It’s the holiday season, which means that for those of us who grew up in the Bay Area, it’s the best time of the year to reunite with friends who have since moved away and are back in the Bay, visiting family for the holidays. But choosing the right bar can make your get-together one to remember, so here are our suggestions for bars your friends will love.First Edition
1915 Broadway, Oakland
This brand-new cocktail bar is comic-book themed, so if you and your friends are comic book fans, it’s a great place to reminisce over your younger years. Speech bubble shaped lights are suspended from the ceiling, comic book-style art panels hang above the bar, and the cocktail menu is designed like a comic book. But the bar still has plenty to offer for those unfamiliar with the world of comic books: two decks overlooking the bar, a live DJ, and a rooftop bar (a true rarity in Oakland). Then there’s the unique cocktail menu, which was inspired by the James Beard award-winning book Cocktail Codex. The menu consists of basic “root” cocktails — say, a old fashioned or a martini — then progressively becomes more creative with the classic twists on the root cocktails and completely unique First Edition cocktails. Low-ABV and non-alcoholic cocktails are also available, along with a beer list comprised entirely of East Bay breweries. There’s something for everyone in your party on the menu here, including tacos and burritos from the neighboring Mexican restaurant, Xolo.
1611 Telegraph Ave., Oakland
Ever wrangled together a group of your friends and dragged them to a bar, only to find that the bar is so loud that your voice becomes hoarse as you try to scream at each other over your Miller High Lifes? Thankfully, conversations are no problem at Bar Shiru. The all-vinyl, hi-fi listening bar plays records at a just-right volume, loud enough to hear the music but soft enough to allow your voice to be heard. That also means that if you and your out-of-town friends run into an awkward lull in conversation, there’s always great music to fill up the gaps. In order to keep the volume low, Bar Shiru limits capacity by requiring all patrons to be seated, meaning that you and your friends won’t end up standing awkwardly the entire time. Plus, if you’ve got a group of between five to seven people, you can reserve a table online in advance. Sample whisk(e)ys from around the world; sip on a highball, a twist on a classic cocktail, or a low or no-ABV cocktail; or choose from sake or beer.Ale Industries
3096 E. 10th St., Oakland
If your friend group is comprised mostly of beer lovers, look no further than Ale Industries, which is the oldest production brewery in Oakland. Ale Industries brews some of the most unique beers out there, including the Golden State of Mind tea beer, a hop-free beer made with oats, barley, and wheat and flavored with fresh coriander, chamomile, and sweet orange peel, and its variation Cherry Kush, made with sour cherry juice. Another winner is the Fruitvale Grind, which makes use of Tanzanian coffee beans from Ale Industries’ neighbor, Red Bay Coffee. While most coffee beers are porters or stouts, this is a lager, which makes for a light and refreshing drink — almost as if you’d mixed beer and cold brew together. In between beers, play pool, darts, or board games with your friends, or go grab tacos from one of the nearby trucks.
Crooked City Cider Tap House
206 Broadway, Oakland
Cider is booming in the East Bay, and one of the best places to drink it is at Crooked City Cider Tap House. Owner Dana Bushouse, the proud descendant of a Prohibition-era moonshiner carries on the family legacy of booze making with cider. At Crooked City, she makes her own cider in several varieties, including the Oakland Dry cider — other varieties have included a ginger-infused cider, a dry raspberry cider, candy apple-inspired cider with a caramel rim, and a candy corn inspired cider. But you’ll also find plenty of guest ciders, for a total of up to 35 ciders on tap. Ciders also are available in cans and bottles. For those who aren’t fans of cider — though Crooked City may change your mind — there’s also beer and wine. Don’t miss bites from Town Square Eats, a collaboration between chef Rob Lam of Perle Wine Bar and James Yu of Great China that offers elevated bar food like burgers, pizza, sandwiches, and salads, with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Plus, a selection of board games, dartboards, and pinball machines are available to help make your friend reunion even more fun.Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge
1304 Lincoln Ave., Alameda
Forbidden Island is the best tiki bar in the Bay Area, and the expertly crafted fruity drinks are perfect for relaxing over with your friends — especially for those who are back home visiting family in Alameda. Try the chamborlada, a piña colada served in a giant goblet with a float of raspberry Chambord liqueur, or go for the Planet of the Apes, which basically tastes like a boozy banana milkshake. Or try the Tropical Itch, which is served with your very own backscratcher to take home. You and your friends can also share a Scorpion Bowl, which serves two to four, or the Virgin Sacrifice, which is enough for six. The bowls arrive at your table aflame, with long straws for everyone to sip out of. There’s nothing like sharing a bowl of booze to reinforce those long-time friendships.