Clubs & Musical Venues
The Bay Area has one of the richest, most diverse music scenes in the country. No matter what your inclinations are — noise rock, free jazz, bluegrass, freak-folk, backpacker hip-hop — you’re likely to find a venue to call home. La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2568, LaPena.org), with its trademark colorful mural out front, is a microcosm of Berkeley’s cultural, social, and political utopia. Founded in 1975, La Peña hosts a variety of hip-hop, world, and jazz music; spoken word; dance classes; art exhibits; films; and lectures, focusing on social justice and human rights about four nights a week. … It’s no secret that Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-525-5054, Ashkenaz.com) is the place to check out everything from Algerian rai to Louisiana Zydeco to roots reggae. Other places may occasionally feature world artists, but only Ashkenaz does it regularly. It’s also a place where people actually dance, not just stand at the bar and make eye contact. … At Freight & Salvage (1111 Addison St., Berkeley, 510-548-1761, TheFreight.org), a nonsmoking, alcohol-free venue, patrons can enjoy desserts and snacks in their seats while listening to world-renowned artists of folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and worldbeat. Located on San Pablo Avenue since 1968, the traditional music venue plans to move downtown in 2009. … For up-tempo music lovers with a passion for partner dancing on a smooth-as-corn-silk hardwood floor, no-frills Eagles Hall (2305 Alameda Ave., Alameda, 415-285-6285, SFZydeco.com) on Friday nights is the nexus of Zydeco-crazed Bay Area fans. It’s friendly, lively, and like no other East Bay music hall, because this major mob scene also attracts a base of folks as diverse as the ingredients in gumbo. … The Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-2082) is an Irish pub — and it still features traditional Irish music some nights — but its bookings are far more eclectic. Rockers, singer-songwriters, jam-banders, and folkies take the stage here, where audience members are likely to holler, scream, and kick up their heels. … This Berkeley institution has seen it all. You won’t find too much blues at Blake’s on Telegraph (2367 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-0886, BlakesonTelegraph.com) anymore, but it does have regular helpings of indie rock, hip-hop, funk, ska, and DJs, which keep the Telegraph scene from completely fading away. … Berkeley’s famous all-ages punk warehouse 924 Gilman (924 Gilman St., Berkeley, 510-525-9926, 924Gilman.org) still caters primarily to kids with backpacks, bad attitudes, and too much eyeliner, but it’s the best place in town to catch famous punk bands (both local and national) for five bucks. But the best thing about this volunteer-run, alcohol- and drug-free venue is its sense of history: The graffiti-stained walls have been tagged by members of now-legendary bands like Screw 32, Green Day, and A.F.I. … The East Bay has plenty of punk-oriented venues, but the Uptown Nightclub (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-451-8100, UptownNightclub.com) strikes a nice balance between out-of-towners and local mainstays. While maintaining an overall indie rock-oriented identity, featured acts cover a wide spectrum from emo-prog to lesbian thrash, psychobilly to Afro-boho jazz-funk, and classic punk to indie folk. … 21 Grand (416 25th St., Oakland, 510-444-7263, 21Grand.org), a gallery and performance space, showcases some of the best avant-garde and experimental art, film, and musicians from local and national underground scenes. Neither self-consciously hip nor beholden to any particular genre, 21 Grand takes risks on new projects and artists who fall outside the bounds of convention. … Anna’s Jazz Island (2120 Allston Way, Berkeley, 510-841-5299, AnnasJazzIsland.com) hosts on-the-cheap jazz shows, jam sessions, and vocalist open mics in a city that boasts one of the most concentrated populations of jazzheads on the West Coast. The tropical-themed venue doesn’t afford enough space for exhibitionist dance moves, but it’s small enough for audience members to chitchat with the musicians between sets. And that’s the point. … Hip-hop shows on this side of the bay were few and far in-between until the Shattuck Down Low (2284 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, 510-548-1159, ShattuckDownLow.com) came along. The venue has never catered to the hyphy crowd, but instead makes a point of booking conscious hip-hop groups with more peaceful followings. It’s not strictly a hip-hop spot; the club also regularly features live reggae and salsa. … Yoshi’s (510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, 510-238-9200) is not only the best place to hear live jazz in the Bay Area, but, in the considered opinion of vocal vet Nancy Wilson, is “the nicest club in the country.” The Japanese restaurant’s jazz room is a jazz lover’s — and jazz musician’s — dream, specially built to enhance the listening and performing experience. … Home of Q’s Lounge and Dotha’s Juke Joint, Everett & Jones Barbeque (126 Broadway, Oakland, 510-663-2350, EandJBBQ.com) showcases a variety of neo-soul, hip-hop, and blues acts, along with Monday Night Football, live KSFO broadcasts recapping Raiders home games, barbecue, beer, and dinner buffets on the cheap. For a lively evening, check out Birdlegg and the Tight Fit Blues Band every Saturday night. … If karaoke is your thing, Kimball’s Carnival (522 2nd St. Oakland, 510-444-6979, KimballsCarnival.com) — the giant Jack London Square club whose Friday night karaoke event has garnered a regular following via word of mouth alone — is the closest thing you’ll find to American Idol-style pageantry here in the East Bay. Performances are sometimes gleefully and frighteningly over the top. … R&B, funk, and classic soul acts perform regularly at Maxwell’s Lounge (341 13th St., Oakland, 510-839-6169, MaxwellsLounge.com), a glitzy downtown Oakland club that features a spacious dance floor, large stage, lounge areas with couches, and a Cajun-style soul food restaurant. … Although generally used as a performance space (it’s the home of the Oakland Opera Theater), you’ll also find the occasional live metal, indie rock, punk, underground hip-hop, or alt.folk show at Oakland Metro Operahouse (630 3rd St., Oakland, 510-763-1146, OaklandMetro.org). It’s also home to the famed variety show Tourettes Without Regrets, featuring slapstick comedy, meat-hurling contests, formidable freestyle battles, spoken-word poetry, and dirty haiku — usually to sold-out crowds. … A visit to Caffe Trieste (2500 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-5198) on a Sunday afternoon when Pappa Gianni is playing with his North Beach Band is enough to make anyone sentimental for the Old Country, even if they’re native Californians. Crowds of Italian expatriates pack themselves into this inviting cafe, which also hosts Argentine tango, jazz, and other acoustically oriented music. … If you want your soy-latte-and-laptop cafe experience tempered with a soothing singer-songwriter performance, head over to Nomad Cafe (6500 Shattuck Ave., Oakland, 510-595-5344, NomadCafe.net), which regularly schedules acoustic performances on Friday and Saturday evenings, and Sundays for brunch. If that’s not reason enough, their free high-speed Internet access should be. … For something a little more homey, The Bistro (1001 B St., Hayward, 