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Early Friday night in Berkeley for older fun-loving SF artists

My husband has paintings in a show at the Addison Street Windows (downtown Berkeley) opening this Friday. We will be joining friends for drinks, etc. after viewing the work and hope to find a place that can accommodate a spontaneous group of 3-8 for drinks, apps/dinner. No loud music! I'm not partial to Asian food and I hope for a full bar (but cocktails under $10, please). Enough guests will be driving so distance is not a problem. I know this is a list of "nots," but I hope for Hounds to sympathize with us older bohos wishing to celebrate three years of artistic struggle.
Please put your thinking caps on, Hounds, and help us find a venue for our little party.

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  1. Check out FIVE in the Shattuck Hotel, easy walking distance, cocktails apparently in your zone according to their online menu and a talented chef. Service issues noted near opening, no recent reports.
    Happy hours menu.

    1. This is a surprisingly hard request. I would probably say Five as well, although it might be a little expensive.

      My second choice would be driving up to Fonda. They typically have space (you could call on your way when you know the # of people if above 4), is pleasant and celebratory, and parking up there is pretty easy. Their cocktail list is decently affordable; just watch out - the small plates stack up in price quickly.

      Alborz on Center - anyone tried it?

      Anh Hong is now in the space on University which has a full bar and a rotating series of medium-high-end asian places that never quite catch hold. Anyone been?

      Maybe - Sea Salt? Too far? Not enough bar? If that's in range, what about Bucci? Great bar, very good food, soul, easy parking.

      The No list:

      Jupiter has a party atmosphere, especially if it's warm enough for the patio, but no full bar. Limited menu - they have a nice pizza oven - very convivial on the patio.
      Thlassa is a full bar but too casual.
      Beta Lounge doesn't have enough food.
      Anna's jazz island is closed.
      Cesar is also a drive, but gets loud and no guarentee for a party of that size. Best bar in that area, though.
      Beckett's fits the parameters, but has no soul, and the food is mediocre at best.
      Zatar has soul and good food but is small and wine only.
      Triple Rock gets very frat party on friday nights.
      Lanesplitter has soul, art on the walls, no full bar, too casual, and a drive to boot.

      1. My first thought was Cesar, because their drinks are good, and it's casual enough so that some people can nibble and some can have dinner. It would work as long as you get the big communal table -- I've had casual gatherings there where part of the party got the communal table early on and we just gradually took it over as people left.

        1 Reply
        1. re: JasmineG

          Getting there early enough on a friday to stake out space probably means between 6 and 6:30. I've had serious problems with noise there after about 8 - it becomes a shouting restaurant. Again, if you call an hour or two in advance - once you know the rough trajectory of the party - you'll be in good shape. The cocktails there hover in the $10 range and crest that level, but are *so* worth it.

        2. La Note comes close - but it does not have a full bar.

          (OMG, on Friday nights they have a live accordian? That would cross it off my list!)

          1. How bout the resto "Downtown" on Shattuck. Good for drinks + apps/dinner. Pricey.

            I don't recall if Alborz has a bar... food is ok. not stellar.

            1 Reply
            1. FIVE seems like a good idea, but my party of three was turned away at 5:30 on a Tuesday night. It was completely booked for the evening. So that might not work.

              Downtown is gone.

              I think driving to Sea Salt or Fonda is probably better. If Fonda is too busy, 6 Degrees is nearby on Solano. They both have happy hours.

              1. I haven't been, but maybe Gather would work? It does have a full bar. Michael Bauer's review did say it was noisy. It's maybe a 4-5 block walk from Addison and Milvia.

                1. Love the suggestions! Keep them coming! Right now I'm dithering between Bucci's and Sea Salt. I know George Morrone is consulting for the group that own Sea Salt--is his influence in evidence now? Also, since Five was written up in the NY Times a few weeks ago, it'll be quite a while til reservations are easy to come by again.

                  7 Replies
                  1. re: plainfood

                    Two good choices. Between the two I'd choose Sea Salt, even though I haven't been there. I didn't know SS had a bar at all, but I just looked at their specialty cocktail list, and it shows a good touch.

                    I'm a sucker for crispy smelts, which is on SS's online menu. And they have Dogfish Head on draft, go Delaware (and points for being different).

                    What threw Fonda out of the running?

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      We have 3 cars coming at this point, and I'm leery of the parking on/near Solano. But we're still considering options. I looked at the menu online and it seemed like gussied-up Mexican food. But I'll put it to the committee.
                      Nothing about Chez Panisse interests me anymore. Been there, done that! And let's not forget the parking . . .
                      If this was an SF event, we'd probably end up at Capp's Corner or Nirvana or Home.

                      1. re: plainfood

                        Fonda's food is pretty good. However, T-Rex has lots of parking and a full bar.

                        1. re: Glencora

                          Yeah, and it's always pretty easy to get a table at T-Rex, because it's so big.

                          1. re: JasmineG

                            I check them out online, and they looked really good to me. When my co-chair of hospitality looks at their menu, I think I'll make a reso.
                            Thanks, Hounds!

                        2. re: plainfood

                          and what's you secret to finding parking in North Beach on a Friday nite to go to Capp's Corner?

                          1. re: escargot3

                            My secret is so simple: 30 Stockton to & from Market Street (my bus & Bart connection) + taxis.
                            It's not free, but it works for me!

                    2. I'd go to Five and make the commute (park once or BART) and hang out easier.

                      Not sure of the reservation (you will need one) but Chez Panisse Cafe is quite nice for the older folks (I'm kidding). A few years ago went to CP Cafe and sat in the little upstairs room over the entry with a group of 6. Very, very pleasant.

                      1. The combination of full bar, not too loud, and decent food (not Asian) with no reservations/flexible time on a Friday night is deadly! I would suggest Corso, but I think the lack of a reservation will rule it out.

                        Sea Salt is a good option, as it often has space when other are full. It is, however, not near downtown Berkeley. In fact, if you're driving to Sea Salt, you might as well head into Oakland. You'll still face the Friday night without a reservation difficulty, but you will have more options.

                        If it is still pretty early in the evening, the back room at A Cote in Rockridge is perfect for what you want (though the cocktails will be a bit over your limit -- they are worth it). I am very partial to Adesso (on Piedmont Avenue), but you are likely to find it too loud. Camino (on Grand) is super, but it can be loud (music is not the problem, it's just a loud room). It is, however, very much in the Chez Panisse mold, so it may not suit you anyway.

                        Were I you, I would commit to a time for this rendezvous and reserve. If that is impossible, I would prepare a list of options (with phone numbers) and call before going. That's got to be better than schlepping around the East Bay hoping for an eight top at 6:00 PM on a Friday night.

                        1. I wouldn't expect Five to be hard to get into, the place is insanely huge.

                          Corso's a good fit if you can get in. Chester's Bayview Cafe might be a good fallback.

                          Mua might work.

                          Cesar is usually packed and crazy noisy on a Friday evening. Chez Panisse is impossible without a reservation.

                          2 Replies
                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            Mr Lauriston, my first choice was your restaurant, but you're not open yet, alas.

                            1. re: plainfood

                              Heh, sorry, all we've got on our menu is cement dust and paint fumes.

                          2. so where did you go in the end?