alternative, try the fustier Kincaid’s, on the waterfront; it has a build-your-own-Bloody Mary bar with a selection of 25 hot sauces.)
201 Washington St. (at 2nd St.), 510-465-4996

2. Jack London Square Farmers Market
Now run by CUESA, the same organization that operates the Ferry Plaza Farmers Market in San Francisco, the Jack London market runs from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. every Sunday. Even if you’re not shopping for farm eggs, you can create a waterfront picnic breakfast from the stands—say, a spread of crepes, pour-over coffee, and smoked fish. And who says you can’t have a drink while stocking up on local produce? Keep an eye out for special events, like this summer’s Cocktails of the Farmers Market, which will put pristine produce in the hands of some of the Bay Area’s most talented bartenders on August 1.
Webster St. and Embarcadero W., 415-291-3276

3. Dyafa
Between drinks, you can paddle off some of that food with a rental from California Canoe & Kayak or take one of several themed cruises on the USS Potomac (Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s presidential yacht). Eventually, though, you’ll want to grab lunch, preferably at one of the neighborhood’s new crop of internationally focused eateries—Burmese at Grocery Café or, once it opens, Thai at the forthcoming Farmhouse Kitchen. At Dyafa, diners can not only sample a James Beard Award–­nominated chef’s take on Arab cooking; they also have a full list of cocktails to choose from, like the Syriana-­Mericana (gin, apricot, rice milk, orange blossom, rose).
44 Webster St. (near Embarcadero W.), 510-250-9491

4. Original Pattern Brewing Company
While Alameda might boast the East Bay’s most concentrated selection of assorted beer and wine tastings, Jack London Square is no slouch, with its slew of urban wineries and this brand-new microbrewery, where you can enjoy a saison inside a large, industrial-looking tasting room.
292 4th St. (near Harrison St.), 510-844-4833

5. Heinold’s First and Last Chance
One of the most magnificent bars in the Bay Area, Heinold’s opened in 1883, was built out of whaling-ship wood, and features wildly crooked floors that dip down at the entrance and then up in the back of the room—supposedly the result of pilings that shifted during the 1906 quake. The ceiling and walls are cluttered with sailors’ hats and signed dollars from service members so they’d have money for a drink when they returned home from sea. Despite the historic gravity of the little six-barstool-and-three-table venue, most of Heinold’s customers sit outdoors on the patio, drinking beer from plastic cups and introducing their dogs to one another.
48 Webster St. (near Embarcadero W.), 510-839-6761

6. Lungomare
If you’re still in the square in the evening (the last ferry doesn’t leave until 9:25), you can check out the new location of Elbo Room, the long-standing Mission district dive bar, or an early jazz show at Yoshi’s. But if a full dinner is on the itinerary, consider the Sunday Winedown at Lungomare, the waterfront Italian restaurant: A three-course menu and an endless supply of tap wine will only set you back $30.
1 Broadway (near Embarcadero W.), 510-444-7171

 

Originally published in the July issue of San Francisco

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