510-886-8525, The-Bistro.com) offers live music every night — mostly local musicians, from blues to surf, acoustic, bluegrass, and eighteen-piece bands. And if you’re feeling inspired, the Bistro hosts open-mic nights every Monday. … On the other side of the hills, the LA-channeling Betty’s Rock Bar (1251 Arroyo Way, Walnut Creek, 925-858-6650, MySpace.com/bettysrockbar) will indulge the rocker in you: crimson-red walls; art-rock posters; pool tables; a well-stocked bar; and live, loud music. This newish club regularly books tribute bands and the occasional celebrity guest DJ, like Joel Madden from Good Charlotte. … Red House Live (1667 Botelho Dr., Walnut Creek, 925-938-6900, RedHouseLive.com) is a state-of-the-art recording studio, rehearsal space, music school, and instrument shop. It’s also a mini all-ages performance hall providing young rock, indie, and metal bands the opportunity to perform on a real stage with professional lights, gear, and sound. … In a city whose roots reach back to Italian immigrants who fished the Carquinez Strait and canned tomatoes in waterfront factories, Armando’s (707 Marina Vista Ave., Martinez, 925-228-6985, MartinezVibes.com/armandos) is the place to go for an authentic music experience. The intimate club books musicians playing everything from jazz to blues, bluegrass, folk, rockabilly jazz, classical music, and almost anything else except commercial rock. … In addition to stocking one of the most impressive record selections in the world, Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St., San Francisco, 415-831-1200) also hosts live bands several times a week, usually prior to their performance at some big club in the City. It’s a great opportunity to see your favorite band for free if you can’t afford a regular ticket, and in a much more intimate environment. … For years, Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St., San Francisco, 415-621-4455, BottomoftheHill.com) has reigned as the rock club in San Francisco. Fans of noise-rock, post-rock, punk-pop, and everything in between cram the beer-sticky checkerboard floor all the way to the pool table and spill out onto the back patio for standing-room-only smoking and some serious tattoo watching. … One of the strengths of the Independent (628 Divisadero St., San Francisco, 415-771-1421, IndependentSF.com) is the variety of music booked here — usually big-name acts in the worlds of reggae, funk, blues, DJs, hip-hop, and the indie-rock circuit. No matter what your inclination, this midsize venue — ranked among the best in the nation — will make you feel at home. … Cafe du Nord (2170 Market St., San Francisco, 415-861-5016, CafeduNord.com) is one of the more classy and sophisticated places to see live indie music in San Francisco. Its deep-red interior, Victorian-era styling, and large, carved wood bar make it a perfect environment to sip cocktails while listening to the best local and national alt-country, folk, indie rock, and singer-songwriter acts. … Gothic architecture meets old-timey, honky-tonk decor at this historic concert hall with brass, gilded mirrors, candelabra chandeliers, frescoes, a huge oak dance floor with ample space for two hundred, two full bars, and a cocktail lounge upstairs. The Great American Music Hall (859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco, 415-885-0750, MusicHallSF.com) is one of the best midsize venues in the city, drawing mostly national touring acts in genres as diverse as they come. … Opened by Boz Scaggs in 1988, Slim’s (333 11th St., San Francisco, 415-522-0333) features rock, alternative, jazz, blues, R&B, and reggae most nights of the week. The oblong-shaped venue can get rather full; the claustrophobic or vertically challenged may want to buy dinner tickets and get a seat on the balcony. … Wanna rock? One of the only venues in the city that books underground punk, metal, and hard-rock acts is Annie’s Social Club (917 Folsom St., San Francisco, 415-974-1585, AnniesSocialClub.com). There’s also a karaoke night for all you wannabes. Considerably classier than its predecessor (the Covered Wagon) after a renovation, this cozy rock club is conveniently located right off the freeway with ample street parking. Just be sure to bring a designated driver. … Want to hear the latest flying-under-the-radar indie acts? Head to the Hemlock Tavern (1131 Polk St., San Francisco, 415-923-0923, HemlockTavern.com), a dark, cavernous bar whose full live music calendar is guaranteed to keep things lively and loud. … The Hotel Utah (500 4th St., San Francisco, 415-546-6300, TheHotelUtahSaloon.com) is the place to grab a bar stool, order a pint and a monster burger and fries, and absorb some of San Francisco’s lively history. This century-old-bar features a variety of rock and folk bands six nights a week for about $6 to $8, in addition to its popular and free open-mic night on Mondays. … The best place to hear live jazz in the Bay Area opened a sister location in the Fillmore district late last year. Expect to hear the same high caliber of talent at Yoshi’s San Francisco (1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco, 415-655-5600, Yoshis.com) in the genre of jazz, but also R&B, soul, and world music). The state-of-the-art venue holds a max capacity of 320. … Founded in 1997 by blues legend John Lee Hooker, the Boom Boom Room (1601 Fillmore St., San Francisco, 415-673-8000, BoomBoomBlues.com) was once a sultry, steamy place for locals to get down to some of the country’s best blues acts. Today, the club still hosts a range of blues, boogie, and soul bands, but it’s got a little less roots and little more funk and jam-band, which tends to attract a slightly younger, lighter crowd. … Home to famously bombastic DJ parties such as “Enter the Dancehall,” the hot dancehall and reggaetón night presented by Deecee’s Soul Shakedown every third Friday of the month, and “Give Thankz,” a regular Thursday-night reggae and hip-hop extravaganza, Club Six (60 Sixth St., San Francisco, 415-863-1221, ClubSix1.com) is a two-tiered industrial warehouse located between Market and Mission streets in the heart of San Francisco’s SOMA district. … Industrial catwalks and cyberspace terminals add to the Tim Burton-esque feel of the DNA Lounge (375 11th St., San Francisco, 415-626-1409, DNALounge.com). This two-tiered club includes a full bar, large stage and lounge areas, and often stays open after hours for DJ events — including hip-hop, house, dancehall, industrial, and breakbeats — on Fridays and Saturdays. … In addition to its frequent hip-hop and DJ showcases (including local and international acts), Mezzanine (444 Jessie St., San Francisco, 415-625-8880, MezzanineSF.com) features video screenings, laser shows, and multimedia installations by artists associated with Blasthaus Gallery. Whereas many conventional club DJs swipe their sets directly from Top 40 radio playlists, the performers at this SF SOMA club get a lot more creative, challenging club-goers with new music or taking old music in new, funky directions,
Blues, Folk, & Country Bands
