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Best work-from-home cafes -- Oakland/Berkeley

  • b

I'm looking for a good cafe in the East Bay to work a few hours at a stretch. My favorites in SF for atmosphere are the original Potrero Hill Farley's (wifi-workers, chatters, people with dogs, artists, a little scungy, good range of not-too-loud music) and Epicenter (some of the best coffee ever, good range of music, and a blend of friendly workaholic wifiers/workaholic startup meetups). These two places are wildly different, but between them they capture what I'm looking for: they're places where people drop in and out through the day rather than camp on their laptops for hours on end, and each is mercifully free of sneering hipsters, sneering baristas, rows and rows of sullen wifi-warriors, loud music and, well, people who are enjoying themselves by also being really loud. (Sorry, happy loud people.)

Sadly, when I dropped in at Actual Cafe this week I was really put off by the sneery customer vibe -- quite different from what I'd experienced on an earlier visit last year. And Farley's Emeryville felt utterly lifeless.

So where do you go in Oakand/Berkeley to work on a laptop/write/read/snack quietly for a few hours? Wifi is nice because it tends to mean fewer loud conversations and big groups, but I can live without it. Good third-gen coffee is a real plus but I can deal with somewhere akin to Martha's if most of the other boxes are checked. Where do you go when you work from home but home is too distracting?

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  1. Have you tried Farley's East?

    Farley's East
    33 Grand Ave, Oakland, CA

    1. Nomad. The place a few blocks north of Nomad. Trieste on San Pablo.
      My all-time favorite place was near CCAC and had an awesome view out the back window. Only lasted a few years, got turned into a hair parlor.
      A lot of east bay places are studentish. I sometimes enjoy the bustle of cafe milano, even though it's not as charming as Farley's, there's a ton others like that. Au Coqulet.The borgia at Strada is epic.

      12 Replies
        1. re: tpc

          A coffee Borgia [Borgio] is an espresso coffee with equal parts hot chocolate and espresso, topped with whipped cream and orange zest.

          1. re: wolfe

            Often there's a little bit of orange syrup added.

        2. re: bbulkow

          I personally can't tolerate the attitude at Nomad. And Trieste -- lousy coffee, slow lines.
          The place just north of it is Jumpin Java -- good people, but it's got a dark interior.

          My faves:
          Local 123
          Elmwood Cafe - especially the outside tables
          Berkeley Art Museum Cafe (limited hours, tho)

          Local 123
          2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

          Elmwood Cafe
          2900 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

          1. re: escargot3

            123 is great, but crazy crowded - like, it's hard to snag a table if you get there after 9 or 10 a.m. Also, they recently instituted a policy where you have to pay for wi-fi after the first half hour. Might help to thin out the crowds, but it's a trade-off...

            Kitchen 388 is now my favorite spot for these purposes, but note that they have almost no outlets available, so you have to power up ahead of time.

            Kitchen 388
            388 Grand Avenue, Oakland, CA

            1. re: abstractpoet

              Thanks, AP, for the update. I usually have mtgs at 123 very early in the morning. And I have my own internet access so I was unaware of the wifi policy.

              1. re: escargot3

                A lot places seem to be bringing in limited Internet. Epicenter gives access in increments depending on how much you spend (e.g. a coffee gets you an hour while a sandwich gets you two). Farley's SF has two hours free or pay and get unlimited hours -- although going into airplane mode resets the two-hour clock.

                FWIW 123 remains a hit in the afternoons, although I'm not using Internet. Not trouble finding a table. Tried a flaky Starter Bakery turnover filled with some sort of lemon curd -- delicious.

                1315 18th St, San Francisco, CA

                764 Harrison St, San Francisco, CA 94107

                Local 123
                2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                Starter Bakery
                1552 Beach Street, Suite R, Oakland, CA 94608

                1. re: bgbc

                  That makes sense to encourage turnover. If you're spending more than two hours, you're renting an office, not having a cappuccino.

              2. re: abstractpoet

                Thanks -- I LOVE Elmwood Cafe but wonder how long I could reasonably camp there and work. It's somewhere I take family visiting from out of town and has always seemed more of an eating spot.

