Tag Archives: Ms Barstool

25 years after the Oakland/Berkeley firestorm, Risa Nye pens memoir

Risa Nye
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On Oct. 20, 1991, a wildfire ripped through the Oakland hills and parts of Berkeley, killing 25 people and destroying 2,483 houses and 437 apartments and condos. Risa Nye, an Oakland writer who writes the Ms Barstool column for Nosh, was at home with her family in Oakland when the fire began. Since it was on the other side of the freeway, Nye, who was about to turn 40, didn’t quite believe the flames would reach her house. So when the family evacuated, they took some precious items but left behind many important keepsakes.

Read Berkeleyside’s special 20th anniversary Firestorm coverage.

Nye has written a memoir about the tragedy and how she and her family coped with their losses called, “There Was a Fire Here.” She Writes Press published the book, which Zac Unger, a former Oakland firefighter and the author of “Working Fire,” says is a “searing memoir” that is “told with humor and grace.” There will be a book release party for Nye Thursday at 7:00 p.m. at The Bay Area Children’s Theater Performance Hall, 2162 Mountain Blvd. in Oakland (corner of Mountain and Snake Rd). Nye will be in conversation with Alex Green.

Berkeleyside recently spoke with Nye about her book.

What motivated you to write a memoir about the fire 25 years after it happened? How hard was it to recreate the events of that time? What techniques did you use to capture the period?

The memoir had been in the works for many years. The push was to get it published this year in honor of the 25th anniversary of the fire. The anniversary provided a good incentive to get it done in a timely manner. Recreating the events wasn’t hard at all — I had kept newspapers from 1991, starting with the day of the fire, in a big box, and I had access to other reports and documents online. Another great resource was a short film, made by a Stanford graduate student just a few months after the fire, which included footage of the fire and interviews with my older son and me. I’d also kept a journal during the planning and reconstruction phases, so I had my words as well as the words of others to refer to as I wrote. … Continue reading »

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Ms. Barstool: Drexl bar in Uptown Oakland

The bar at Drexl. Photo: Drexl/Facebook
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Ever since we met one of Drexl’s ace bartenders at an Oakland event several months ago, we’d been meaning to visit this place in Oakland’s vibrant Uptown. Watching the talented Drexl bartender Marguerite Ann Regan expertly crafting four cocktails in a timed heat at the recent San Francisco Speed Rack competition further inspired us to check it out at last. After hearing the buzz about this bar for so long it was time to see — and sip — for ourselves. … Continue reading »

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Ms. Barstool: Cocktails at garden-inspired Tigerlily

Photo: Tigerlily/Facebook
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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. … Continue reading »

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Ms. Barstool: Kona Club on Oakland’s Piedmont Ave.

The Undertow from Kona Club. Photo: Risa Nye
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It’s tiki time.

During the recent heat waves, the promise of tiny umbrellas in our drinks and a fondness for tiki ambience drew us to the Kona Club in Oakland. The moment we walked into the bar on the corner of Piedmont Avenue and Pleasant Valley Road, we left the heat and traffic behind and entered a unique world full of surfboards, glass floats and blowfish lamps.

Coming in from the light, one cannot help notice the change: it’s always twilight at the Kona Club. But it’s all the better to see the volcano behind the bar and appreciate the mechanical hula dancer who begins undulating at 5 p.m. … Continue reading »

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Turning tables: Ms Barstool goes to cocktail school

Matty at Flora. Photo Risa Nyejpg
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Flora, Uptown Oakland’s popular art-deco restaurant and bar, began offering classes for cocktail enthusiasts this year. The first session (offered in February and March) focused on Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, with tips on techniques, a sampling of the history of American whiskeys, some “hands-on” opportunities, and plenty of tasting involved.

The class I attended, the first in a two-part series offered in April and May, was supposed to focus on the coast to coast variations of citrus-based drinks. As happens sometimes in the best teaching environments, an instructor — in this case, the enthusiastic Matty McGee — took his cues from his students, and tweaked the curriculum a bit.