While Berkeley singer-songwriter Bart Davenport (BartDavenport.com) flirts from genre to genre, his studiously earnest, Jonathan Richman vibe remains constant. Jaded hipsters find his silly love song shtick playfully ironic — but Davenport is dead serious about love, hope, and zest. … Texas-born, San Francisco-based folk-pop singer-songwriter Jolie Holland (MySpace.com/jolieholland) always sounds slightly delirious, singing in a half-slumbering tone suggesting a happy drunk, or perhaps a hallucinogenic feverish young lady. When Holland deals with the darker aspects of love, her fragile delivery makes her sound like a woman on the edge of oblivion. … You won’t catch Marty Anderson doing scissor kicks off the drum riser — in fact, due to Crohn’s disease, Fremont’s answer to Brian Wilson is primarily housebound and rarely performs live. But under the moniker Okay (AbsolutelyKosher.com), Anderson creates shockingly massive planets of sound and candy-coated fury, a lo-fi carnival of bouncing keyboards, gently strummed guitars, random blasts of art rock noise, and his cartoonishly nasal voice. … If you’re bored with the soft-rock hipsterism of alt.country and can’t stand the absurd posturing of new country, give Red Meat (RedMeat.net) a try. Like its namesake, this little country band feels like an all-American staple. Instead of puerile redneck anthems, Red Meat traffics in the well-written narrative songs and tight instrumental accompaniment that are the time-honored provenance of good country music. … Introducing frontier Americana to the American underground, San Francisco’s Trainwreck Riders (MySpace.com/thetrainwreckriders) join country, blues, folk, and punk as if they were always meant to be together. It’s more fun than any overt revival and more authentic than most anything else in the so-called cow-punk genre. The Stairwell Sisters (StairwellSisters.com), an all-woman acoustic bluegrass ensemble, pay homage to old-time music in a thoroughly modern way. The Berkeley band draws musical inspiration from the old days of country and bluegrass, but its sound and subject matter almost has a punk-rock edge to it. … A choir leader, folklorist, former session drummer, vocal percussionist, and R&B singer with an operatic register, Linda Tillery is often hailed as the female counterpart to Bobby McFerrin. Her a cappella quintet, the Cultural Heritage Choir, draws from an African-American lineage of spirituals, field hollers, and old work songs. Seen live, she’s dazzling. … Sugar Pie DeSanto (JasmanRecords.com) may no longer jump off pianos and land in a split, as she and James Brown used to do in tandem 48 years ago when she was a member of his revue, but at age 72 she can still roll her hips like Miss Wiggles and other shake dancers she encountered on the chitlin circuit in the ’50s and ’60s. On occasion, she even humps the legs of men in her audience.
Experimental & Avant-Garde Performers
The East Bay has a lot of weird bands, and chief among them is the Zoopy Show (TheZoopyShow.com), a costumed electro-dance-punk outfit featuring monstrous puppets, scantily clad go-go dancers, and a trench-coated MC named “Speed.” … We pretty much bow down and worship anything that Sleepytime Gorilla Museum (SleepytimeGorillaMuseum.com) tries. Extremely heavy, sometimes totally dissonant, its music always returns to huge percussion or string themes that resonate long after the screaming is gone. This isn’t a band for everyone; SGM says its fans tend to be nerdy hessians. … Living up to the “experimental” in its name, Experimental Dental School (ExperimentalDental.com) mashes tortured melodies against fractured noise, restlessly bounding between toe tapping and confounding. It’s What-the-Hell-Is-Going-On arty randomness. … Oakland neo-folk outfit Faun Fables (FaunFables.net) features vocalist and songwriter Dawn McCarthy alongside Nils Frykdahl of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, plus Meredith Yayanos (violin and theremin) and Kirana Peyton (harmonium and percussion). Their music is a spectacular, theatrical package that’s bound for the stage. … A bunch of friends want to see some live music: One is a jam-band fan, another digs Krautrock, another loves groove-oriented jazz, and still another hasn’t outgrown ’60s rock. How to potentially please all these seemingly disparate tastes? Only one band: Mushroom (MySpace.com/mushroomoakland), a collective that surveys classic rock song structures and freewheeling improvisation, anchored by solid, earthy rhythms. Truly trippy. … A prolific and internationally renowned contributor to the improv and experimental scene, drummer Scott Amendola (ScottAmendola.com) got his start with Charlie Hunter, expanded as a bandleader in his own outfit, and contributes to such projects as the piano-less trio Plays Monk and the orchestral-minded Larry Ochs Sax & Drumming Core, whose lineup includes a saxophonist and two drummers. … Avant-garde improvisation? Free jazz? Future music? Leading Bay Area bassist Damon Smith is a left-field “noise” head who makes music that doesn’t always sound like music.
Jazz, Lounge, & Cabaret Acts
The scene that spawned such jazz legends as Joshua Redman and David Murray (MySpace.com/davidmurraymusic) still thrives, thanks, in part to such incubators as the Khalil Shaheed’s Oaktown Jazz Workshops (OaktownJazz.org) and the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble (BerkeleyHighJazz.org), a three-decades-old institution that produced student bands and combos good enough to perform at the Montreux and North Sea Jazz festivals in Europe. Berkeley High’s recent emeriti include trumpeter drummer Justin Brown (MySpace.com/afrofunkadelic), and pianists Michael Aaberg (MySpace.com/tigersmilk) and Julian Waterfall Pollack (JulianPollackMusic.com), and trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, who will be this fall’s Artist-in-Residence at the Berkeley Jazzschool (Jazzschool.com) and is widely considered to be one of the best young brass players in the world. … Other faithful East Bay torchbearers include legendary singer Faye Carol (FayeCarol.com), who still offers workshops at the Black Repertory Theater. She’s now featured on several new albums, including the two-disc orchestral work Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman by Marcus Shelby, who said he wrote the first aria with Carol’s raw, gravelly vocals in mind. She and daughter Kito Gamble are both now featured in The Angola Project, a reinterpretation of old prison songs by saxophonist (and drummer) Howard Wiley (HowardWiley.com), a young musician who’s garnered fans with his singular cutting tone and inspired compositions, becoming a legend in his own right. … But the East Bay isn’t merely fixated on young lions; pianist and cabaret singer Diamond Dave Hosely (DaveHosely.com) has held court at Petar’s Restaurant and Pub in Lafayette for decades, while vocalist Ed Reed (EdReedSings.com) released his first full-length album at age 78. … Intergenerational sensibilities aside, we’re also into freeing up everything, be it a twelve-bar blues or a triplet figure, or the melody line for “Mary Had a Little Lamb.” Among the most well-established and notable innovators are ROVA Saxophone Quartet (ROVA.org), an all-sax group whose repertoire runs the gamut from standards to folk songs to improvised numbers that free up both the melody and the meter. Having done away with rules since its 1977 inception, ROVA has since risen to international renown. … If you’re seeking free jazz by musicians who’ve taken the concept of “free” and turned it into a lifestyle choice, look no further than the Devin Hoff Platform (MySpace.com/devinhoffplatform). Aside from being one of the best bass players on the West Coast, Hoff is also a committed anarchist. The East Bay jazz scene may embrace old styles, but we’re clearly not beholden to tradition.
