The East Bay’s nightclub and bar scene has gained considerable clout in the last year, with new venues and more on the way. Here are our favorites.
Bars for Drinking
Albatross Pub (1822 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-2473, AlbatrossPub.com) is popular among young people for its pleasantly woody British-style atmosphere, twice-weekly bluegrass and jazz shows, and wide selection of board games like Pictionary, as well as darts, pool, and the infamous Sunday-night trivia quiz.
The Alley (3325 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-444-8505) is known for its vintage clotheslines, clean pink and blue restroom stalls, relatively private diner-style booths, 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.
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.
Ben & Nick’s Bar & Grill (5612 College Ave., Oakland, 510-923-0327) is the perfect place to catch up with friends, with loads of tables of varying sizes, a long bar ripe for hunkering down for a few hours (and pints), and a variety of beer on tap that changes daily (as well as a full bar).
Cafe Van Kleef (1621 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-763-7711, CafeVanKleef.com) is a step back to a simpler era, where drinks at five were the norm and everyone gathered to welcome the evening.
Cato’s Ale House (3891 Piedmont Ave., Oakland, 510-655-3349, MrCato.com) is a homey neighborhood bar with a vast selection of beer, warm company, and live acoustic music.
Englander Sports Pub & Restaurant (101 Parrott St., San Leandro, 510-357-3571, EnglanderPub.com) boasts about sixty beers on tap, a line stretching a good twelve feet — almost as long as the five big-screen overhead televisions combined.
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, and festive mood: a nautical wood interior, gaudy cocktails, a jukebox crammed with vintage Martin Denny and Frankie Laine tunes, and a tropical lanai for outdoor guzzling.
George Kaye’s (4044 Broadway, Oakland) 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.
The Graduate (6202 Claremont Ave., Oakland, 510-655-8847) draws a lively and standing-room-only crowd of grad students, hipsters, and blue-collar locals with its cheap drinks, Sriracha-spiked free popcorn, student discounts, no-frills vibe, unusually friendly bartenders, and unpretentious attitude.
Heinold’s First and Last Chance (48 Webster St., Oakland, 510-839-6761, HeinoldsFirstandLastChance.com), which was founded in 1883, 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.
Hotel Mac (50 Washington Ave., Point Richmond, 510-233-0576, HotelMac.net), in relaxed downtown Point Richmond, has a wood-paneled, clubby conviviality that makes it the perfect atmosphere to sip the East Bay’s best mojito.
Hotsy Totsy Club (601 San Pablo Ave., Albany, 510-526-5986, HotsyTotsyClub.com) is a classic dive bar inside and out: The red-and-blue neon sign loudly announces the fact that you’re about to get hammered, the drinks are eye-poppingly powerful and cheap, the decor is classic grunge, and the pool table is operable.
Jupiter (2181 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-8277, JupiterBeer.com), Berkeley’s go-to beer garden, is the place to enjoy tasty wood-fired pizzas and house-made brews beneath the stars while listening to live entertainment from jazz to bluegrass to samba.
The Lost Weekend Lounge (2320 1/2 Santa Clara Ave., Alameda, 510-523-4700, LostWeekendLounge.com) may evoke 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 1980s — a pool table, and an enclosed patio out back for smokers.
Missouri Lounge (2600 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-2080, TheMissouriLounge.com), which touts itself as “West Berkeley’s Most Elegant Dive Bar,” is an unpretentious, inviting lounge that has become the new destination for urban hipsters.
The New Zealander (1400 Webster St., Alameda, 510-769-8555, The-NewZealander.com) offers gorgeous high ceilings, plenty of beer and wine direct from New Zealand and Oz, and authentic down-under food that can’t be beat.
The Pub (1492 Solano Ave., Albany, 510-525-1900) is a low-key smoker’s paradise and homey-feeling lounge, proffering more than fourteen blends of tobacco and a good selection of pipes, lighters, and cigarette holders, as well as beer on tap including Bass, Fullers, Guinness, and Harp.
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.
The Trappist (460 8th St., Oakland, 510-238-8900, TheTrappist.com) is the place to go if you want to step back in time and taste some of the finest hops around, made in the most venerable of traditions.
Triple Rock Brewery and Alehouse’s (1920 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-843-2739, TripleRock.com) has a local vibe, a dozen house beers on tap, comfort food, and the best rooftop beer garden in the East Bay.
Warehouse Cafe (5 Canyon Lake Dr., Port Costa, 510-787-1827) is your place to try out exotic and international beers, 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.
