How your favorite neighborhood bar is surviving the pandemic

We checked in with 7 watering holes to see how they’ve been faring during the crisis.

The Kingfish offers to-go alcohol, as well as limited outdoor seating on its back patio. Photo: Sarah Han
The Kingfish offers to-go alcohol, as well as limited outdoor seating on its back patio. Photo: Sarah Han

Sociologist Ray Oldenburg coined the term “third places” to describe gathering places, like a neighborhood bar, where people go to spend time between home and work. These locales are spaces for people to exchange ideas, enjoy each other’s company and celebrate the end of a workday, the beginning of a weekend or nothing at all. With more parts of California entering the third phase of reopening during the pandemic, some “third places” throughout the state are back in business. And while Alameda County recently relaxed its shelter-in-place order to allow restaurants to provide outdoor dining, bars that don’t serve food will have to stay closed for on-site service for some time longer.

To stay alive, some of the East Bay’s watering holes have been operating on a takeout basis, thanks to special temporary arrangements allowed by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Restaurants and bars can sell beer, wine and pre-mixed cocktails for pick-up or delivery as long as each container has a secure lid or cap and is sold with food. Bars without kitchen facilities can partner with a food vendor (whether it be a traditional restaurant, fast food restaurant or food truck). Not all bars have come up with a way to comply with this part of the regulation, so for the time being, they can only sell alcoholic beverages in bottles and cans. According to its public information officer John Carr, the ABC is trying to be as flexible as possible, reassessing regulations and adding temporary measures after listening to feedback from restaurant and bar owners.

We checked in with a few of our favorite neighborhood bars to see how they’ve been faring during the crisis. With community support, and a willingness to pivot to new models as the situation evolves, the following said they are doing their best to stay open, stay flexible and meet some of the social needs of their customers. They might not be able to be the third place we long for, but it’ll have to do — for now.

The Hotsy Totsy Club

The Hotsy Totsy offers its craft cocktails to-go in mason jars, along with merch, like this hooded sweatshirt.
The Hotsy Totsy offers its craft cocktails — like its popular Negronis — for takeout in mason jars, along with merch, like this hooded sweatshirt. Photo: Hotsy Totsy Club

Albany’s oldest running bar offers to-go cocktails through a Dutch-door set up in front of the iconic square building with the crisscross sign. The cocktails are sealed in Mason jars, and you can also purchase beer or spirits. All drinks are strictly to-go.


According to co-owner Michael Valladares, many folks come by to say hello, pick up their margaritas, visit the taco truck next door, then head for home. The staff will serve you wearing protective masks and gloves. The standard six feet distances are marked for customers. Valladares says business has been great, with regulars who are thirsty for the one-of-a-kind cocktails and a way to feel “a little bit normal” after being unable to hang out for so long.

The Hotsy Totsy’s most popular takeaways are the margaritas (a 1 1/2 serving comes in the jar) and the Negronis (two drinks per jar), but there are also house specials on rotation (A few recent featured specials included The Muay Tai and the Sucker Punch) and cocktail kits that come with everything you need to make your drink at home, including glassware, bar tools and even napkins. Also for sale are bottles of beer and bottles of spirits. While there can be no substitute for savoring a drink while immersed in the Hotsy Totsy aesthetic the owners have taken pains to maintain, Valladares says the regulars are “wildly giving people” under the current circumstances. He says the community is “definitely showing the love” by staying loyal to the staff with their patronage.

The Hotsy Totsy Club, 601 San Pablo Ave. (at Garfield Avenue), Albany. Hours for pickup are 3 p.m.-8 p.m., Monday through Friday; 1 p.m.-7 p.m., Saturday and Sunday; taco truck is open noon-8 p.m., daily

The Kingfish Pub & Café

The Kingfish is now selling to-go Eritrean fare from the Red Sea.
The Kingfish is now selling to-go Eritrean fare from the Red Sea. Photo: The Kingfish Pub & Café

Gian Traverso, co-owner, says business has been steady during the lockdown, with curious passers-by stopping to check out what the Kingfish is all about. The bar has been trying to keep connected with the community despite all the shelter-in-place setbacks. And, while it’s been closed, it’s taken the opportunity to make some improvements, including refinishing the bar and restoring some of its well-loved decor.

Since March 25, the Kingfish has offered curbside takeaway service, with reduced prices on drinks. It sells bottles, cans and growlers of beer and a few kinds of wine from 4-8 p.m., every day. The Kingfish also has shelter-in-place essentials for sale, like paper towels, toilet paper, hand sanitizer, all-purpose and bread flours, butter, gloves, eggs, pasta, bread, beans, sugar, oatmeal and face masks. A few days ago, the Fish started selling pre-made Eritrean meals to-go from the Red Sea. (Kingfish regulars may remember that back in 2009, when the bar was still on Claremont Avenue, the Red Sea provided eats for hungry drinkers.) The packaged meals are $11 each ($6 for the hummus plate) and are available for pickup from 4-8 p.m. Starting this week, the bar’s back patio is open again. Entry is limited and social distancing rules will be enforced.

The Kingfish Pub & Café, 5227 Telegraph Ave. (near 51st St.), Oakland. Hours are 4-10 p.m., daily.

Beer Baron Whiskey Bar & Kitchen

A Beer Baron employee pours whiskey for a virtual tasting.
A Beer Baron employee pours whiskey for a virtual tasting event. Photo: Beer Baron

We spoke with Beer Baron’s director of operations Shandel Story, who told Nosh the bar-restaurant has had to lay off 95% of its labor force during the lockdown. Sales have gone down, Story said, but Beer Baron has been sustained by the support of its “local and loyal customers.”