                Will check out 123 and 388 though.

                Elmwood Cafe
                2900 College Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                1. re: bgbc

                  Elwood Cafe doesn't have Internet. But it's awesome for working (and not wanting to be distracted by the internet!)

                2. re: abstractpoet

                  FYI, they've brought back free Internet at 123. The saga continues -- about the 4th time they've tinkered with their policy...

              3. re: bbulkow

                Thanks. I'd forgotten about Strada -- of course, I'm not a student and will be (gasp!) coming in by car, so parking is probably an issue...

              4. I see a lot of laptops, and hanging out at Gaylord's on Piedmont Ave. I'm not sure where they source their coffee, but the espresso is good.

                7 Replies
                1. re: Rapini

                  Gaylord's is a pretty reasonable place - not a lot of character (not like Potrero Farley's), but a calm place to hang out. Hudson's has bad coffee but nice light windows. There's a good place near Alcatraz and College, escapes my memory, nice couches and better coffee.

                  bgbc, maybe you can be more specific about your neighborhood? I don't think there's a lot of places so great you'd drive 30 minutes for, but there's plenty of decent neighborhood places.

                  1. re: bbulkow

                    Yeah, Oakland/Berkeley is a bit vague. Sorry about that :)

                    I'm most curious about places in/near downtown Oakland through Temescal and then west and south Berkeley. Anywhere beyond University's a bit of a reach for me, so anywhere on Solano is, sadly, probably not somewhere I'd go. Need decent enough parking, too.

                    1. re: bbulkow

                      Your comfy couch place at Alcatraz & College was A Cuppa, which is moving a few blocks north to Elmwood (just walked by the new space being renovated). The old space is being turned into yet another Peet's, sigh.

                      1. re: indigirl

                        ugh! to think Peet's is en route to being Starbucks.
                        Seems like now there are 2 coffee shops per block in Rockridge.

                          1. re: indigirl

                            Interesting! -- Where in Elmwood? There are already so many cafes there I'm surprised this place is moving in. I never really liked them after they became "A Cuppa." Years and years ago I went there all the time. They used to have another name and weren't as dingy (although I suppose one person's dingy is another person's cozy).

                            1. re: bgbc

                              Seems to me it's in part of the mysterious never-open rug shop south of the movie theater. Not the bigger rug shop space on the corner of Webster, but in a smaller space next to that.

                      2. i like cafe yesterday on univ in berkeley. pretty laid back, pretty quiet, decent food, not too many neighborhood hipsters. i did a lot of work there over the summer - so, im not sure what it's like during the school year. it is far away enough from campus, so i dont think it will be chock full of students.

                        1. Parking not an issue at Kim's Cafe, Solano Albany. Decent bahn mi and comfortable chairs.

                          1. I like Nomad well enough (and have never personally experienced sniffy attitude there, but YMMV). Mokka, on Telegraph two blocks south of Ashby, is small but very pleasant, and has good salads and sandwiches, as well as coffee. Don't think it has wi-fi.

                            3075 Telegraph Ave, Berkeley, CA 94705

                            1. Thanks again everybody. I've tried Local 123 (not crowded in the afternoon, mostly grad students) and Remedy Coffee (also not crowded in the morning although lines of walk-through customers picking up a coffee) and thought both were great work spots.

                              Remedy Coffee
                              4316 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland, CA

                              Local 123
                              2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                              6 Replies
                              1. re: bgbc

                                I was going to suggest Remedy -- it's a little too expensive, but the staff has always been nice to me, and it's a good mix of people, and their baked goods are delicious. The only problem is that the chairs aren't particularly comfortable.

                                1. re: JasmineG

                                  It wasn't cheap -- but the shall-remain-unnamed hyperlocal berry scone I ate was delicious, and the very limited food menu (only four types of scones in the morning) keeps the focus on working hard until you're hungry again.

                                  1. re: bgbc

                                    Yes, the baked goods are really good, I had a great scone there too, and a really good cookie.

                                    1. re: JasmineG

                                      FYI, the woman who started out making Remedy's baked goods now sells them to other places, too, under the moniker "Butterfat Bakery" -- Local 123 now sells her stuff instead of making their own in-house. Not sure what other local cafes she's supplying.