Bars for Seeing and Being Seen
The Air Bar & Lounge (492 9th St., Oakland, 510-444-2377, AirOakland.com) is located below street level in Old Oakland, has a spacious-yet-cozy interior, and exudes an upscale, VIP vibe for the urban hip.
Aura Nightclub (4825 Hopyard Rd. # 10, Pleasanton, 925-416-0777, NightclubAura.com) is perfect for when you’re in the mood for that classic dance club experience but don’t want to trek to San Francisco: 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.
Bench and Bar (510 17th St., Oakland, 510-444-2266, Bench-and-Bar.com) aims to please with theme nights like “Latin Explosion” on Fridays, “Club Rimshot” on Saturdays (hip-hop and R&B), and “Beautiful” (house) on Thursdays — and succeeds with flying, uh, colors.
Club 21 (2111 Franklin St., Oakland, 510-268-9425, Club21Oakland.com) is a spinoff of the Bench and Bar, and, appropriately, features themed nights such as “La Bota Loca” (aka Latino Cowboys night with go-go boys galore), “Tasty” (ladies’ night) on Thursdays, and “The Escape” for the college crowd on Tuesdays.
Club Anton (428 3rd St., Oakland, 510-463-0165, ClubAnton.com) 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.
Club 1220 (1220 Pine St.,Walnut Creek, 925-939-4550, Club1220.com), which hosts line-dancing for queer folk every Tuesday night, proves that country line is still alive and well, even in the Bay Area.
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 Fridays and Saturdays, followed each night by dancing till the early mañana.
Club Paradiso (2272 Telegraph Ave., Oakland 510-735-9095, DisoLounge.com), located in the much-contested building that once contained the Vibe Lounge and its predecessor, Cables Reef, is the Uptown analogue to Air Lounge, both in terms of its decor (exposed brick, chic lounge chairs, paintings with an “urban” slant) and its music (hip-hop, reggae, and R&B).
The Den (1912 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, TheDenOakland.com), adjunct to the Fox Theater, has become a go-to spot in its own right. Besides its two-tiered dance floor and lounge area, the Den offers a selection of hoity-toity appetizers (smoked salmon rillets, artichoke bacon dip, and cheese plates with stuffed apricots), and original cocktails — the “Encore” is essentially a liquid chocolate cake with Stoli. Not to mention the wall-to-wall windows, which provide a first-rate view of Telegraph Avenue.
Easy Lounge (3255 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, 510-338-4911, Easy510.com) attracts an eclectic crowd — doe-eyed hipster chicks, suave urbanites, eccentric locals, and even suits fresh off of work — and the tunes are just as varied, thanks to different DJ themes each night — from rockabilly to salsa, 1980s to funk.
Era Art Bar and Lounge (19 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-832-4400, OaklandEra.com), surrounded by a cluster of similarly themed boutique bars, combines industrial elements with nouveau Goth — the chairs could have been poached from a 19th-century English parlor.
Karibbean City (1408 Webster St., Oakland, 510-251-0769, KaribbeanCity.com) has as a diverse entertainment lineup — which represents the panoply of Caribbean music from salsa to dancehall roots to Afropop — and proffers a savory selection of Jamaican cuisine.
Kingman’s Lucky Lounge (3332 Grand Ave., Oakland, 510-465-5464, KingmansCocktails.com) caters to a dressy yet diverse crowd and features a full bar, ample mood lighting, and DJs spinning downtempo, house, funk, and drum ‘n’ bass.
Kitty’s (6702 Hollis St., Emeryville, 510-601-9300, BarKittys.com) proves that Emeryville really does have a pulse, with its rotating lineup of DJs, a patio that’s swarmed in warm weather, and a regular crowd of upscale loft-dwellers and thirsty Pixar workers who’ve just punched out.
Luka’s Taproom & Lounge (2221 Broadway, Oakland, 510-451-4677, LukasOakland.com) boasts 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), and it’s spitting distance from the 19th Street BART station, so you can get your swerve on without getting a DUI.
Mimosa Champagne Lounge (2355 Broadway, Oakland, 510-891-1005, MimosaChampagneLounge.com) with its slender cocktail glasses and sparkling wines (nineteen total, along with twenty-three champagnes and five mimosas), is not a dance club, but the vibe is so light and frothy, it’s like a bottle of champagne being uncorked.
Mua (2442a Webster St., Oakland, 510-238-1100, MuaOakland.com), a fabulous addition to the Oakland restaurant scene, turns into a nightclub around midnight. With its warehouse chic decor and decidedly Oakland clientele, it’s a guaranteed good time.
