Acme Bar offers an impressive array of about 130 bottles of whiskey. It also boasts an extensive selection of other booze, like mezcal. This is a solid spot for happy hour, as well as a relatively quiet destination to learn about whiskey. In 2016, it opened its backyard patio — yet another reason to visit this neighborhood bar. Acme Bar and Company is at 2115 San Pablo Ave. (at Addison Street), Berkeley
Fieldwork Brewing Company
“Bars and breweries could and should be their own categories at this point. East Bay has an incredible assortment of both — and distilleries — a combined top three can’t cut it. Additions: Cato’s Ale House, St. George Spirits, Fieldwork, Prizefighter.” — Nosh reader
A brewery and taproom in West Berkeley’s “Drinks District,” Fieldwork brewing is a totally chill, low-pretension spot to sip on some of the most well-crafted beers around. The taproom sits at Sixth and Harrison; indoor seats boast a prime view of brewing tanks but the outdoor tables are just as pleasant when the weather is warm. Leading the beer program is Alex Tweet, formerly of Modern Times Beer and Ballast Point Brewing, both in San Diego, and he is doing a stand-up job. We are fans of Fieldwork’s Fetch Pale Ale and Shoreline IPA, but wouldn’t say no to anything they’re pouring. Fieldwork Brewing is at 1160 Sixth St. (at Harrison), Berkeley.
Open from noon until very late, the Missouri Lounge transforms over the course of the day from a townie bar to a happy-hour meet-up to a nightclub. Regardless of the time of day, the Missouri Lounge serves the best drink special in town: a cheap beer and a shot of whiskey for $5. The outdoor seating area is a respite from the dark interior of the bar, and it seems to be perpetually crowded. Also outdoors is the grill area, which churns out surprisingly solid burgers, hot dogs and nachos. The best nights to come are Wednesdays, when neighborhood residents step up to the microphone and perform for a small crowd of friends. Or stay late on a Friday or Saturday for a DJ set and dance party. Missouri Lounge is at 2600 San Pablo Ave. (at Parker), Berkeley.
The Rare Barrel
“I especially love the Rare Barrel, best sour beers in the East Bay.” — Nosh reader
Beer geeks rejoiced when this temple to sour beers opened at Parker Avenue and Ninth Street in late 2013. The Rare Barrel pours its own award-winning brews, which are aged for anywhere from six months to three years in oak barrels, in addition to several other local beers and wines, in its tasting room Fridays-Sundays. Head brewer Jay Goodwin co-founded The Rare Barrel with Alex Wallash and Brad Goodwin after a stint with Orange County’s renowned The Bruery. Take it from us that Goodwin really knows what he’s doing; there’s not much of a better way to ring in the weekend than with a Friday afternoon sour. The Rare Barrel tasting room is at 932 Parker St. (at Ninth), Berkeley.
Tupper & Reed
There are a few spots to grab serious cocktails in downtown Berkeley, but there’s nowhere else that boasts a 70+ menu of them. Tupper & Reed opened in2015 in the former Becket’s location and has been doing swift business ever since. The downstairs bar is for walk-ins, with a shorter (but no less delicious) menu. A table in the upstairs section requires an easy-to-snag reservation and includes the full book of drinks, plus table service. We’ve never had a bad drink at Tupper & Reed — even the more adventurous combinations of spirits in drinks like the Crescendo (Punt e Mes, Fernet Menthe, lemon, raspberry syrup, grapefruit and Old Fashioned bitters) are well-balanced in the bartenders’ deft hands. Neat spirits drinkers will likewise find joy in the unbelievably comprehensive spirits list. Bonus: Most cocktails are $10 or less. Tupper & Reed is at 2271 Shattuck Ave. (between Kittredge and Bancroft), Berkeley. The downstairs bar is wheelchair accessible; upstairs is not.
Opened in 2006 on a real island (Alameda!), Forbidden Island invites young and old patrons to intermingle, sit back and treat themselves to lively drinks and Hawaiian hospitality. Upon entering, your eyes will need a second to adjust to the dimly lit space, where dollar bills and tiny tiki torches hang from the bar’s ceiling, shedding light on its “99+ bottles of rum on the wall,” antique tchotchkes and bartenders dressed in Hawaiian retro attire with a splash of East Bay rockabilly skillfully making drinks. It may take some time to take in all the nuances that make this place so unique, but its extensive drink menu of fresh juices and well preserved tiki recipes are a good start. Forbidden Island’s menu is categorized by traditional tiki drinks, house specials, classic cocktails, famous tiki bar tributes, premium rums and pools of paradise. For those who are serious or just curious rum drinkers, it also offers a large selection of more than 150 premium rums from around the world. Forbidden Island, 1304 Lincoln Ave, Alameda
“Prizefighter is the best bar near Berkeley hands down — pups allowed, great beers, shuffleboard, great bartenders. It’s just the best!” — Nosh reader
Emeryville’s cocktail bar options are certainly growing, but the city can still feel like a dead zone once all of the Pixar employees and IKEA shoppers head home. Prizefighter, however, is almost always bustling. It’s a favorite of restaurant industry folks; this writer spent a particularly “memorable” evening tasting what must have been half of the mezcal offerings with a couple of pop-up chefs. But Prizefighter is actually great place to not drink too much — the bartenders craft expert low- and no-alcohol highball drinks, and the bar serves a decent round-up of easy-drinking beers. Pro-tip? Bring in a pizza from Rotten City (it’s across the street) and enjoy it on the patio with your beverage. Prizefighter is at 6702 Hollis St. (at 67th), Emeryville.
