The Berkeley City Club first opened in 1930 as ‘‘The Berkeley Women’s City Club.” But after nearly 90 years of its history, the club finally has something the architect never imagined. No, not men. (The club became co-ed in 1965.) A bar.
On Jan. 20 the club opened Morgan’s, a cocktail bar and lounge on its second floor. Named in tribute to Julia Morgan, architect of the Gothic-Moorish building at 2315 Durant Ave., Morgan’s takes over for the club’s former watering hole, Julia’s Lounge.
While you could wet your whistle at Julia’s Lounge, there wasn’t an actual bar front in the room. Instead, drinks were prepared on a temporary bar set-up, but it left something to be desired. “It looked like the counter at a suburban dentist office,” said club member Dan Zimmerlin.
The Berkeley City Club members decided it was high time to do something about this bar-less bar.
“It’s quite a lovely historic building and it’s got a lot of community history,” said Berkeley City Club board member Teresa McGuire. The club wanted to offer even more social space for members and the public to meet up and chat over drinks. “We thought this would be fun to be a go-to place,” she said.
Julia Morgan graduated from Cal with a degree in civil engineering in 1894, as one of the first female students at the university. She was the first woman admitted to the architecture program at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris in 1898. She became the first female architect licensed in California in 1904. She designed the rebuilt Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake, and Hearst Castle for newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst, the basement of which has a wine cellar with double-vault doors. With all this worldly past experience, it might seem strange that she never accounted for a bar in her plans for the Berkeley City Club; she could not have been unaware that people like to drink while socializing.
However, the absence of bar furnishings at the Berkeley City Club is easily explained by two reasons. For starters, it was designed and opened during Prohibition. And secondly, Morgan was a teetotaler.
Julia’s Lounge had long been used as an informal socializing space, with service conducted via the adjacent restaurant, also called Julia’s. It was where members held bridge games since the club’s opening. The club decided to make the room a more dedicated cocktail space by putting in a cash machine and a service station. But first, they needed a bar for the bar.
For Morgan’s, the club wanted something more of a style befitting the decor of the historic building. To that end they got lucky. Club member John Lineweaver owns the property of the erstwhile Larry Blake’s Restaurant — later renamed Blake’s on Telegraph in 2002 — and subterranean bar, The Rathskeller.
Lineweaver still had the furnishings from The Rathskeller, among which was the bar front built by Dutch craftsmen sometime in the mid-1800s. The pine-fronted, mahogany-topped bar had come to California the long way, shipped around the horn of South America to San Francisco and then hauled by draft horses up to the town of Dayton in Lassen County. Decades later on a visit to Dayton, Blake bought the bar front from the former owner’s grandson and trucked it south. En route to Berkeley, Blake stopped at a friend’s place in Vallejo.
There is yet something missing from the story, and also from the bar. At present, the bar is only half as long as it had been when those Dutch built it. In Vallejo, Blake cut the bar down the middle after the friend offered to buy half of it from him. Blake then continued on to Berkeley, where he installed in the remaining portion in the Rathskeller in 1940.
Which means at 9-1/2 feet in length and several hundred pounds, the bar at Morgan’s is only half its former self. As for the remaining half, its current whereabouts are unknown. “We assume the other half went into a bar in Vallejo (or there about) since the friend was in the bar business,” Zimmerlin wrote in a follow-up email. “But we have no knowledge.”
Both Blake’s and The Rathskeller being no more, new owner Lineweaver was looking for a place the historic bar front could be put to good use. After years of neglect, however, it was in sore shape.
“We just looked at it and said, ‘Well this thing’s a wreck, what are we going to do with it?’,” said Zimmerlin. “Well, I thought I could refinish it. So I did.”
Refinish may be the choice word, but Zimmerlin describes the process as more of a renovation, requiring four months and several hundred hours of cleaning, sanding, staining and finishing to get the bar up to snuff and suitable for its new home. Zimmerlin also built a side addition to the bar to give it an L-shape and applied coat after coat of varnish to match the coloration of the pine to the mahogany top.
Morgan’s is now open to the public but the space is still rather spare. Zimmerlin admits that the lounge still has a long way to go. “This is a work in progress,” said Zimmerlin. “The bar is only one step.” A grand opening for Morgan’s is scheduled for March 3.
Morgan’s is open to the public during dinner hours (4:30-9 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday) for Julia’s, the restaurant at the Berkeley City Club that adjoins it. Patrons need not be club members to enjoy either bar or restaurant.
Morgan’s serves a large selection of domestic and imported bottled beer, an assortment of wine and light bar snacks such as housemade bread-and-butter pickles and smoked herring rillettes. The signature cocktails here — made with spirits from local distilleries like Hangar One and St. George Spirits — offer more than a wry nod to local history, with such selections as the Golden Bear, the Campanile and the Little Castle Gimlet. There’s also Miss Morgan’s Teetotaler — a concoction of pomegranate juice, agave nectar, lavender sprigs and club soda — ensuring that were she still around, Morgan too could find something to enjoy at the bar, even if she had never imagined it.