Rock & Pop Acts
There’s shtick and then there’s genius. In the latter category, there’s Captured! by Robots, an all-robotic band created by its human leader, the “captured” JBOT. The premise — that JBOT is being held captive and forced to make music (usually funky rock, but there was a mariachi phase) by the abusive ‘bots — translates into the most absurd, hilariously funny, wildly imaginative show you’ll likely ever see. … Oakland’s Rogue Wave — led by blueberry-maple-syrup-voiced crooner Zach Rogue and showcasing his bittersweet indie-pop anthems — cut its teeth at lo-fi, no-frills set-up-on-the-floor-and-play gigs at Oakland warehouse, art gallery, and coffee shop enclaves. These days, the quartet has the support of Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, which released its excellent, dramatic third album about the mysterious joys of hardship. … The Lovemakers (TheLovemakers.com), the Oakland-based electro-pop band that everyone knew would “make it,” actually did. Though strippers around the world pole dance to “Shake That Ass” — the band’s sexy, catchy, 2005 Scissor Sisters-esque single — the band’s sound is typically darker and more new-wavy, which it describes as “Led Zeppelin covering Prince.” … San Francisco duo Two Gallants (TwoGallants.com) posit themselves as world-weary folk rockers who poetically regard death and destruction. Expect lots of expertly picked/strummed/smashed-out guitar odes to bad love and worse attitudes. Call ’em the Blacker Keys, and get ready to howl in glorious pain along with ’em. … Birds & Batteries (BirdsandBatteries.com) filters ’70s Laurel Canyon and studio rock through fuzzy synths and buzzing guitars. A recently revamped lineup pulses with pedal steel, Rhodes piano, and laptop synths, anchored by singer Michael Sempert’s superb songwriting. … Oakland’s Dave Smallen (aka Street to Nowhere) (StreettoNowhere.com) possesses the confidence that lesser singer-songwriters chase their entire careers. Smallen’s irrepressible energy and ability to belt like few indie rockers ever will fares equally well mining acoustic aches and folk-punk. One of the Bay Area’s youngest and brightest talents. … Instrumental prog-rock is a tough sell, but the San Francisco sextet Crime in Choir (MySpace.com/crimeinchoir) will get kids begging for synthesizers and saxophones. The band mixes math-rock and free jazz into an experimental palette, changing modes and time signatures like so many itchy socks. … WHY? (MySpace.com/whyanticon) is fronted by former Jew for Jesus and Oaklander Yoni Wolf, who doesn’t consider boundaries as he assembles snippets of inside jokes from a shattered relationship into spoken, sung, and rapped lines over minimal drums and piano and guitar. Rock? Too unplugged. Indie? Too hard. Rap? No. Maybe we’ll just call it good. … Singer-songwriter Kelley Stoltz (KelleyStoltz.com) specializes in pop confections that fill your head with love and sunshine. Stoltz’ open, friendly vocals are complemented by his Phil-Spector-meets-Brian-Wilson wall of sound production, although it’s a wall of sound built on a restricted budget, more lo-fi than hi-fi. … Why aren’t the Heavenly States (TheHeavenlyStates.com) insanely famous? The band delivers a unique, multilayered sound, due in part to Genevieve Gagon’s occasional violin infusions and the strong vocal harmonies she and frontman Ted Nesseth produce together, a blend of the trained ear of the former and the quintessentially hard-rock, gruff vocal exclamations of the latter. … Greg Giles and Kelly Atkins are one of those “Were/are they dating or weren’t/aren’t they” couples who sing deceptively sweet pop songs with incredibly cryptic lyrics, directed as much to each other as to you. Their band, 20 Minute Loop (20MinuteLoop.com), creates absurdly addictive angst-pop, a fantastic mash-up of pop hooks, slide guitar riffs, and dueling boy/girl vocals that either intertwine perfectly or clash magnificently. … Don’t let the name fool you: Minipop (MinipopMusic.com) creates music that can be vast. The quartet is at its best on songs where conventional pop spills over its walls like a river cresting a levee. … LoveLikeFire‘s (LoveLikeFire.com) mix of radio-ready hooks, Brit-pop inflections, and über-stylish presentation has poised them for bigger stages. If you haven’t heard of them yet, you’ll likely be hearing much more from them in the future. … The Matches (TheMatches.com) hardly sound like an Epitaph Records band anymore, but we suspect their fans won’t mind. Mixing prog, emo, pop, and just a hint of the spastic punk that built the band, its new material feels contemporary and freshly invigorated without reeking of trend-hopping. … Dizzy Balloon‘s (MySpace.com/dizzyballoon) (formerly known as Panda) five members are barely out of Piedmont High School, yet they’ve already laid the groundwork for a great career. The timeless joy of watching slightly awkward teenagers transform into sublime rockers is certainly a factor here — check their cover of the Beatles’ “She’s So Heavy.” … Oakland pop-rock band Maldroid‘s (Maldroid.com) trademark brown suits rarely come off, and its obsession with robots fuels a recurring artistic motif. Its live show is a giddy, goofy spectacle that’s heavy on hooks and eye candy. … If you’ve seen this “space-rockabilly” band, you probably noticed the Battlestar Galactica-inspired costumes, the wacky light show, and — best of all — the Toilet Paperator, a tricked-out leaf blower that sends soft toilet-paper clouds wafting over the audience. Talk about shtick. But the Phenomenauts (Phenomenauts.com) back it up with solid rockabilly rhythms and amusing lyrics about space invaders and cruising the galaxy. … One of the first (and greatest) American ska outfits was raised right here in the East Bay — the Uptones (Uptones.com). Products of Berkeley High School, the band became a force to be reckoned with on the local live music scene in the early ’80s. Now reunited, the Uptones recently released a new album, Skankin’ Foolz Unite, and regularly play the local scene, as if to make up for lost time. … The music can be jarring; its imagery and lyrics squirm-inducing. Yet for all the visceral uneasiness Triclops! (Triclopsband.com) tries to provoke, the band also has moments of pure clarity — albeit under a cloak of the unexpected: start-stop riffs in soothing distortion layered under echoing chipmunk vocals, scribbles of surf guitar exploding into a blizzard of psych-rock noise. It’s clearly part of their charm. … Not only is Oakland’s High on Fire (HighonFire.net) the best metal band in the East Bay, it’s the best metal band in the country, and arguably one of the best metal bands in existence for this generation. This is owed not only to frontman Matt Pike’s mastery of the metal riff, but to the power trio’s ability to assault the listener with tuned-down, heavy, repetitious and looping hooks, which deliver nods to past masters of the genre without being derivative, clichéd, or ironic. … The members of Oakland band Saviours (MySpace.com/saviours666) aren’t exactly masters of subtlety, but that’s a good thing. Drummer Scott Batiste says they’re pretty much a “piss-angry metal band” inspired by “partying, the occult, girls, drugs, loud music, Black Sabbath, old Metallica, and Slayer.” What more could you ask for?