Beer Baron offers a full menu of options for pickup, takeout and delivery, including beer, wine, cocktails and whiskey, and more than 160 different grocery items for sale, including dry goods, prepared food, frozen food and spices. (“If it’s here and we’re not using it, we’ll sell it.”) In lieu of on-site events, Beer Baron has held ticketed virtual events, like a recent Zoom-hosted Father’s Day whiskey tasting. And along with its regular food menu, Beer Baron also offers family-sized meal kits. On June 19, the bar-kitchen opened its large outdoor patio for service; starting this weekend, it will resume its brunch service.

Beer Baron Whiskey Bar & Kitchen, 5900 College Ave. (at Chabot Road), Oakland. Hours: Pickup available 3-9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday; delivery available 3-8 p.m., Friday through Sunday; patio open 2-9 p.m., Tuesday through Sunday

The Ivy Room

Summer Gerbing (left) and Lani Torres, owners of Albany’s Ivy Room. Photo: Kate Williams

For the last couple of months, Lani Torres and Summer Gerbing have been figuring out what the future of the Ivy Room might be. Torres and Gerbing, who’ve been co-owners since 2016, said they were one of the first businesses to close in Albany when the COVID-19 crisis first hit, and may be the last to reopen. Unlike other bars, the Ivy Room is mainly a music venue, and it’s uncertain when they’ll be able to operate with live shows again (“the timeline is: who knows,” Torres said).

For now, they’ve launched Ivy Room’s to-go service with bottles of booze and beer for takeout. At this time, they cannot serve pre-made drinks, but they are selling Paloma kits (a full bottle of liquor, fresh juice, and limes) for customers to make DIY cocktails at home. Ivy Room fans can also buy merch items, like hoodies and t-shirts, to show their support. Live music may not return to the Ivy Room in the near future, but it’s hosting its first online show — Singing Out, a Pride music celebration with Crys Matthews and Heather Mae — 8:30 p.m. on June 26.

Ivy Room, 860 San Pablo Ave., (at Solano Avenue), Albany. Hours for pickup are noon-7 p.m., Friday; noon-4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

Prizefighter

Prizefighter offers cocktails to-go.
Prizefighter’s cocktails come in ready-to-drink plastic bottles or as DIY kits, with some assembly required. Photo: Prizefighter

In May, the Emeryville watering hole rolled out its Prizefighter at Home menu, a regularly changing selection of cocktails, beer, wine, cider and spirits for takeout. Cocktails come ready to drink in plastic bottles (like the Red Sangria, $10 for 12 oz.) or with some assembly acquired (you’ll need a blender to concoct the Piña Colada, which serves four for $35, or eight for $68). To follow current ABC requirements that food be sold in conjunction with cocktails, Prizefighter is also hawking pork and vegetarian tamales from Lody’s Tamales in Napa. No It’s-It Ice Cream for now, but it might be back soon.

While Prizefighter remains closed for on-site drinking, the bar has stayed in touch with its community through Instagram, where it shares Prizefighter news, along with comments on current events and updates about the local food and beverage community. As the bar wrote in a March 15 Instagram post, “We’ll all get through this together. And when we do get to the other side, it’s gonna be a motherfucker of a party.”

Prizefighter, 6702 Hollis (at 67th St.), Emeryville. Hours for pickup are 3-7 p.m., Wednesday through Friday; noon-4 p.m., Saturday and Sunday

The Ruby Room

Although the Ruby Room closed for business on March 14, with no immediate plans to reopen and staff members on furlough, manager Jonathan Reddick shared his insights about the future of local institutions like his. “We need those spaces for Oakland,” he said. “The Ruby Room is an important place for a lot of people. It’s a shame when these kinds of institutions go away.” He wonders how things will look three years from now: Will a person at the door need to take temperatures and check for masks? He likened a changed landscape to a Rubik’s cube: “How do you make it work with having to have someone always at the door, while operating at 25% capacity with a reduced staff? The idea of opening is mind boggling.” For now, the lights are off, the internet is on pause, and the place where “you always want to end up” is no longer the place you can go.

The Ruby Room is currently closed. Support furloughed staff by donating to the Ruby Room Worker Relief Fund.

Sobre Mesa

Sobre Mesa’s Spiced Mango Margarita. Photo: Sobre Mesa

Nosh spoke with Susan Eggett, bartender and bar industry consultant, who in February, after months of careful planning, helped chef Nelson German open Sobre Mesa in Oakland. The Afro-Latino tapas bar was barely open 2 1/2 weeks when it had to close. Eggett said she was so busy with planning for the opening and “keeping her head down,” that the immediate need to change course because of sheltering in place came as a shock.

For now, Sobre Mesa is operating out of German’s Uptown restaurant alaMar on Grand Avenue, offering cocktails, like its Spiced Mango Margarita and Bee’s Knees (Ford’s Gin, Lemon Juice, Spiced Honey) for takeout. An Instagram post from late May hints Sobre Mesa may soon reopen in its Franklin Street digs, but Eggett said there’s still no hard date for its return. “We are mobilizing strategies to prepare for dine-in at Sobre Mesa in plans to be ready when the County announces dine-in can begin.” When it does come back, Eggett said the emphasis will be on staff safety and the trust of the consumers. “It’s a tricky place to be in right now,” she said. “We are taking this responsibility very seriously. There is a real need for that third place.”

Sobre Mesa is currently offering delivery, takeout and patio dining at its sister business alaMar Kitchen & Bar, 100 Grand Ave. (at Valdez Street), Oakland. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m., Wednesday, Thursday, Sunday; 11 a.m.-9 p.m., Friday and Saturday