Ruby Room (132 14th St., Oakland, 510-444-7224, MySpace.com/OaklandRubyRoom), where the DJs spin a wall-to-wall soundtrack of punk, glam rock, and kitschy hip-hop classics, is one of the best places in Oakland to chat up sassy indie kids while drinking stiff, cheap drinks.
Somar Bar and Lounge (1727 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, SomarBar.wordpress.com) is an art bar that distinguishes itself by having quarter-pump candy machines and a sushi vendor in the front window. In Uptown, it’s a perennial favorite.
Thalassa (2367 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-1766, ThalassaBar.com) has a sea of pool tables that seems to stretch for miles, a clientele that consists mostly of Berkeley students of the fraternal or sororal persuasion, and the best jukebox in the East Bay, stocked with the Buzzcocks, the Notwist, Le Tigre, Television, Outkast, Johnny Cash, and the Pixies.
White Horse Inn (6551 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-652-3820, WhiteHorseBar.com), affectionately known as “the White Ho” by locals, draws a good cross-section of the local GLBT scene: 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.
Clubs & Musical Venues — East Bay
21 Grand (416 25th St., Oakland, 510-444-7263, 21Grand.org), a gallery and performance space that is neither self-consciously hip nor beholden to any particular genre, showcases some of the best avant-garde and experimental art, film, and musicians from local and national underground scenes.
924 Gilman (924 Gilman St., Berkeley, 510-525-9926, 924Gilman.org) — Berkeley’s famous all-ages punk warehouse — still caters primarily to kids with backpacks, bad attitudes, and too much eyeliner, but this volunteer-run, alcohol-and-drug-free venue is the best place in town to catch famous punk bands (both local and national) for five bucks.
Armando’s (707 Marina Vista Ave., Martinez, 925-228-6985, ArmandosMartinez.com) is the place to go for a truly authentic music experience in Martinez: The intimate club books musicians playing everything from jazz to blues, bluegrass, folk, rockabilly jazz, and almost anything else except commercial rock.
Ashkenaz (1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-525-5054, Ashkenaz.com) is the place to dance to everything from Algerian rai to Louisiana Zydeco to roots reggae.
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.
Blakes on Telegraph (2367 Telegraph Ave., Berkeley, 510-848-0886, BlakesonTelegraph.com) doesn’t host too many blues acts anymore, but it does have regular helpings of indie rock, hip-hop, funk, ska, and DJs, that keep the Telegraph scene from completely fading away.
Caffe Trieste (2500 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, 510-548-5198, CaffeTriesteBerkeley.com) could make anyone sentimental for the old country, even if they’re native Californians — especially on Sunday afternoons, when Pappa Gianni is playing with his North Beach Band and crowds of Italian expatriates pack themselves into this inviting cafe.
Eagles Hall (2305 Alameda Ave., Alameda, 415-285-6285, SFZydeco.com) on Friday nights is the friendly, lively nexus of Zydeco-crazed Bay Area fans.
Everett & Jones Barbeque’s (126 Broadway, Oakland, 510-663-2350, EandJBBQ.com) in-house music venue, Q’s Lounge and Dotha’s Juke Joint, showcases a variety of neo-soul, hip-hop, and blues acts, along with Monday Night Football and live KSFO broadcasts recapping Raiders home games.
Freight & Salvage (2020 Addison St., Berkeley, 510-644-2020, FreightandSalvage.org) is a nonsmoking, alcohol-free venue where patrons can enjoy listening to world-renowned artists of folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, and world beat.
Kimball’s Carnival (522 2nd St., Oakland, 510-444-6401; 215 Washington St., Oakland, 510-444-6136, KimballsCarnival.com) — the giant Jack London Square club whose Monday 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.
La Peña Cultural Center (3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2568, LaPena.org) 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.
Lounge 3411 (3411 MacArthur Blvd., Oakland) transmits some Uptown flavor to the lower hills, with its mix of reggae DJs, comedy nights, and local bands.
Maxwell’s Lounge (341 13th St., Oakland, 510-839-6169, MaxwellsLounge.com) is a glitzy downtown Oakland club that hosts R&B, funk, and classic soul acts and features a spacious dance floor, large stage, lounge areas with couches, and a Cajun-style soul food restaurant.
The New Parish (579 18th St., Oakland, 510-444-7474, TheNewParish.com) has featured such hard-to-get headliners as Dave Chappelle, Mos Def, and Melanie Fiona. Creative booking, strong industry connections, and a bangin’ monthly house party have made it the new destination in downtown Oakland.
