Like many Bay Area locals, we seldom make the time to play tourist in our own town. So we decided it was high time to enjoy a cocktail and a sunset at the Paragon Restaurant & Bar, located at one of the most recognized landmarks in Berkeley: the Claremont Hotel & Spa. The view may be better from the Campanile, but Paragon’s setting and its service are hard to top.
We only hesitated a moment before deciding to forgo our typical barstool perch inside the spacious restaurant for the luxury of sitting outside on the deck near the swaying palms. The long bar and comfortable seating indoors didn’t deter us from our mission to soak up a few rays.
And the view was irresistible on this windswept afternoon: the bay sparkled and the Golden Gate Bridge glowed orange in the reflected light. We watched as fog rolled under the bridge and the sun arced toward Mt. Tamalpais. We commented on the beauty of where we live, and then turned our attention to the drink menu.
We deliberated quite a while, distracted by the thwack of the tennis balls below us on the courts, the constant influx of new guests to the deck, and the glory of being able to sit outside — without layers on — until dusk.
We considered the Botanic View (St. George Botanivore gin, cucumber, lime, simple syrup and soda), and chose to avoid tempting the fates with a Dark and Stormy. One of these days we will throw caution to the wind and try a Sazerac (Templeton rye, Peychaud’s bitters, St. George absinthe, simple syrup). But owing to the appreciation of place, climate, wind and water we were feeling at the moment, we decided on the Feng Shui (Hangar One Citron, ginger, cucumber, fresh lime) and the Deliriously Panoramic (Delirio mescal, agave, grapefruit, soda). Both choices proved to be light, refreshing and well-balanced.
We wondered whether the other patrons were locals like us, enjoying a townie-as-tourist moment, or if they were predominately visitors to the area. We asked our server and learned that the Paragon draws a “perfect mix” of locals and guests from out-of-town. We were surrounded on the deck by couples, families, and small groups of friends or colleagues relaxing at the end of a work day. Asked about the most popular drink, we learned that we were on the right track with our Feng Shui.
As the shadows grew longer, we sipped our cocktails and wondered why we didn’t think of this sooner. After all, the hotel has been around since 1915, although alcohol wasn’t served until (as legend has it) a curious Cal student measured the distance between campus and the Claremont’s front steps in 1936. She discovered that they were just over a mile apart — freeing the hotel from its dry status at the time, in compliance with a state law mandating a no-alcohol zone extending to a one mile-radius of the university.
According to the Claremont, this heroic student was offered free drinks for life. We hope it was a long and happy one.
The Drinks: Feng Shui and Deliriously Panoramic.
The Vibe: Feels like a vacation even if you live here.
To Try Next Time: Sazerac or one of the Barrel Aged Cocktails.
The Crowd: Visitors from near and far.
When to Go: Around sunset on the deck; Friday and Saturday night for live music
Good to Know: Get a validation ticket from the host for a discount on parking in the hotel lot.
The Deets: Paragon Restaurant & Bar, 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley. At the Claremont Hotel Club & Spa on the Oakland/Berkeley border.
Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. She writes the blog Zero to Sixty and Beyond.