This beer and tobacco gathering spot is a gem of a spot about halfway up the hill on Solano Avenue in Albany. We’re not sure how many visitors actually call Schmidt’s by its proper name; it’s best known as just “the pub.” Schmidt’s sits in a 1920s bungalow and the casual, living room-vibe inside reflects its low-key exterior. Unlike just about any other bar around, Schmidt’s sells pipe tobacco at the bar, and you can even smoke it on site. (This may be an asset or a liability, depending on your feelings about pipe smoke.) The beer selection is solid and unique; you can find a mix of easy-drinking British ales, complex Belgians and local brews on tap and in bottles. Pull up an armchair by the fireplace or grab a board game table and hang with the locals. Schmidt’s Pub is at 1492 Solano Ave. (between Curtis and Santa Fe), Albany. Not wheelchair accessible.
The Hotsy Totsy Club
“The Hotsy Totsy has fab mixed drinks and the pyramid of artisanal gins in the middle of the wall is a veritable shrine to gin.” — Nosh reader
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. The bar has been in operation since 1939; in the last few years it has transformed into a watering hole that is at once a neighborhood dive and a cocktail destination. During daylight and early evening hours, you can find Albany residents sipping on draft PBR and gossiping with the bartenders. Later, slews of younger folks drop in for a house-carbonated “Bottled Bitter Rivers” (Citadelle gin, aperol, rhubarb bitters, grapefruit, lime juice) or a smoky “Everett and Jones” (pine smoked vermouth, orchard peach liqueur, Redemption bourbon, lemon juice, gum syrup). Ever-changing cocktail specials are almost always a good choice for the adventurous. We like to bring a plate of El Autlense tacos (see dinner listings) into the bar for dinner and revel in the weirdness while watching the “transgressive” 1970s B-movies always on the television. The Hotsy Totsy Club is at 601 San Pablo Ave. (at Garfield), Albany.
It’s really hard not to like Ale Industries. The Fruitvale-based brewery has something for everyone, whether its a “hella hoppy” IPA or a sweet-tart, cherry-laced and hop-less gruit. Its staff is at once old-school, with bearded, jolly founders, and diversity-conscious, with more bartenders of color than we’ve seen at any other local brewery. Ale Industries also uses bio-diesel as a prime energy source and transportation fuel, and it filters its wastewater so it can be used for landscaping and equipment cleaning. And the tasting room itself is decidedly chill — dive deep into a conversation with the folks pouring your beers, or relax on one of the couches with a book — no one will look askance in your direction. Ale Industries really shines when it comes to barrel-aged beers; we love the Pink Drank (“arguably the most Bay Area sour beer ever conceived … aged hella days in oak barrels,” according to the brewery’s website) and the spontaneously fermented Niña Fresca that bursts with tropical pineapple flavors. Ale Industries is at 3096 E. 10th St. (between Fruitvale and Derby), Oakland.
If sampling an array of local craft brews sounds like an ideal afternoon/evening event, Beer Revolution is where it’s at. The beer bar pours from an impressive 50 different consistently rotating taps and sells a well-curated selection of bottled beers for in-house or at-home consumption. Beer Rev is the first place we look when we want to head out to a beer event or a tap take-over, and its consistently full patio makes for great day drinking. (You know, if you’re into that kind of thing.) Our only issue with Beer Rev is that it can be close to impossible to make a beer selection when faced with so many options. Beer Revolution is at 464 3rd St. (at Broadway), Oakland.
