Believe it or not, the most insane happy hour in the East Bay was, until recently, not at a sticky-floored Cal-student hangout or one of downtown Oakland’s notorious dives, but, in fact, a nicely-appointed, critically-beloved Piedmont Avenue salumeria. I’m talking, of course, about Adesso, and its above-and-beyond-the-call-of-duty happy hour, which quickly became a cult favorite. I went there the summer after the restaurant first opened with a friend who’d just returned from a semester in Rome, raving about the constant joy of aperitivo — a sort of magical Italian fold in the space-time continuum during which everyone drops what they’re doing for cocktails and free food — and was suitably impressed: At Adesso’s version, a constant cavalcade of ever-changing items were laid out on a back counter and replaced, as if by magic, just at the exact moment when they ran out.
However, with the trough-like setup and the genteel people of Piedmont Avenue jostling and pawing for free salami, it’s easy to see why the restaurant had to rejigger the concept recently, getting rid of the self-serve element and replacing it with table service: to guard against the inevitable flatbread-related riot, to preserve Adesso’s quietude, or, perhaps, to give all of us something to look forward to in the afterlife. Either way.
Actually, the free-for-all is said to still live at the bar’s well-loved late-night happy hour — 10:30 to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Wednesday, and 11 to midnight Thursday through Saturday — but the evening version (5-6 p.m., Monday through Saturday) may be even better: The elimination of the buffet has had marked and positive effect on the noise level and crowdedness factor, and, after all, a place can’t be everyone’s secret hideout for too long before it becomes no one’s. Though Adesso’s new happy hour is slightly less insane than Adesso’s old happy hour, it is nonetheless still pretty insane: a big thicket of leafy, lightly-dressed microgreens; a heap of cheesy-buttery-toasty-delicious bread; a perfectly golf-ball-size portion of duck-liver pâté, served unprompted and for absolutely free on a pretty plate, in an unaccountably charming setting, and along with a menu of damn-near-perfect drinks.
There’s a bunch of local beers on draft and in bottles and a multipage wine list, but better yet, Eric Quilty is the sort of bartender whose drinks sneak up on you: Peach-colored and cherry-garnished, the esperanza (Del Maguey Mezcal Vida, roasted-pear-infused Cocchi Americano, cinnamon bitters, $10) looks like a girlie cocktail but goes down like something much more substantial, and the relative simplicity of the five-ingredient billionaire cocktail (Bakers 107 bourbon, grenadine, lemon, absinthe bitters, simple syrup, $10) belies an intense and complex drink, one that reveals itself in waves — pleasantly insane, or maybe just insanely pleasant.