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[whitespace] Albany's San Pablo Avenue
Photograph by Greg Roden

Who'da Thunk It? Just north of Oakland, Albany's San Pablo Avenue has a strip of bars and clubs that could soon rival Valencia Street.

Drinking, Driving and Dining

A Guide to East Bay Night Life

by David Kasher
Restaurant reviews courtesy of Urban View

Nighttime. darkness closes in on the East Bay, and an eerie quiet descends upon the land. Our hero is on the hunt, in search of that ever-elusive beast, "East Bay Night life." Has it been stolen, as legend has it, by evil San Francisco? Or did it ever really exist? Our hero, call him Ishmael, listens for some movement, some stirring of the beast, but all he can hear is the tumbleweeds rolling by. He gets in his car and finds himself drawn, inextricably and for reasons he cannot explain, down San Pablo Avenue. Through Oakland, through Berkeley, past the dealers and the crack-whores, on he drives. Suddenly, up ahead, he sees beautiful, bright neon lighting up the road, illuminating places which seem to be packed with ("Could it be?"--he rubs his eyes) young people having fun. He rolls down his window and asks one of them, "What is this magic place?" The answer: "Albany."

It is a strange phenomenon indeed, but this little city north of Berkeley has just about the best bar scene in the East Bay. Do you like to drink, my friend? Yes? Well, then let's take a little guided tour along the strip.

Club Mallard
752 San Pablo Ave., 510.524.8450

The Mallard Club is probably the winner, the coolest joint on the block. There are three main areas: 1. Downstairs, your basic bar, two pool tables and a jukebox. 2. Upstairs, three more tables and cushioned booths (for lovers only). 3. The outside area, with a Hawaiian theme, tiki lamps and all (not quite as tacky as it sounds). The crowd is young, and even includes the occasional semi-famous musician, whose anonymity I will not break.

The Ivy Room
858 San Pablo Ave., 510.524.9299

Music is the real treat here. Live bands play a few times a week, mostly rock & roll. And on the other nights, head for the jukebox, once voted the best roots jukebox in the bay, with classic 45s ranging from Hank Williams to Frank Sinatra to Sly and the Family Stone.

The Hotsy-Totsy
601 San Pablo Ave., 510.525.9964

A favorite of the dive bar enthusiast. Older, friendlier, more eclectic crowd; for those who believe drinking should be done in real bars with some real alcoholics and none of that kid stuff. When asked if there were any special nights or discount drinks, the bartender growled, "Discount! Don't ever say that word around here!!" But don't worry, drinks are damn cheap here every night of the week.

And for those of you who don't drink (or just lost your fake I.D.), check out Albany Bowl. Tuesday nights are dollar-games, but come early because it can get pretty packed. Bowling and billiards, boys and babes, fun, fun, fun, for everyone!

So yeah, Albany, man. Who knew? The secret treasure of East Bay night life.
Albany Bowl, 540 San Pablo Ave., 510.526.8818

5600 College Ave., 510.658.2026

Crepe Crescendo
4060 Piedmont Ave.

Crepevine and its neighbor Crepe Crescendo may signal the comeback of the crepe after its huge popularity in the '70s when even Aunt Jemima sold frozen crepe batter. Crepevine's menu is short and mainly vegetarian. These thin, light pancakes can be filled with everything from smoked tofu to a veggie lasagna ($5.95). All plates overflow with tangy designer salads and fat cubes of garlicky potatoes. At Crepevine you walk up and order deli-style and get your food in under five minutes.

Crepe Crescendo's crepes are larger, thicker and more authentically French, perhaps because the owners are European. The spinach ($3.75) and the sun-dried tomato with feta ($4.75) are both highly recommended. Crepe Crescendo, like Crepevine (what is it about crepe restaurant owners that they can't resist bad puns?), answers the need for a good, cheap, not too overtly romantic place to go on a date.

Everett Jones Barbeque
2676 Fruitvale Ave., 510.533.0900
3411 Telegraph Ave., 570.601.9377
8740 International Blvd., 570.638.6400
126 Broadway, 510.663.2350

Everett and Jones is about good "real people" food. There are only a few choices on the menu (lunch averages $6; dinner $9.50). For main dishes, you'll find brisket (their specialty), chicken, ribs and hot links. Choosing the hot links was perhaps the defining moment of my 30s. You get two sides with any dinner selection--baked beans and yams are a winning combination. As a warning, I ordered HOT sauce, which does not taste too hot . . . at first. But when the heat rises, dip one of the cornbread muffins in your baked beans and snuff out the fire. (John Reid-McLaughlin)

Le Cheval
1007 Clay St., 510.763.8495

Despite its French misnomer, Le Cheval is a popular Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Oakland. The space is open and airy with pictures of horses (chevals) adorning the walls. Owner Son Tran and his mother, Tuyet Bui, cook with the intricate spices unique to Vietnamese cuisine. For seafood lovers, the shrimp salad ($8.75) is excellent. Don't be intimidated by the inclusion of jellyfish! Vegetarians will be pleased to find numerous tofu and vegetable entrees.

Le Cheval is consistently busy, but the wait is minimal. Although the service is hospitable, it can be irritatingly fast. Great for a work-lunch crowd but a little rushed for a leisurely dinner. (Kim and Wendy Goodfriend)

Doña Tomas
5004 Telegraph Ave.

Doña Tomas' drink list offers a sophisticated selection of tequilas, mezcals and wines in addition to the lip-smacking array of cocktails. The margaritas have just the right tartness, not too strong and certainly not watered down. The calabacitas y queso de chivo enchiladas con tomatillo salsa (wild mushroom, zucchini and goat cheese enchiladas with tomatillo sauce, $10.95) are served with a beautifully deep green sautéed chard and white rice. The tomatillo sauce is one of the best I've ever tasted: tangy, light, a perfect complement to the flavors of the filling. For dessert try chocolate cake ($5.25). So rich, so creamy, so good.

The décor is simple and calming, the prices, however, are anything but. (Davina Baum)

The Happy Belly Café and Restaurant
30 Jack London Square,
#216 in the Village

Looking for a "green" restaurant that serves breakfast in a relaxed, earthy atmosphere? The extensive menu of Happy Belly is all organic and homemade. One specialty is Harry's Bar Scramble: two eggs, goat cheese, milk and a side of garlicky spinach. All meals come with herb-encrusted roasted potatoes and high-grain toast. Very simple, but absolutely great. The bacon is lean and the avocados are perfectly ripe. You can taste the chefs' passion for cooking in every morsel.

Filling the happy bellies of Oaklanders (for very reasonable prices) has been much appreciated by many regular satisfied customers. (Nicole Westmoreland)

For more information about Oakland, visit oakland.com.

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From the November 8, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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