                                      And yes, everything I've tried has been quite good -- good (if slightly pricey) frittatas too.


                                      Edit: I see from their Facebook page that they're now also supplying baked goods for Cole Coffee and making appearances at the Kensington Farmers Market.

                                      Local 123
                                      2049 San Pablo Avenue, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                        1. re: abstractpoet

                                          Peaberry's in Rockridge Market Hall now has Butterfat Bakery stuff as well as Starter Bakery goodies, I noticed that last week.

                                          Rockridge Market Hall
                                          5655 College Avenue, Oakland, CA 94618

                                          Starter Bakery
                                          1552 Beach Street, Suite R, Oakland, CA 94608

                                2. Hi, Good news. Farley's oakland location is very lively. http://www.farleyscoffee.com/
                                  I love their food too.

                                  It may be my old affiliation with Berkeley but Cafe Roma at Ashby and College now that they remodeled has a nice ambiance that's very light and bright. The back room is full of people who I think write entire theses. You will find more berkeley types than internet / worker types there.

                                  Pizzaiolo in the morning is always full of mac laptops.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: gourmandadventurer

                                    I didn't realize they'd remodeled. Will check it out. Years back it used to be known (among my friends at least) as a "fishbowl" with too many skeezy types bugging younger student types...

                                  2. Check out Cafe Leila. Pots of real tea, great food and snacks, sunny patio, quiet room with real tables, and parking. Haven't tried the coffee, but the smoothies are good, and the lamb burger is great.

                                    Internet is mostly indoors, so people outside are having conversations.

                                    Cafe Leila
                                    1724 San Pablo Ave, Berkeley, CA 94702

                                    3 Replies
                                    1. re: Windy

                                      The coffee is really good -- the latte's are superb.

                                      Plus every Sunday mid-day a very friendly knitting group meets there.

                                      1. re: catherd

                                        Thanks! Now I have another reason to go there.

                                      2. re: Windy

                                        I'll third that. On this recommendation, I went to Leila to do some work, and I sit here now. It's a cute and spacious place with the most friendly staff I've ever experienced in a cafe: "here is your sandwich, sir." Sir? Wow. It's raining out, but the outdoor area looks really nice for when it's Sunny.

                                        Had the "berkeley" sandwich (pesto, melted cheddar, roasted peppers), and some split pea soup (chunky and homemade tasting). The food is good and reasonably priced, but it didn't knock my socks off. If they took a step up in bread quality, it would bring everything up a notch. Also the Rooibos chai latte was pretty good. I would eat while I'm here without a doubt, but would not come here for the sole purpose of eating.

                                        Coffee is also fine, but as with the food, not a coffee destination. They will also make iced espresso drinks, which is more than I can say for Local 123, who are worried about "Fracturing" the espresso with ice: total snake oil, pseudoscience BS.

                                        Free internet if you order food. I think they would let you use internet if you got drinks too, but they'd rather you buy food.

                                        This may become my go-to working cafe. I really like it a lot. Thanks for the recommendation.

                                      3. I'd give the Actual another try, just because it varies with time of day and day of week. But in the meantime, there's a cafe on the east side of Sacto just south of Dwight, called Mo'Joe's. The chairs are not wildly comfortable but I see people settling in to work plenty, and there are some armchairs as well. The coffee is good. They have an assortment of cafe-level food, and are often playing soft music that sounds like it might be Middle Eastern of some variety. Noise levels vary. Local parents come in with kids (they have books and a toy basket). They have changing art on the walls and free wi-fi and TONS of good light. And two doors on opposite ends, so it's pretty easy for them to open both and get a cross-breeze when needed.

                                        1. In my neighborhood (Rockridge/Temescal), I like Spasso Coffeehouse and Pizzaiolo (till Noon only) and a short bike ride away is Actual Cafe. Very bike friendly, 1 nice long table and a couple of bar top spots (crowded) laptops M-F only.

                                          5008 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA 94609

                                          Spasso Coffeehouse
                                          6021 College Ave, Oakland, CA 94618