Courting Culture

East Bay options for the underage partygoer.

You’re young, bored, and overpowered by primal urges. And you’re deeply disappointed by the fiesta meter in Berkeley, a town still burdened by the legacy of Prohibition — and, with it, a law that prohibited the sale of alcohol within a mile of the university campus, which wasn’t repealed by the state legislature until 1978. Add to that a 2005 ordinance banning booze in Berkeley’s Greek system, and it looks like frat row isn’t necessarily the place for an underage drinker to hang anymore.

But here’s a small silver lining: Berkeley, while never really a drinking destination, is actually a hotbed of all-ages entertainment venues. No need to procure a fake ID; this city has plenty of options for the freshman bon vivant. So, in fact, do the neighboring cities of Albany and Oakland. Here are just a few recommendations:

Live Music

If your taste skews punk and metal, check out Berkeley’s most famous punk club, 924 Gilman (924 Gilman St., Berkeley,, an all-volunteer run, non-discriminatory, non-elitist, and safe venue that has a strict no drugs-or-alcohol policy. Despite its gritty veneer, Gilman tries to foster an atmosphere of warm kinship. It even stays open on Christmas for people who have nowhere else to go. Not to mention the fact that the volunteers host an annual punk prom for kids who feel too alienated to attend their high school prom, or who just want a funkier alternative.

Hewing to the same all-inclusive value system as the punk venue nearby, albeit from a slightly different angle, Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, is dedicated to showcasing folkloric music from all parts of the globe, and offers dance lessons in Balkan, Cajun, African, Middle Eastern, Latin, gypsy, and western swing, among other forms, to beginners of all ages. It’s about as quintessential a Berkeley experience as you can find outside the city council chambers.

A crowning jewel of the Addison Street Arts corridor, Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley, books musical acts from throughout the folk diaspora — including The House Jacks, recent Berkeley High alum Sister T., chamber bands, the Jazz Mafia brass section, and favorite local riot grrrl Shelley Doty — and has one of the best sound systems in the entire Bay Area, to boot. The prices are a little steeper than most local clubs (usually ranging from $20 to $24 a ticket) but the quality is worth it.

For those who like intimate spaces, Subterranean Arthouse (2179 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, is one of the coziest in Berkeley. The shows range from chamber ensembles to straight-ahead jazz to sketch comedy, and usually cost between $5 and $15.

La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, was founded in the Seventies by a group of North American and Latino activists with a shared social justice credo, fueled, in part, by their anger over the US-sponsored 1973 military coup in Chile. And the arts center still hews to that sentiment, booking acts that often have a humanitarian or activist bent. It’s had an important presence in various East Bay music scenes, including the underground hip-hop movement, and although it’s primarily known for world music, the venue also books DJs, lectures, film screenings, feminist folk shows, and spoken word.

If you’re looking for risky performance art or live music, check out the [email protected] Friday: Nights at BAM/PFA (5-9 p.m. every first Friday, 2626 Bancroft Way, Berkeley, at the Berkeley Art Museum. Past iterations have presented DJs in the lobby, choirs packing the stairwells, electronic musicians showcasing their vast rigs, light shows, and pianos on the ground floor. The Berkeley Art Museum is a pretty impressive place to take your date on a Friday night, and since it abuts the Pacific Film Archive, you can always catch something interesting if the art doesn’t tickle your fancy.

Art Murmur

Oakland’s first Friday art walk, known as Art Murmur ( began with a small cluster of galleries, and has since morphed into a giant nexus of block parties, complete with spoken-word readings, artisan vendors, food trucks, soothsayers, DJ dance parties, impromptu performances, occasional flash mobs, and extremely liberal interpretations of the term “art.” In short, it’s the best place to see and be seen on the first Friday of the month, and it lasts well into the night. One of the new highlights is a classic car show at the Giant Burger, featuring automobiles that look as bright and metallic as a fine shade of lipstick.

East Bay Bike Party

This monthly event, held every second Friday in a different part of the East Bay, is an opportunity to work up a sweat, wear a ridiculous costume (the parties are usually themed), and tour a large swath of the East Bay on two wheels. They’re always free and non-carbon-emitting, but generally void of the evangelical zeal you might see at other bike events. Usually everyone meets around 7:30 at a BART station, and winds up at a different station after a leisurely ten- to fifteen-mile loop. One or two bikes will always be tricked out with massive stereos and subwoofers. Be sure to wear gloves. (


Yes, you knew we had to say it at some point. You might think of the theater as being overly mannered or prohibitively expensive, which is why it’s long been the domain of adults with disposable incomes. But hey, local theater companies know that, and they’re pulling lots of strings to get young people to become patrons of the arts. Berkeley Rep (2025 Addison St., Berkeley, and Aurora Theatre (2081 Addison St., Berkeley, are both located in the downtown Addison Street Arts corridor and offer student discounts, as does Impact Theatre (1834 Euclid Ave., Berkeley,, which is housed underneath a pizzeria on the north side of campus, and which often features the kind of edgy, campy, contemporary work that appeals to younger audiences. Shotgun Players (1901 Ashby Ave., Berkeley,, which is housed across the street from the Ashby BART station, opens each run with a pay-what-you-can night. California Shakespeare Theatre (100 California Shakespeare Theater Way, Orinda, is a little farther away in Orinda, but it’s accessible by BART and also has discounts for young audience members.

Several up-and-coming theater companies — namely Central Works, TheatreFIRST, and Just Theater — also rent the stage in Berkeley City Club (2315 Durant Ave., Berkeley), which is conveniently close to campus. Great resource:

The Lit Scene

While it’s not quite as big as its analogue in San Francisco, the East Bay literati scene appears to be growing by the minute, and in the last few years, it’s become increasingly fecund. One of the most successful monthly readings, Lip Service West (, is led by a recovered heroin addict and confessed Kerouac acolyte named Joe Clifford. It’s held on Friday nights at Pegasus Books, usually for a packed house. Bitches Brew, an event inspired by the freewheeling sounds of the classic Miles Davis album, takes place at Awaken Cafe with host Paul Corman-Roberts. This year the East Bay held its own Beast Crawl, a smaller but equally mighty version of San Francisco’s Litquake. Featuring 125 writers in 25 venues (including a parking lot), it was a great harbinger for local creative writer types, who no longer have to cross the bridge or stay barricaded in their bedrooms.


Open until 2 a.m. most nights, with a Monday night special that offers games at just $1.50 a pop, Albany Bowl (540 San Pablo Ave., Albany, is an excellent place to hang out on the cheap. It’s a chance to be sporty without necessarily having any skills, and if bowling isn’t your thing, there are always pinball machines and old-fashioned arcade games to keep you busy. Not to mention that this bowling alley loves Cal students so much, it dedicates a whole page of its website to photos of students posing in their Cal gear. It’s accessible by way of the El Cerrito plaza BART, if you’re willing to walk a couple blocks. 

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