Nomad Cafe (6500 Shattuck Ave., Oakland, 510-595-5344, NomadCafe.net) tempers the typical soy-latte-and-laptop cafe experience with a soothing singer-songwriter performance.
Oakland Metro Operahouse (630 3rd St., Oakland, 510-763-1146, OaklandMetro.org) is generally used as a performance space (it’s the home of the Oakland Opera Theater), but you’ll also find the occasional live metal, indie rock, punk, underground hip-hop, or alt.folk show here, as well as the famed variety show Tourettes Without Regrets, which features slapstick comedy, meat-hurling contests, formidable freestyle battles, spoken-word poetry, and dirty haiku — usually to sold-out crowds.
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 — as well as 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.
The Shattuck Down Low (2284 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, 510-548-1159, ShattuckDownLow.com) was one of the first venues this side of the bay to book conscious hip-hop groups, and remains the place to go for heart-pumping beats, as well as live reggae and salsa.
The Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-841-2082, StarryPloughPub.com) is an Irish pub (and it still features traditional Irish music some nights) but its bookings are far more eclectic than that — rockers, singer-songwriters, jam-banders, and folkies take the stage here, and audience members are likely to holler, scream, and kick up their heels.
Uptown Nightclub (1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, 510-451-8100, UptownNightclub.com) is one of many punk-oriented venues in the East Bay, but it stands out by striking a nice balance between out-of-towners and local mainstays and featuring acts that cover a wide spectrum from emo-prog to lesbian thrash, psychobilly to Afro-boho jazz-funk, and classic punk to indie folk.
Yoshi’s (510 Embarcadero West, Oakland, 510-238-9200, Yoshis.com) jazz room is a jazz lover’s — and jazz musician’s — dream, specially built to enhance the listening and performing experience.
Clubs & Musical Venues — San Francisco
Amoeba Music (1855 Haight St., San Francisco, 415-831-1200, Amoeba.com) hosts live bands several times a week, usually prior to their performance at some big club in the city, which makes it 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.
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.
Bottom of the Hill (1233 17th St., San Francisco, 415-621-4455, BottomoftheHill.com) is where 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 serious tattoo watching.
Cafe du Nord (2170 Market St., San Francisco, 415-861-5016, CafeduNord.com), with its deep-red interior, Victorian-era styling, and large, carved wood bar, is one of the more classy and sophisticated places in San Francisco to see some of the best local and national alt-country, folk, indie rock, and singer-songwriter acts.
Club Six (60 Sixth St., San Francisco, 415-863-1221, ClubSix1.com) is a two-tiered industrial warehouse that’s home to famously bombastic DJ parties such as “Reggae Gold SF,” the hot dancehall night with Daddy Rolo every fourth Saturday of the month, and “Solid,” a regular Thursday-night reggae and dancehall extravaganza.
DNA Lounge (375 11th St., San Francisco, 415-626-1409, DNALounge.com) is a two-tiered club that has a futuristic feel, 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.
The Great American Music Hall (859 O’Farrell St., San Francisco, 415-885-0750, GAMH.com) is one of the best midsize venues in the City, boasting a huge oak dance floor with ample space for two hundred and drawing mostly national touring acts in diverse genres.
Hemlock Tavern (1131 Polk St., San Francisco, 415-923-0923, HemlockTavern.com) is the best place to hear the latest flying-under-the-radar indie acts.
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 hear a variety of folk and rock bands while absorbing some of San Francisco’s lively history.
The Independent (628 Divisadero St., San Francisco, 415-771-1421, IndependentSF.com) stands out for its welcoming vibe and the variety of music booked — usually big-name acts in the worlds of reggae, funk, blues, DJs, hip-hop, and the indie-rock circuit.
Mezzanine (444 Jessie St., San Francisco, 415-625-8880, MezzanineSF.com) features hip-hop and DJ showcases (including local and international acts), video screenings, laser shows, and multimedia installations by artists associated with Blasthaus Gallery.
Slim’s (333 11th St., San Francisco, 415-255-0333, Slims-SF.com) features rock, metal, jazz, blues, R&B, and reggae most nights of the week, and is one of the few all-ages venues in the city.
Yoshi’s San Francisco (1330 Fillmore St., San Francisco, 415-655-5600, Yoshis.com) offers the same high caliber of talent in the genre of jazz as the Oakland original, but the state-of-the-art venue also books R&B, soul, and world-music acts.