We began with a discussion of the daiquiri. According to my somewhat blurry notes, the differences break down like this: East Coast daiquiris are more sugary, boozier, and made on a larger scale, while West Coast drinks are more condensed with more equally balanced ingredients. The way he describes it, the rebels on the left coast felt it necessary to break away from the more “old-school, classic styling” way of mixing these sour-based drinks. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Fruity infusions at Oakland Juice & Co.

Oakland Juice
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We felt very much out of our element walking into Oakland Juice and Co. recently. Located in the Jack London Warehouse District, this is an establishment that serves juice: a juice bar, not a bar bar. But Ms Barstool had heard about the company’s new collaboration with Verbena infusions (which do include alcohol), and decided to sample the new menu, which is billed as “OJ & Co. Cold-Pressed and Fresh-Fruit Infused Cocktails.”

As long as there are cocktails to try, we will be there. Even if “there” is a place that serves raw, cold-pressed juices by day (and night).

On the evening we made our tentative entrance, Oakland Juice & Co., in collaboration with Verbena, was introducing a number of inspired fruit-infused cocktails, which are being served Thursdays through Saturdays from 5:00 p.m-10:00 p.m. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Spirits aplenty at Longbranch Saloon

Longbranch Saloon. Photo: Risa Nye
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While the décor at Longbranch Saloon may be minimal, the bar menu is not. If you’re looking for a staggering array of whiskeys (or “whiskies,” and more about that distinction later), you need look no further than Longbranch, now occupying the former location of Sea Salt restaurant on San Pablo Avenue in West Berkeley.

Longtime Berkeley residents and fans of Asleep at the Wheel may be confused by the reappearance of the Longbranch name. There may be mixed feelings about the long-gone $1 cover charge, the sawdust on the floor, the free draft beer and the indoor motorcycle parking — none of which feature at the new incarnation. (Our server informed us that the old joint was further up the street on San Pablo anyway.) So those with long memories are advised to come around and see what the 21st-century version is all about. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Drink well at Shakewell

Jen Biesty and Tim Nugent of Shakewell. Photo: Alanna Hale copy
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Shakewell is a fairly new addition to Oakland’s Lakeshore district. Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: 5 cocktails to warm your heart

Haitian Toddy at Box and Bells
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As the rain lashes the window-panes, gusts of wind bring down tree limbs, and the power goes out… again… what better way to mark the turn of the season and the holidays than to head to a cozy bar and order up a warming winter cocktail? Ms Barstool has tried five and recommends them all. Cheers!

Haitian Toddy at Box and Bells

Served in a teacup and garnished with orange peel and a stick of cinnamon, this drink is made with aged Haitian dark rum, Benedictine, house-made honey syrup, and seasoned with cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice (pictured above). Served at Box and Bells in Oakland’s Rockridge neighborhood: 5912 College Ave., Oakland. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Cocktail invention at food mecca Corso

Justin Sutton making cocktails at Corso. Photo Corso
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At the height of service, it’s not always easy to get into a conversation with a bartender, even when you are a person who calls herself Ms Barstool. So we set up a pre-cocktail meeting with bar manager Justin Sutton and bartender Matt Bruns prior to hopping on a barstool at Trattoria Corso in Berkeley.

We wanted to hear about some changes the trattoria has undergone, including a new bar program, and what happened when they took the TVs away.

Sutton, a former Marine, had jobs in several local dining establishments, including Absinthe in San Francisco and Revival in Berkeley, before finding his way to Corso. Bruns went to culinary school, worked in several restaurants in Atlanta, then moved here and started a new business in town.

