3136 Sacramento Street is not, at first glance, the most logical place for a beer garden. Moxy is nice, to be sure, and it has space and sun and indoor plumbing and a big patio and all the trappings necessary for that kind of place. But marooned in a big parking lot on a mostly residential street in the mostly residential Berkeley neighborhood formally known as Lorin, it does feels a bit unexpected. There’s almost no foot traffic and little neighborhoody buzz in the way of, say, Uptown or Rockridge. Unless you live there, it’s fairly unlikely you’ve devoted much thought to the area, though that all may change, as Lorin is already or soon will be home to at least four new places in addition to Moxy: Alchemy Collective Cafe, purveyor of Verve coffee and progressive politics; Easy Creole, which offers, you guessed it, Creole food (as well as acclaimed cheffage and “wainscoting made from pickle barrels,” according to Eater); Next Door Restaurant, which serves “eclectic comfort food”; and a self-proclaimed “nano-brewery” set to arrive at Alcatraz Avenue and Ellis Street in the coming months. Suddenly, this sleepy little neighborhood no longer feels sleepy, nor, even particularly little.
Still, though, Moxy — which occupies the space that formerly housed the wine bar Casa Vino — has the vibe of a neighborhood place. It is probably not a destination — depending on where you live, you can probably find a burger and a beer and a patio closer to your house, and nothing there is quite mind-blowing enough to warrant a special trip. But it is also the kind of place that every neighborhood should have: a casual place, a catch-all place, a place where big groups of twentysomethings or large families or young, be-babied couples can congregate over craft beers (rotating, mostly local taps, $5-9ish depending on size of pour) and burgers (fairly standard-issue and slightly overpriced lamb, beef, turkey, and veggie, with sundry toppings, $9-$10) and shared plates of truffle fries (delicious, hugely portioned, flecked with herbs and a bit of melted cheese, $7) or onion rings (coated in a shatteringly crisp, perfect batter, $5). Kids seem especially welcome at Moxy (though signage asks, wisely, that they remain seated), but so do the happily kidless. Beer snobs are more than placated, as are the kinds of people who’re happy to take a suggestion from the waiter and be on with their drinking. Despite the fact that an early visit yielded legitimately, memorably terrible service, a second visit found our server to pleasant, low-key, and generally unmemorable, which is a good thing. The design is nice but minimally distracting — no schmancy light fixtures or pickle-barrel wainscoting here, just sturdy picnic tables and a nice overhang and Christmas lights after dark and, in the smaller, cozier indoor area, tasteful wallpaper and cute little two-tops.
Moxy isn’t exactly exceptional, but then again, it doesn’t exactly need to be: This is a place for locals — nothing more, nothing less. It will probably fit in quite nicely as the neighborhood continues to develop, but for now, that sturdy-tabled, Christmas-lit parking lot on Sacramento is right where it should be.