The first thing you notice when you enter Tigerlily on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley is the greenery: an assortment of plants hang from the ceiling while others appear to be growing on the walls. Pots filled with plants hang throughout the bar. The bar itself is covered with a canopy of what looks like grass growing upside down. A light-colored bark covers the lower part of the bar and curves around the inverted lawn above. If you feel as though you’ve wandered into an urban garden, you have. Everything you see has a garden tie-in somehow, including the occasional spot-them-if-you-can red-hatted gnomes.
Tigerlily has a small number of tables out front, allowing patrons to observe the passing parade on Shattuck — lively at any time, but especially on an evening when the street is filled with shoppers on their way to browse at the farmer’s market, or lined up across the street at the Cheese Board.
The bar area has several high tables and barstools at the bark-lined curved bar itself. In the larger back room, there are tables where diners can order from the North Indian-inspired menu, which draws creatively in part from owner Deepak Aggarwal’s spice farm network in northern India. Over the tables, bright, colorful fabrics are draped across the ceiling, creating the feeling of an indoor/outdoor garden tent.
Above the bar, two TV screens displayed the black and white images of a classic Indian film. The movies (including the occasional Bollywood feature, and American classics after 9:30 p.m.) often give way to local sports teams. On the night we visited, Cal fans were watching the Bears while sipping their spirits.
Under the capable guidance of charming beverage director Polina Kahrnas, Tigerlily boasts a garden-themed cocktail menu, “a fresh and floral counterpoint to the spice-inspired cocktails at their sister location, East Bay Spice Company,” which we visited last year. In addition, the bar serves a broad list of other libations, including cider, beer and fruit of the vine.
We learned that everything served at Tigerlily is locally grown or sourced, including the plates on which our impossible-to-resist bar snacks — avocado and sesame fry bread ($13) and fried Brussels sprouts ($8) — were served. Local ceramicist Sarah Kersten created the attractive plates exclusively for Tigerlily.
We asked Kahrnas for her sense of the crowd after Tigerlily’s first 10 months of operation. She said the crowd is different all the time. Neighbors drop in. Faculty members come by on their way home from a day on campus. A wide spectrum of folks stop by for drinks and dinner. Her desire, she says, is to make Tigerlily comfortable for everyone.
When we asked her for the happy hour favorites, she mentioned the Jalisco Maid (Cimarron Blanco tequila, lime, mint, cucumber, house made simple syrup) and the Old Fashioned (Evan Williams bourbon, Demerara, Angostura bitters.) “There’s something for everyone — and who doesn’t like an Old Fashioned?”
All house cocktails, punch bowls and martinis are 25% off during happy hour. In addition, all wines by the glass are $3 off. The current punch bowls (recommended for three or more people) are Me and My Gnomies (cucumber infused gin, Meyer lemon and thyme syrup, lime, and mint) and Blonde Redhead (strawberry infused vodka, rose syrup, grapefruit, ginger, lime and prosecco). When it isn’t happy hour, cocktails are $11 and the punch bowls are $40.
As always, when visiting a new bar, the choice of cocktail must be carefully considered. Go with the clever name, or make a choice based on the promise of a new taste combination? Although the Michael’s Pollen sounded attractive (Rittenhouse rye, local ginger honey, lemon, apple, allspice dram and bee pollen), both for the name and the ingredients, the Guns N’ Roses proved irresistible. Composed of Gun Club gin, house-made rose syrup, lemon, mixed berries and sparkling wine, this drink met my request for light and refreshing beverage on a summery, not-quite-fall evening. The hint of rose, the berries and the bubbles combined perfectly to evoke memories of outdoor celebrations, surrounded by flowers, glasses raised for a toast.
As one would expect with a menu that promises locally grown and sourced ingredients, we can expect to see changes in Tigerlily’s menu as the seasons shift in the next few weeks. We eagerly anticipate the flavors of fall and winter in the Bay Area.
The vibe: Indoor/outdoor garden ambiance
The crowd: A combination of neighborhood and campus communities and several gnomes
The drink: Guns N’Roses
To try next time: The Northside Swizzle
Good to know: Happy hour in effect daily from 4:00 pm -6:00 pm, and from 10:00pm to close