Both Sutton and Bruns were delighted to have the chance to talk about what they do, and to share some of their behind-the-bar techniques. A dedicated bartender will tell you that what one orders off the cocktail menu is often the result of several tries at getting the drink just right. Bruns said he likes to put a “modern-day twist” on the cocktails he creates. (Bruns also creates at Shrub & Co based at Berkeley Kitchens, producing a variety of shrubs: a blend of fruit, sugar, and vinegar—originally intended as a way to preserve fruit in Colonial times, now enjoying a second career as tasty additions to cocktails.) … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Sipping Revenge at Honor, Emeryville

Honor Kitchen. Photo courtesy: Honor Kitchen
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We confess to driving around a bit before finally discovering what was right in front of us: that crimson building on the corner of Powell and Hollis streets in Emeryville — home to Honor Kitchen and Cocktails. With no sign to guide us, we used our navigational skills and ingenuity to deduce that this unassuming and unmarked building — which has gone through a number of transformations over the years — is now an inventive bar and restaurant. A large sign inside confirmed that we had reached our destination: Honor Kitchen and Cocktails, established in 2011.

Relieved to be in the right spot, we followed instructions to place our order with the bartender. But first, we had a look around the room. Several patrons were gathered at the central communal table, while others were seated on stools at high tables long the walls. We chose to sit at the bar, where we had our choice of watching The Princess Bride or The Hobbit, or both at once. The décor can best be described as eclectic, or “dark and comfortable,” as stated on the menu — kind of like a modern speakeasy, but without the need for another password to remember. The long bar’s smooth red surface, like terrazzo, has flecks that sparkle. Candles flicker on the tables, emitting a soft glow. There’s a pinball machine in one corner. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Hotsy Totsy Club, where old meets new

Hotsy Totsy sign. Photo: Jeremy Brooks
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For as long as we can remember, the colorful crisscross neon sign over the Hotsy Totsy Club has shone like a beacon for the thirsty on San Pablo Avenue in Albany. While not as old as the historic Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon in Oakland’s Jack London Square (which opened for business in 1883), the Hotsy Totsy Club is no new kid on the block: it’s been around since 1939, the year that Gone With the Wind and The Wizard of Oz were new releases, FDR was in the White House, and gas cost ten cents a gallon.

At the age of 75, the club is looking pretty good these days. The new owners have made a few changes (no more carpeted walls, for example), but the place still has the comfortable, lived-in, used-to-be-a-dive-bar look that continues to draw long-time regulars, while welcoming newcomers at the same time. The wood paneling on the walls and the pressed-tin ceiling squares give the place an intimate feel that bridges the old and the new-ish. Are there still hints of that historic dive bar? Yes, indeed. … Continue reading »

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Ms Barstool: Taking a trip at the East Bay Spice Co.

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When you enter the world of the East Bay Spice Company, allow yourself to be transported to a place far beyond the edge of the Berkeley campus.

While the tree-lined west side of campus is clearly visible from the window that looks out on Oxford Street, the interior will remind you of anything you might have learned about the spice trade. Scattered along the shelves lined with spirits behind the bar, you’ll find blue and white porcelain spice jars, wooden mills, glass jars full of nutmeg and other spices, and a large old-fashioned brass scale — along with a variety of nautical-themed items we couldn’t readily identify.

On a Friday night at the beginning of a holiday weekend, every available table and barstool — inside, outside, and upstairs — seemed to be occupied. We came into the intimate space in a celebratory mood, owing to the spring weather, the holiday ahead, and finding a place to park right across the street. After a brief wait, we settled at the bar and studied the menu. We are fond of clever titles and literary references on drink menus, and found several here that intrigued us.

While we certainly care the most about the composition of our cocktails, we are initially attracted to a play on words, which is why we hesitated briefly when we saw the Last in Translation (Wild Turkey rye, Green Chartreuse, Star Anise Porter reduction, and lemon) — before settling on the more literary Portrait of a Lady (Anchor Hophead vodka, Tru Organic gin, Weiss Cream ale, honey, lemon, and fennel bitters), a book which we are determined to finish reading some day. … Continue reading »

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