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Strong cocktails + bar food in East Bay?

Looking for somewhere that has good drinks and decent bar food in Oakland/Berkeley....food doesn't have to be outstanding, just good to nibble on for a light dinner while having a few at the bar.
Already been to Luka's, Trader Vics (disappointing!!), Pyramid, Triple Rock, Pacific Coast Brewing Co, Cato's, want to find a new spot. Thanks!

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  1. Pearl Oyster Bar in Rockridge.

    1. Depends on what time you go: Cesar and A Cote both fit the bill, but it gets difficult to find a spot at the bar after 6:30 or so.

      1. Cesar is a good one -- or two, actually, since they have locations in North Berkeley (Shattuck) and Oakland (Piedmont Ave.). Also, Bistro Jax in Berkeley is another.

        T-Rex in Berkeley has good drinks, but I'm not sure if you can eat at the bar -- let alone if they have a separate "bar menu."

        3 Replies
        1. re: zin1953

          No separate bar menu but there are some light snack-type dishes.

          The same owners' Fonda Solana also has a good bar and small plates.


          1. re: zin1953

            ? I don't know of a place in Berkeley called Bistro Jax. Could you mean Zax Tavern on Telegraph in Berkeley? If yes, they do have a nice bar, though I'd prefer Cesar, Fonda or A Cote if one also wants food.

            Another option is the bar at Eccolo.

            1. re: susancinsf

              Yes..Zax, not Jax -- my bad memory . . . .

          2. The Fat Lady in Oakland--Great drinks, food and atmosphere!


            1. You've got a nice list going there already. Your title says "cocktails" but your list has several places that are beer & wine only, like catos, 3rock, pacific coast, so I'm a little confused. Boy do I like catos.

              Jupiter you should really try. And lanesplitter. Dude, lanesplitter. Neither have mixed drinks. I'm a fan of the san pablo location, more character, but both are fine. LS and J are pizza more than full service food, but they're both good.

              If you like the Lukas->Cesar/A Cote direction, you really need to try Fonda on Solano. More of a hike, but it's a bit less full of itself, quieter than cesar, and the seats at the far end of the bar are excellent. Don't miss the warm chocolate cake. Arguably the food isn't as good, but they've got a few home runs on the menu, like the lamb.

              My favorite east bay cocktails are at Cesar, period. Best is a warm summer afternoon, about 6pm, when they have the windows open in front. Nirvana.

              Grasshopper is another that I don't see mentioned here much. I think it's a cut down from all the others mentioned, but certainly worth a try - your milage may vary.

              Another spot I often forget about is Skates at the Berkeley Marina. Haven't been there in a few years, but drinks and apps at the bar at sunset isn't all bad, even if the food is generic, the beer selection is limited, and it's all overpriced (ok, you pay for the view, and it's worth every penny). For a change, anyway, especially with guests in town.

              Anyone been to the bar at the Claremont? Do they serve food?

              What about Nick and Ben's?

              10 Replies
              1. re: bbulkow

                Neither Jupiter nor Lanesplitter has cocktails.

                1. re: JasmineG

                  I don't think Pyramid, Triple Rock, Pacific Coast Brewing, or Cato's do, either.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Well, the OP specifically asked for "strong cocktails" so I assumed that she was looking for a bar with actual cocktails now.

                2. re: bbulkow

                  Didn't Grasshopper close? I seem to remember reading about it a few months back.

                  1. re: Morton the Mousse

                    Grasshopper did close: It's going to open up again as Wood House by the end of this month (so says the sign on the outside of the restaurant.

                  2. re: bbulkow

                    great suggestions! thanks everyone!
                    we usually go for brews, but I think we're in the mood for cocktails tonight...at least I am! We ride our bikes to Lanesplitter on Telegraph, and we've been to Jupiter too.
                    Is there much of a difference between the Cesar in Berkeley and the one on Piedmont? I checked out their website, and the menu is slightly different, but what about the vibe?
                    We've lived in Oakland for about a year now, and I'm trying to explore more over here, we lived in SF for 10 years, and it's just been too easy to head there to all the places we already know.

                    1. re: MissMechante

                      I like the vibe in the Oakland location a LOT more than in the Berkeley location. The bar is a lot bigger in Oakland too, which helps to find a seat at the bar.

                      1. re: JasmineG

                        Same here. The Oakland menu's also longer.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          I guess I have to be the dissenter. I go at odd hours, but I like the Berkeley location better, on the strength of very friendly bartenders, and the Oakland location, while larger, feels somehow industrial/chainy to me: like it should be a Cactus Taqueria or something. Now that I think about it, I can't remember what it was before it was Cesar's: maybe I have some residual memory of whatever it was previously that is interfering with my appreciation of it?

                          Still, with a group, and particularly if I lived in Oakland, I'd recommend the Oakland location.

                    2. re: bbulkow

                      the claremont is a good place to go. good (strong) drinks, great selection of food (the mac and cheese is to die for!), and the view is outstanding. best days to go is... with a friend, coworkers, or a date (mon to thur), but if you want to check out the scene (fri or sat night). have fun!