Soul, Funk, R&B, & Hip-Hop Artists
New York may have been ground zero for hip-hop, but the East Bay has always been a hub for innovation. It began, really, with local mogul Too $hort (TooShortWorld.com), whose method of selling cassette tapes from the trunk of his car quickly became part of his brand identity. He was soon followed by other stalwart independent hustlers with a go-it-alone entrepreneurial spirit and slightly-more “conscious” lyrics. Next-generation hustlers included members of the now internationally known Living Legends (LegendaryMusic.net) crew and Oakland’s beloved Hieroglyphics (Hieroglyphics.com), which included Casual, Pep Love, one-time major label act Souls of Mischief, and celebrated avant-gardist Del that Funky Homosapien, whose left-field style will still leave listeners scratching their heads. … Speaking of avant-garde, the East Bay is a breeding ground for emcees who can take an idea in all sorts of funky directions. Anticon (Anticon.com) co-founder Odd Nosdam (MySpace.com/nosdam) culled influences from indie rock, hip-hop, acid jazz, dub, and experimental music to form incredible mind-bending soundscapes that actually appeal to a wide audience. His Anticon cohort doseOne (MySpace.com/DoseOneInc) is one of the most out-there rappers to ever catch on in the East Bay, known for dystopian imagery and a distinctive rap voice. Collectively, they’ve produced one of the most impressively discographies in East Bay hip-hop, laying ground for such abstract groups as cLOUDDEAD and Subtle. If utter inscrutability isn’t quite what you’re looking for, try the also talented but slightly more conventional Gift of Gab (MySpace.com/theofficialgiftofgab), who easily oscillates from narrative-style rap to unconstrained alliteration (i.e., analogue arsonist aimin’ at your artery to overzealous rhyme ZEA-LOTS!). … “Bay Area ambassador” E-40 (E-40.com), long known as the West Coast’s most prolific coiner of new slang words, rose to national fame with the 2006 hyphy movement, which was undoubtedly a renaissance for street-oriented, club-style rap in the East Bay. … Its main architect, former 3XKrazy emcee Keak Da Sneak (ItsAllinDaDoe.com), is known for his rough, pixelated, immediately identifiable growl and stream-of-consciousness rap style. … Keak wasn’t the only rapper to gain prominence with his signature town songs; Oakland native Mistah F.A.B. (MistahFAB.com) also took the street style and made it radio-friendly, with his up-tempo, boisterous hits about partying in the club, getting kicked out the club, ghost-riding the whip, and eventually, ghost-riding a yellow bus with twenty-inch rims. … Now that hyphy has pretty much been put to bed, East Bay heads are returning to the more politically oriented emcees like Zion-I (ZionICrew.com) and the Coup‘s Boots Riley (TheCoupMusic.net), who’ve managed not only to spread their message through hip-hop, but also foray into other media. (Both are committed activists, and Boots even enjoys guest spots on Real Time with Bill Maher). … Among the rising stars is spoken-word poet Ise Lyfe (MySpace.com/iselyfe), whose new album The Prince Cometh incorporates a free-verse, narrative-style flow in a hip-hop template, with stunning results. … We’re also seeing the rise of more nostalgia-based groups like the electro-rap outfit Hottub (MySpace.com/hottub94608), which combines a post-punk, girl-group aesthetic with MPC samplers and 808s. … One group that does the era-straddling thing really well is Quannum Projects’ Honeycut (HoneyCutMusic.com), which features alterna-crooner Bart Davenport over uniquely melodic, sample-driven breakbeats by RV Salters and Tony Sevener. … Aside from bringing lyrics back to the forefront of hip-hop, many new indie groups are incorporating live instrumentation. Known as a West Coast analogue to Detroit, the East Bay has a long history of amazing soul bands, from Lenny Williams to ’90s-era crooners Tony Toni Toné (MySpace.com/therealtonytonitone), whose leader D’Wayne Wiggins is known as a key figure behind Destiny’s Child and now-ubiquitous singer Keyshia Cole (KeyshiaCole.com). … Gorgeous R&B icon Goapele (Goapele.com) incorporates jazz and hip-hop styles into her music, while the prodigiously talented Ledisi (Ledisi.com) can manhandle any jazz or blues song. … Now, a lot of the rising soul instrumentalists are venturing into hip-hop. Crown City Rockers (CrownCityRockers.com) have long been known for their ability to trick out a Bach Invention with a hip-hop backbeat, and for their vast knowledge of musical styles. … The Coup enhances its sound with killin’ background vocals and electric bass by Dewey Tucker, who also plays for new-school soul man B’Nai Rebelfront (MySpace.com/bnairebelfront), and for the ten-piece Kev Choice Ensemble (MySpace.com/KevChoice). Choice is one of those rare local cats who’s gained a strong following before his releasing his full-length debut. Given his skill as a jazz pianist and songwriter, he’ll definitely have real staying power. … One thing that probably won’t fade out any time soon is our flourishing East Bay DJ scene, which includes such icons as DJ Wisdom (MySpace.com/DJ_Wisdom), who moonlights as “Papi Chocolate” and boasts a Latin collection (of downloads, at least, and perhaps actual vinyl) to rival that of any salsa and meringue waxslinger in town. … As far as technical chops go, few could step to the Oakland Faders (OaklandFaders.com), a four-man crew that includes Spair, rising mix kingpin Mere, former “World Famous Wake-Up Show” DJ Joe Quixx, and the inimitable Platurn, whose talent for scratching and cutting is unparalleled. … Granted, yesterday’s champion record-cutters are having to change tactics in the era of Serrato Scratch software, which has paved the way for such highly choreographed acts as San Francisco VJ Mike Relm (MikeRelm.com). For the most part, we’ve managed to take the new technology and claim it as our own.
