At 9 p.m. last Wednesday, love was, as they say, in the air at East Bay Spice Company, Berkeley’s newest cocktail bar and upscale-Indian restaurant: At a side table, a young couple shared a cocktail like a pair of Fifties teenagers at a diner; outside at one of the sidewalk tables, an aggressive and obvious game of footsie was being had; near the window, an older couple sat in comfortable silence, the kind of silence that signifies two people who have been together a Very Long Time. And at the bar, a conquest was in epic, conspicuous, delicious progress, as a pair of guys — one in a backwards baseball cap and plaid shorts, another in rumpled blue Oxford, both clearly Saturday-night drunk on a Wednesday and the only non-couple in the place other than me — attempted to seduce a polite-but-uninterested bartender via, among other things, challenging her to a mud-wrestling match. Lovers and young love!
It was, to be fair, the day the Supreme Court struck down DOMA and Prop 8 — so, empirically, already a lovely, love-y day — and East Bay Spice Company is an unabashedly romantic place — you know, one of those bars where everyone sits within approximately six inches of each other, knees touching and eyes agog; where the lighting is of that particular dimness and shade that renders everyone in its vicinity all glimmery and attractive; where even the upstairs view of an empty parking lot seems, somehow, impossibly romantic. Even the design — neutral colors with hanging lights, high ceilings, and mostly tasteful South Asian accents — reads a bit like the stage set for some indie-movie date-night scene, and though I didn’t try it, the food — curries, tandooris, samosas, and such, all priced at $10 or less — manages to make plates of meat and sauce and spice and fried look relatively elegant. Basically, what I’m saying is this: Would-be pants-getters-into of the East Bay, get thee to this bar ASAP.
It is, however, worth noting here that East Bay Spice Company — which opened at the beginning of April and is the result of a partnership between Deepak Aggarwal, the Indian-restaurant impresario behind Mint Leaf; Eric Quilty, formerly of Adesso, perpetually of Making Delicious Drinks; and Joel DiGiorgio and Adam Stemmler of the cocktail-consulting company Blind Tiger — has other enticements, namely, very good cocktails. According to DiGiorgio, the cocktail program pays particular, purposeful attention to rums and gins, as they’re popular in India; other ingredients include exotic spices shipped in regularly from India, as well as various local herbs, fruits, and vegetables. The general vibe is standard-East-Bay-upscale-cocktail-bar-with-a-twist.
The Royal Charter (Evan Williams Bourbon, Cocchi Americano, Becherovka, coconut chai syrup, lemon, bergamot bitters, and mint, $10) sounds like a spice cake but tastes like summer, all surprising lightness and gentles sweetness. The Company of Merchants (Bols barrel-aged Genever, St. George Spirits agua libre, spiced grapefruit cordial, lemon, celery bitters, and soda, $11) takes what could be a standard sweet-and-sour drink and elevates it, subtly, to newer and more interesting heights.
And the Noble Truth (Cimarron Blanco, mezcal vida, curried red bell pepper, honey, lime, and sea salt, $11) is, indeed, the truth: Undeniably pretty in an ornate, frosted glass and perfectly balanced, with no single ingredient talking too loudly or too quietly, and the mezcal offering its pleasant heft, and the curried pepper asserting itself so delicately you might not even recognize it but would surely regret its absence. It is a very good drink. It is, in fact, such a good drink that even if you are not a would-be-pants-getter-into (or if, JUST FOR EXAMPLE, you’re just really in the mood to drink a schmancy cocktail and play Candy Crush on your phone by yourself, because you are a grown-ass woman) you will almost certainly enjoy yourself at East Bay Spice Company, though it may be a bit less fun that way.