C.D.P., the bar and lounge adjoining James Syhabout’s two-Michelin-starred Oakland restaurant Commis, has a distinctive vibe reminiscent of a bygone era, namely the late 1950s. We were struck immediately by the upscale/retro/jazzy feel of the place. There is seating for 10 at the long white marble bar, with an additional 14 seats in the rear lounge area, arranged around small candle-lit tables. If guests for dinner at Commis arrive early, they can enjoy a drink at the bar and then easily drift into the restaurant. A few cocktails worth noting are The Kina Sour, made with St. George Terroir Gin, Maurin Quina, cherry, lemon and egg; the Japanese Julip made with Suntory Toki whisky, yuzu, and shiso; and the familiar Old Pal. But if you’re unsure what to order, there’s always the Dealer’s Choice, which defers to the discretion of the bartender. C.D.P. also offers an extensive list of Champagne and sparkling wines, available by the glass or the bottle. The bar bites menu offers a variety of small plates, from olives ($8) to oysters ($22), in addition to caviar service. C.D.P.,3859 Piedmont Ave. (between Montell and Rio Vista), Oakland
Cafe Van Kleef
The iconic Uptown Oakland bar opened up on Telegraph in 2004, anticipating the revitalization of the nightlife scene that now characterizes the neighborhood. Cafe Van Kleef is the place to go for a fresh-squeezed Greyhound — they’re strong, refreshing and come adorned with a generous wedge of fresh grapefruit for good measure. The bar also boasts an impressive selection of wall-mounted taxidermy and kitschy artwork, and it often hosts live musicians on its elevated stage. Sadly, owner Peter Van Kleef passed away September 2015. His influence will be felt for years to come; indeed, it would be hard to imagine Oakland nightlife without Cafe Van Kleef. Cafe Van Kleef is at 1621 Telegraph Ave. (at 17th), Oakland.
If we gathered this list in 2014, we’d likely be recommending that you make your way to San Leandro (via bike or BART, of course) to sample some of the intriguing limited edition brews from Drake’s Brewing headquarters. Luckily for those of us living in and around Oakland, we no longer have to make that journey. Sorry, San Leandro! As soon as it opened last summer, we knew Drake’s Dealership would be one of our regular watering holes. Its beautiful design — complete with multiple cozy fire pits — is attraction enough, but the ever-changing diverse tap list is the biggest draw. There’s food, too, if you’re into pizzas with slow cooked duck eggs and cured meat. (We are.) Drake’s Dealership is at 2325 Broadway (between 23rd and 24th), Oakland.
Novel Brewing Company
Couple Brian Koloszyc and Teresa Tamburello opened Novel Brewing Company in Oakland’s Golden Gate neighborhood, where they also live. The brewery was born out of countless experimentation in their garage and its name stems from the couple’s love for books and for the physical aspect of printing itself — Koloszyc originally wanted to be a novelist, and Tamburello’s parents own a printing business in St. Louis. Novel’s brewing production is small with a three barrel brew house. Its tasting room is also diminuitive — just 534-sq.-ft. — but it offers 16 varieties of beer, including special seasonal releases, on tap, and several more brews on deck. Novel Brewing Company, 6510 San Pablo Ave. (at 65th St.), Oakland
If you’re not into subway tile, giant Jenga and hip, early 30-something beer nerds, it would be easy to scoff at Temescal Brewing, one of Oakland’s newest breweries and outdoor hangouts. It’s got mid-1990s pastel doodles in spades, T-shirts emblazoned with inside jokes and many, many new neighborhood folks populating its patio wearing Ray Bans and ironed flannel shirts. But it would be a shame to scoff, really, because Temescal Brewing’s beer is damn good. It embraces the now-trending theme of low-alcohol, sessionable brews but doesn’t forget about all the IPA lovers in the Bay. All of their beers — whether they’re 2.8% or big and boozy — are balanced and easy to drink without being boring. Because the brewery’s offerings rotate at a rapid clip, it’s hard to name a favorite. Recently, we’ve enjoyed the Station Wagon pale ale that’s “inspired by the Volvo station wagon of your youth” and the Winter Quilt, a dark ale with caramel and coconut notes. Temescal Brewing is at 4115 Telegraph Ave. (at 41st), Oakland.
The Double Standard
The newest addition to Oakland’s Telegraph Avenue, The Double Standard replaced longtime dive bar Kim’s Backyard in early 2015. Owner Ali Tahsini revamped the bar from the inside out, adding an awesome redwood-filled back patio and a serious cocktail list. Tahsini is an alum of San Francisco’s Bourbon & Branch (the owners of which also own Tupper & Reed in downtown Berkeley), and his experience shows — the menu is curated with a classic bent and includes drinks like the bar’s namesake Double Standard, a potent blend of Old Tom Gin, rye whiskey, raspberry gomme syrup and lime juice, and several variations on the Old Fashioned. The Double Standard doesn’t have a food menu, but it hosts regular pop-ups from the likes of S+M Vegan, Torpedo Sushi and Chickpea Chick. The Double Standard is at 2424 Telegraph Ave. (between 24th and 25th), Oakland.