World, Latin, Reggae, & Reggaetón Artists
Articulate, charismatic, peaceful, and gifted with a knack for sloganeering, Michael Franti (SpearheadVibrations.com) is a one-man protest movement, a dude so PC he’d rather protest the WTO than drive a GTO. Over the last decade-and-change, he’s been an agitprop punk rocker (with the Beatnigs); the West Coast’s answer to Chuck D and Gil Scott-Heron (with the industrial-rap outfit Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy); and a unifier of reggae, soul, and funk influences with his current outfit, Spearhead. … Berkeley Afrobeat ensemble ALBINO! (Albinoband.com) makes no secret of striving for Fela Kuti’s footsteps, although its twelve members are mostly white and face a new set of challenges. Instead of railing against an exploitative Nigerian government, the group calls out media saturation and dysfunctional democracy through music that’s aptly rousing. … Sila and the Afrofunk Experience (VictorSila.com), an eleven-person funky fusion of African rhythm, funk, soukous, Afrobeat, and reggae, stars Kenya native and Bay Area resident Sila. Easily one of the longest and most intense bills in the region. … Aphrodesia (Aphrodesia.org) (more than fifteen musicians and singers listed) aren’t dilettantes — they are dedicated, good enough to open for Femi Kuti. The members don’t settle for Afrobeat’s basics — the chant-like vocals, sparkling guitar riffs, dramatically exultant horns, and insistent funk-flavored rhythms; they up the ante by bringing some personal touches to the table. … There’s nothing forced about its fusion. The Mo’Rockin Project (MoRockinProject.com) features five Bay Area African Americans — trumpeter Khalil Shaheed, saxophonist Richard Howell, keyboardist Glen Pearson, bassist Ron Belcher, and drummer Deszon Claiborne — and two Casablancans — string players Yassir Chadly and Bouchaibe Abdelhadi — who create a seamless, ultimately satisfying blend of American jazz and blues with traditional Moroccan musical flavors. … Behold the Polyphonic Spree gone reggae: airy, irie, and spectacularly awry. Still Flyin’ (MySpace.com/stillflyin) packs fifteen or so members of the Bay Area’s indie-rock elite — former and current members of the Aislers Set, Red Pony Clock, Half-Handed Cloud, etc. — onstage for an explosion of full-blown, live-action reggae, featuring multiple female backup singers, robust trombone, the occasional vibraphone, and even a full-time Band Dancer, all subtly orchestrated by frontman Sean Rawls. … In spite of, or perhaps because of, his lack of formal training, East Oakland percussionist John Santos (JohnSantos.com) really follows the beat of his own drum. His Latin jazz quintet combined post-bop and folk influences to produce one of the best albums of 2007, Papa Mambo. Though he enjoys linking contemporary forms back to their source material, Santos never overintellectualizes his creative process; he can always get a groove going.
Bars for Seeing and Being Seen
Luka’s Taproom & Lounge (2221 Broadway, Oakland, 510-451-4677, LukasOakland.com) is the summa cum laude of East Bay clubs. For starters, it’s spitting distance from the 19th Street BART station, which is also Grand Central Station for Yellow Cabs — so you can get your swerve on without getting a DUI. Then there’s a long list of sexy amenities — a rotating art exhibit, a spacious dance floor, a vast selection of beer and a menu that includes killer burgers, fries, and oysters. … Ruby Room (132 14th St., Oakland, 510-444-7224, MySpace.com/oaklandrubyroom) is a faux dive across the street from Lake Merritt where DJs spin a wall-to-wall soundtrack of punk, glam rock, and kitschy hip-hop classics. Characterized by its low ceilings, thick nicotine vapors, and scarlet glow, it’s one of the best places in Oakland to chat up sassy indie kids while drinking stiff, cheap drinks. … The sea of pool tables at Thallasa (2367 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-1766) seems to stretch for miles. The clientele consists mostly of Berkeley students of the fraternal or sororal persuasion; it’s a first-class place to pick up an undergrad. And it’s got the best jukebox in the East Bay, stocked with the Buzzcocks, the Notwist, Le Tigre, Television, Outkast, Johnny Cash, and the Pixies, which some musical mystic rotates weekly. … Kitty’s (6702 Hollis St., Emeryville, 510-601-9300, BarKittys.com) draws a confluence of the neighborhood’s upscale loft-dwellers, thirsty Pixar workers who’ve just punched out, and the loyal following of DJ Kitty herself. The Pabst on tap is the primary shout-out to the owner’s dive-bar roots; most patrons sip upscale cocktails and nosh on tapas. With a rotating lineup of DJs, and a patio that’s swarmed in warm weather, this is one place that proves Emeryville really does have a pulse. … Club Oasis (135 12th St., Oakland, 510-763-0404) By day it’s an African restaurant, but by night, Oasis morphs into Oakland’s hottest internationally flavored dance spot. The DJs spin street bangers and slumper beats for those who just come to get their hyphy on, but more adventurous party-goers can also enjoy Afropop, rumba, and calypso styles imported from Congo, Cape Verde, and the Caribbean — everything from highlife to traditional Mandingo music. … In true Oakland style, the crowd at swanky yet mellow Easy Lounge (3255 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, 510-338-4911, Easy510.com) includes doe-eyed hipster chicks, suave urbanites, eccentric locals, and even suits fresh off of work. The tunes are just as varied, thanks to different DJ themes each night — from rockabilly to salsa, ’80s to funk. The creative drinks are above par, too — stop in on Saturday afternoons for the delish (and obviously healthy!) Farmers’ Market cocktails. … Located below street level in Old Oakland, the Air Bar & Lounge (492 9th St., Oakland, 510-444-2377, AirOakland.com) exudes an upscale, VIP vibe for the urban hip. Three rooms offer plenty of room to spread out, and the cozy seating in window-like spaces invites snuggling. Whether you’re seeking a post-work drink or a Friday night party, you’ll get your groove on here. … If you’re in the mood for that classic dance club experience but don’t want to trek to San Francisco (or share air with trustafarians and wannabe hip techies), Aura Nightclub (4825 Hopyard Rd # 10, Pleasanton, 925-416-0777, NightclubAura.com) may be right up your alley. The club offers two distinct lounges-cum-dance floors, fireplaces, lots of mod furniture à la Design Within Reach, go-go dancers, and fabulous people watching (which includes trying to figure out which women are the hired dancers and which are merely guests). … Deep scarlet walls, gilt mirrors, and faux-leather couches provide a backdrop for the dressy yet diverse crowd at Kingman’s Lucky Lounge (3332 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-465-5464), which features a full bar, ample mood lighting that seems to encourage pickup lines a plenty, and DJs spinning downtempo, house, funk, and drum ‘n’ bass. … In