                    3. The Fat Lady at JLS. Great Bar, good food!

                      1. Nizza La Bella
                        6 Degrees on Solano

                        As noted:

                        Anyone tried Ivy on San Pablo in Albany since the change? It has a happy hour.

                        FYI, Cliff (which I never tried) changed ownership and is due to re-open as the Sky Lounge.

                        1. Di Bartolo in Oakland. The setup is odd in that the bar's way in the back, but it's nice, and their drinks are really, really strong.

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: daveena

                            I agree -- I forgot about this place, but I went a few weeks ago and really liked the margarita.

                          2. 6 Degrees has some good small plates, and a small bar area, and 2 for $6 cosmos.

                            1. Try Caffe Verbena. Good bar, good bar food. (Closed on the weekends, though.) If you're hungry for dinner the chef does great fish dishes. 11th and Broadway.

                              1. Yesterday evening while having some time to kill awaiting others, I went to Lalime's and sat at the bar for a glass of wine and a snack. While I didn't have a cocktail, they looked good, and it was a nice setting for a snack and a drink. Bar space, however, is limited, and on the weekends you might find it filled with diners.

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: lmnopm

                                  I never thought of going to Lalime's for a drink. Great idea. What was the snack?

                                  1. re: Glencora

                                    Crab chalupas. I had a craving for their foie burger, which was off the menu as of about a week ago.

                                2. I do the whole small plates/cocktails thing quite often and Fonda is absolutely wonderful, although a bit pricey and the service you get depends on which night of the week you go. I prefer Fridays and Saturdays and I always sit at the bar.

                                  T-Rex on the other hand... I really tried to like this place and wasted quite a bit of money in doing so. Great cocktails, but their food is just off. The ideas behind the food are good, it's just been my experience that the execution isn't there. One visit we started with the smoked drummets and they were very dry, I didn't even finish one. The next visit, I sat at the kitchen bar and noticed a bowl of those cooked drummets sitting on a metal rack next to the range. I'm not sure if that's what I was served, but they sat there for the entire hour and a half we were there and it definitely put me off. On other visits, my chicken was undercooked and their $32 ribeye that I loved on my first visit has been about half fat (this happened twice). I just think that for the amount of money you are paying for barbeque, it should be some pretty awesome barbeque.. Their sides and desserts, however, are quite good.

                                  On a brighter note, bbulkow is absolutely right - there is nothing better than Cesar's on a warm summer evening.

                                  1. Venturing further out into the eastern part of the greater SF Bay Area, you have a few really great options now in Walnut Creek:

                                    The Walnut Creek Yacht Club for hand-crafted, seasonal cocktails, a lively bar with fresh Oysters and seafood, and a wonderful rum list; Eleve for delicious Vietnamese cuisine, amazing pre-prohibition era cocktails and a unique spirits list; Sasa for some truly divine Japanese food and a very lively bar scene; Modern China Cafe for creative fusion cocktails and a rotating roster of DJ's and live music; and Prima Ristorante for elegant fine-dining, a superb wine list, top-notch servers and a great selection of whiskeys and classic cocktails.

                                    Walnut Creek Yacht Club
                                    1555 Bonanza St., Walnut Creek, CA 94596

                                    Modern China Cafe
                                    1525 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

                                    Eleve Restaurant & Bar
                                    1677 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

                                    1432 N Main St, Walnut Creek, CA 94596

                                    1. How about Gather or Five? both have a great cocktail scene and good food. Five has a formal bar where Gather is a bit more tavern like. I prefer the food at Gather and the scene at Five.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: budnball

                                        Gather has an actual bar, it's sort of hidden, off the dining room in the far left corner.

                                        jcrabb bumped a topic from 2007, there have been some notable additions since, and some notable omissions at the time.

                                        The food at Henry's has improved a lot since Eddie Blyden took over the kitchen.

                                        There are a lot of places with first-rate cocktails and great food these days: Revival, Adesso, Flora, Pizzaiolo, Boot & Shoe, Marica, À Côté, B, Wood Tavern, Picán, Bocanova, Corso.

                                        Plum is reportedly adding a bar in an adjacent space. That might raise the bar.

                                        5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                        Wood Tavern
                                        6317 College Ave., Oakland, CA 94618

                                        B Restaurant & Bar
                                        499 9th St, Oakland, CA 94607

                                        Marica Seafood Restaurant
                                        5301 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618

                                        2600 Durant Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                        1788 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94709

                                        4395 Piedmont Ave, Oakland, CA

                                        Pican Restaurant
                                        2295 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

                                        FIVE American Bistro & Bar
                                        2086 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                        Boot and Shoe Service
                                        3308 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA 94610

                                        2200 Oxford Street, Berkeley, CA 94704

                                        55 Webster Street, Oakland, CA 94607

                                        Revival Bar & Kitchen
                                        2102 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704