The Kingfish Pub
Oakland has more dive bars than you can shake a stick at, but we’re partial to The Kingfish Pub in Temescal. In 2015, the historic bar got a bit of a facelift (and a literal lift, across the street) and now has more than doubled its footprint to include a second bar and outside patio area. Diehard Kingfish fans were happy to see, however, that the interior, in all its graffitied glory, remained untouched. Grab a tall boy of PBR and a bowl of semi-fresh free popcorn and sit at the bar to watch an A’s game for the ultimate Kingfish experience. You can, of course, drink slightly fancier beers and ignore the popcorn if you choose. The Kingfish Pub is at 5239 Telegraph Ave. (at 52nd), Oakland.
Located inside the sea-green art deco building, formerly home to Longitude tiki bar in Downtown Oakland is The Kon-Tiki, a new Polynesian-inspired bar from Christ Aivaliotis (Hawker Fare, Holy Mountain) and Matthew Reagan. The drinks here are made with real fruit juices, house-made syrups. The drink menu includes a mix of original cocktails and fresh spins on tiki classics, like the massive Volcano Bowl — a drink meant to serve four, complete with white Demerara rum, Spanish brandy, fruit juices and orgeat. For rum-lovers, there are more than 80 choices of rum, and growing. As for food, the island-inspired fare includes Polynesian-style grub like a pupu platter, as well as Asian-inspired bar food like a chicken sandwich brined in buttermilk and green curry paste and a burger topped with pineapple-maui onion jam, American cheese, Kewpie mayo and Spam. Of course, it wouldn’t be a tiki bar without an incredible amount of gaudy kitsch, and you will definitely find this at The Kon-Tiki. And we mean this in the best way. The Kon-Tiki, 347 14th St. (at Webster), Oakland
There’s a special kind of magic going on at The Punchdown, the revitalized natural wine bar in Uptown. The magic is not only in the wine, much of which is made using wild yeast, conjured from the air and left to ferment with minimal intervention. There’s magic also in the excitement and energy of the place, which feels more like your best friend’s living room than a place that connoisseurs come to swirl and sniff 100 year old bottles of grape juice. It’s actually fun to chat and learn with owners D.C. Looney and Lisa Costa, who seem just as engaged with wine newbies as with those who come in knowing the definition of glou glou. And it certainly doesn’t hurt that glasses are generally affordable, especially when poured as part of the bar’s several tasting flights. These range from $9 for an “I’m a Broke Ass” selection of three “dealer’s choice” wines to $25 for three pours of local finds. Even in the flights, pours are generous. Our recommendation for a first visit is to dive headfirst into Georgian orange wines, a specialty of the house. The Punchdown is at 1737 Broadway (at 19th), Oakland.
Serious Belgian beer connoisseurs flock to The Trappist for good reason. The stocks an always interesting mix of Belgian imports, Belgian-style American beers and high-quality local brews, poured in proper glasses. Cozy up to the intimate front bar if you’re in the mood to chat, beer geek-style with your bartender. Or grab a table in the larger back bar or pleasant outdoor patio to drink with a group of friends. Plus, The Trappist’s extensive beer-friendly food menu will keep you sated as you sample your way through the beer list. The Trappist is at 460 Eighth St. (at Broadway), Oakland. Wheelchair accessible. Connect with the bar on Facebook and Twitter.
Woods Bar and Brewery and Woods Island Club
Another new addition to Uptown, Woods is a curious spot. The inside of the bar is stark white and almost sterile in its over-design, while the relatively large outdoor seating area is low-key and breezy. (Sit outside.) The brewery’s beers are likewise a curiosity — Woods is making some of the strangest beers around. But they’re delicious. Anyone who can put back a Reed’s ginger beer in two minutes will love Woods’ ginger pale ale; it is as much a hoppy pale ale as a ginger-infused drink, but somehow comes out balanced. Woods also boasts two mate-infused beers and a rotating assortment of others, like floral, inventive honey beer. Pick up some buttery El Porteño empanadas to munch on with your brews. We like the mushroom and the ham and cheese options best. And if you’re up for a little more adventure, head to Woods’ new Island Club, a “beer beach” and barrel-aging facility on clipper cove. It’s got the same beers and empanadas, and lots more sunshine. Woods Bar and Brewery is at 1701 Telegraph Ave. (at 17th), Oakland. Woods Island Club is at 422 Clipper Cove Way, Treasure Island.
“Elevation 66 is often overlooked, and the food is excellent, the beer quite good.” — Nosh reader
Our Readers’ Picks listing is compiled from our reader survey conducted in early 2016. We’ve listed the top five reader choices in Berkeley, Oakland and Beyond for each meal.