addition to its savory selection of Jamaican cuisine, Karibbean City (1408 Webster St., Oakland, 510-251-0769, KaribbeanCity.com) features such salutary beverages as Long Islands and imported ginger beer. But sweet sips and delectable dishes are only the tip of the iceberg. What has really made this reggae dance club successful is its diverse entertainment lineup, which represents the panoply of Caribbean music from salsa to dancehall roots to Afropop. … La Taza de Cafe (3909 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-658-2372, LaTazadeCafe.com) occupies that elusive middle ground between haute couture (ambient flamenco music, wrought-iron chandeliers, a forty-item wine list best employing adjectives like “creamy” and “peppery”) and worldish, self-conscious hipness (leggy bossa-nova divas, Export A cigarettes, classic gangster movies played with the sound off). Flamenco performances most Friday nights make a fantastic accompaniment to delectable tapas. … Club Montero’s (1106 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-524-1270, ClubMonteros.com) located inside Montero’s Cafe, dedicates its weekends to salsa, with intermediate lessons on Thursdays and classes for newbies on Friday and Saturdays, followed by dancing each night till the early mañana. The atmosphere is hip, with papier-mâché palm trees over the bar, Frida Kahlo paintings on the walls, and good acoustics. … No East Bay club embraces the protean quality of the Latin jazz genre with quite the fervor of Club Anton (428 3rd St., Oakland, 510-463-0165, ClubAnton.com). The Jack London venue remains perhaps the only Latin jazz club in the entire world that would feature Bay Area turf rapper G-Stack and DJ True Justice on a Thursday and follow up with Tony Mayfield or Pepe y Su Orquesta on a Saturday — a lineup patrons definitely seem to dig. … You’ll find a good cross section of the local GLBT scene at the White Horse Inn (6551 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-652-3820, WhiteHorseBar.com), affectionately known as “the White Ho” by locals: sweater queens, queer students, local homies, granola dykes (yes, they still exist), gorgeously regal African-American queens, both male and female, and just about every other color and creed you can imagine. … With “Kinky Karaoke” on Tuesdays, “Tasty” ladies night featuring hot dancers and other inspiring live performances every Thursday, and “La Bota Loca” — aka Latino Cowboys night with go-go boys galore — on Saturdays, the spacious Bench & Bar (2111 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-444-2266, Bench-and-Bar.com) aims to please, and succeeds with flying, ah, colors. … The Vibe Lounge (2272 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-451-8423, TheVibeLounge.com) may be the new kid on the LGBT block, but it occupies a space — the former Cabel’s Reef — that for more than two decades catered to a similar, largely African-American crowd. Still, the Vibe is way swankier than its scruffy predecessor, with a mod first-floor cocktail lounge, a spacious dance floor upstairs, and the potential to become a venerated neighborhood institution. … Velvet (3411 MacArthur Blvd. Oakland,510-531-332, VelvetOakland.com) may be a tad too hole-in-the-wall to qualify as a destination dance club, but dykes of all stripes will find it a welcome new addition to the local bar scene. Strong drinks, a small but highly contagious dance floor (just try to stay away), and a friendly vibe add up to a night that won’t disappoint. … For most people, country line dancing has gone the way of the Lambada and the Macarena. But don’t tell that to the fine people at Walnut Creek’s Club 1220 (1220 Pine St., 925-939-4550, Club1220.com), which hosts country line for queer folk every Tuesday night. Other fun weekly events — including an “L-Word” party and mixed crowd gatherings — draw a diverse (if not cowboy boot kickin’) crowd.
Bars for Drinking
Nothing screams “dive bar” like the red-and-blue neon sign announcing the fact that you’re about to get hammered at the shoebox-sized Hotsy Totsy Club (601 San Pablo Ave., Albany, 510-524-1661). The drinks are eye-poppingly powerful and cheap, the decor classic grunge, the pool table operable and — in other words, it’s a divine place to drink away your woes. … For all the hullaballoo that Christians have made about drinking and temperance, it’s remarkable that the best beer makers in the world are also some of the most devoutly religious folks out there. If you want to step back in time and taste Belgium beer made in the most venerable of traditions, head to the Trappist (460 8th St., Oakland, 510-238-8900, TheTrappist.com). The cozy bar may be a bit noisy and cramped at rush hour, but it serves some of the finest hops around. … Designed like an old saloon with relatively private diner-style booths (where you can order a burger, steak, or fries to go with your drinks), the Alley (3325 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-444-8505) is characterized by its vintage clotheslines, clean pink and blue restroom stalls, the thousands of business cards stapled to its walls, and Rod Dibble, the music whiz who’s been behind the Alley’s piano for nearly fifty years. … Funny how looks and names can be deceiving. The Lost Weekend Lounge (2320 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, 510-523-4700) may conjure up images of a rough and tumble hangout for wayward souls, but in reality it’s good, clean fun. With a wide variety of music and events — from trivia contests to a DJ spinning tunes from the ’80s — a pool table, and an enclosed patio out back for smokers, there’s a little something for everyone. … Touting itself as “West Berkeley’s Most Elegant Dive Bar,” the Missouri Lounge (2600 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-2080, TheMissouriLounge.com) has become the new destination for urban hipsters. Thanks to its wide-open door, the Missouri is quite an inviting, unpretentious space to hang your hat for a few beers. Though no live bands play here, you may spot quite a few local musicians bobbing their heads to the various DJs spinning a variety of hip sounds. … Perhaps the only Irish pub in the country listed on the National Register of Historic Places — it is a pretty red brick building, after all — Beckett’s (2271 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-647-1790, BeckettsIrishPub.com) features live pub bands several nights a week, lip-licking fish and chips, Tuesday trivia night, and the best black ‘n’ tan in Berkeley. … If you haven’t been to Cafe Van Kleef (1621 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-763-7711, CafeVanKleef.com), you’re missing the chance to unwind in the presence of some very fancy knickknacks. If you have stumbled inside, owner Peter Van Kleef has no doubt regaled you with tales of the water buffalo head across from the bar: shot by Gary Cooper. Or the ruby slippers by the coffee machines: an original pair from the movie, of course. Van Kleef’s is a step back to a simpler era, where drinks at five were the norm, and everyone gathered to welcome the evening. … You don’t go to Cato’s Ale House (3891 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-655-3349, MrCato.com) for the food — which is passable, in the most authentic UK way. You come to this homey neighborhood bar (cluttered with framed black-and-white photos on the walls and guffawing happy-hour drinkers everywhere else) for the vast selection of beer, the warm company, and the live acoustic music. … Ben ‘n Nick’s Bar & Grill (5612 College Ave., Oakland, 510-923-0327) may be a hipster hangout, but it’s such a mellow, non-cliquey one that you’ll have no qualms returning again and again. With loads of tables of varying sizes, a long bar ripe for hunkering down for a few hours (and pints), and variety of beer on tap that changes daily (as well as a full bar), it’s the perfect place to catch up with friends. … Forbidden Island (1304 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, 510-749-0332, ForbiddenIslandAlameda.com) is a tiki bar at its best, offering everything it takes to capture that elusive blend of island kitsch, pure spectacle, gaudy cocktails, and festive mood: a nautical wood interior, a jukebox crammed with vintage Martin Denny and Frankie Laine tunes, and a topical lanai for outdoor guzzling. But the true test of a tiki bar is in its cocktails — and this one passes with flying, pastel colors. … In 1883, a small bunkhouse on the harbor between Alameda and Oakland began to sell hooch and beer. As the port of Jack London expanded, it became known as Heinold’s First and Last Chance (48 Webster St., Oakland, 510-839-6761, HeinoldsFirstandLastChance.com). Today, it stands as the only place where you can drink at the same table used by Jack London, president and Supreme Court Justice William Howard Taft, and Robert Lewis Stevenson. In other words, it’s seriously old-school cool. … Enjoy tasty wood-fire pizzas and house-made brews beneath the stars at Jupiter (2181 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-8277, JupiterBeer.com), Berkeley’s go-to beer garden (with two floors to explore if you’d rather stay indoors). For zero cover charge you get atmosphere — including heat lamps, foliage, lanterns, a huge red brick fire pit, and live entertainment ranging from jazz to bluegrass to samba. … The wood-paneled, clubby conviviality of the Hotel Mac (50 Washington St, Point Richmond, 510-233-0576) bar in relaxed downtown Point Richmond provides the perfect atmosphere to sip the East Bay’s best mojito. The Mac’s version of this classic Cuban cocktail is mintier than most, with less lime-and-club-soda tartness up front and a sharp wedge of lime instead of the typical overdose of lime juice. Boom! Havana. … Fancy a pilsner from Lebanon? How about a lager from India? Or a stout from Brazil? Warehouse Cafe (5 Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa, 510-787-1827) is your place, whether you’re looking for that brew you haven’t seen since El Salvador or are just bored with the selection at your local store. Allegedly you’ll find 450 beers from more than 35 countries, including the strongest beer in the world: Switzerland’s Samichlaus Brown, 14 percent alcohol. … Small, smoky, ‘n’ cute, George Kaye’s (4044 Broadway, Oakland, 510-547-9374) has an eclectic mix of regulars and down-to-earth hipsters who all end up chatting toward the end of the night, when the booze has set in and the place seems even more intimate. Just try to stay away from the jukebox, which is stocked with everything from local comps and bands like the Thumb of the Maid (the Moore Brothers’ band) to classics as varied as the Clash, Sinatra, and Patsy Cline. … Albatross Pub (1822 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-2473, AlbatrossPub.com) is popular among young people for its wide selection of board games like Pictionary, as well as darts, pool, and the infamous Sunday night trivia quiz — apparently, drinking pints and playing games go quite well together. On Wednesdays and Saturdays, this pleasantly woody British-style bar known by regulars as “The Bird” hosts rotating bluegrass and jazz bands. … At last count, the Englander Sports Pub & Restaurant (7294 San Ramon Rd., Dublin, 925-587-2333; 101 Parrott St., San Leandro, 510-357-3571, EnglanderPub.com) boasted about sixty beers on tap, a line stretching a good twelve feet — almost as long as the five big-screen overhead televisions combined. The selection ranges from Alaska Amber to Young’s Oatmeal Stout, and includes local favorites such as Sierra Nevada and Black Diamond alongside European ales. … Ah, the French really know how to live. Why stop with one happy hour, they say, when you can have two? With its high ceilings, expansive mirrors, and huge columns with caricatures à la Honoré Daumier, the Left Bank Brasserie (60A Crescent Dr., Pleasant Hill, 925-288-1222, LeftBank.com) is a world apart from its suburban mall locale. Along with an extensive list of “Les Martinis” and “Les Cocktails,” you’ll find crisp pommes frites, mussels Florentine, and an array of other tempting treats. … There are two reasons to arrange for a first date at the New Zealander (1400 Webster St., Alameda, 510-769-8555, The-NewZealander.com). First, the high-ceilinged 19th-century bar is gorgeous enough to give your date a good first impression before you get sloppy on beer and wine direct from New Zealand and Oz. Second, the food can’t be beat: sausage rolls, Vegemite and cheese sandwiches, and savory pies for carnivores and veggie fiends alike. Come to think of it, it’s an ideal spot for a second date, too. Or a third… Mammoth brewing machinery at work, a dozen house beers on tap, comfort food, and a local vibe are only preludes to the little pint of heaven provided at Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse (1920 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-2739, TripleRock.com). Chill here on a sunny day, and see why it’s also the East Bay’s best rooftop for drinking and dining. … The front room of Schmidt’s Tobacco Trading Co. & Pub (1492 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-525-1900) is a little lounge complete with oak floors and tables, library lamps, bookcases, and comfy old couches. In the back, Schmidt’s proffers more than fourteen blends of tobacco and a good selection of pipes, lighters, and cigarette holders, and beer on tap including Bass, Fullers, Guinness, and Harp. Here, bartenders wash the glasses by hand and guests gather on the back porch for a smoke and a low-key chat. … Spat’s Restaurant and Saloon (1974 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-7225) is a bar with style, both in its vintage-saloon-meets-hunting-lodge-inspired decor and drinks like the Oliver “Boston” Strangler and Aunt Matilda’s Zombie. Seeking a cocktail à deux? Try Natasha’s Borneo Fogcutter, a fanfare of fruits and liqueurs served over dry ice. Though some of the frou-frou cocktails won’t hit you any harder than a swig of NyQuil, you can always use them as a chaser after a shot of something studly.