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Crawl San Pablo Avenue Bars Like an 86’d Sailor

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My grandpa was infamous in the Berkeley, Albany, El Cerrito area. To many, he was an old, drunk cuss of a man who had peeled his share of potatoes on Navy aircraft carriers. To me, he was Bampa and he was awesome. But awesome or not, he did manage to make the news for knocking out a power pole with his car (remember, these are the days when police advised you to drive away from your own house if you were too drunk and causing problems for your loved ones). He also succeeded in being 86’d from just about every bar on San Pablo Avenue because, well, he really couldn’t keep his mouth shut long enough to keep all of his teeth.

In his honor, my cousins and I embraced a few of his haunts in Albany and dubbed the route the San Pablo Crawl. If you want a taste of old East Bay from bars that may still be serving cocktails in the same glasses my grandpa drank out of, take this little boozy trip one night, but do it on foot because drunk driving will not earn you brownie points anymore. The whole route is less than a half-mile long and includes a Taco Bell along the way, in case you need to grease up on some crack meat.

Start:

Get the juices flowing at the Ivy Room located at 860 San Pablo Ave., which has been a staple for music and booze since the 1940’s. Check out their calendar if you’re interested in seeing a live band, preferably before you become an obnoxious asshat. Open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. every day, the Ivy is the perfect place to wet your whistle with rotating taps and top shelf bottles. The space was renovated in 2015 and has become known as a cool venue for “intimate” live performances with affordable door charges, and if you’re not into the band playing that night, no worries, down that drink and head out to the next bar.

Ivy Room at 860 San Pablo Avenue in Albany, Calif. Photo courtesy of BandWhere

Pit Stop:

Club Mallard at 752 San Pablo Ave. is beckoning like an old friend because it is – the spot opened in 1945 and if last Saturday was any indication, it’s still in full swing. They don’t have a website, but when you’ve got a roaring fireplace, multiple levels, smoking patios and pool tables, you don’t really need some fancy website. On the inside, it feels like you just came off the prairie with the warm fire, leather booths and cabin-like walls but the outside vibe has a Tiki thing going on. Interesting mix, but it works somehow.  Generally speaking, there’s no cover at the door and the drinks are affordable so it’s an easy, breezy sort of good time that’s light on the wallet – just the place to get your ready for your last conquer of the evening.

Friday drinkers at Club Mallard in Albany, Calif. Photo courtesy of throgers/Flickr

Final Destination:

Hotsy Totsy Club at 601 San Pablo Ave. is the perfect place for anyone to end up after a night of excess and they know it, as illustrated with their tagline:

“Keeping Albany tipsy since 1939.”

Hailing title of Albany’s oldest bar, the joint has seen its share of ups and downs – some days divier than others – but the place is still in action and is seeing all sorts of renewed success these days. The San Francisco Chronicle just highlighted the Hotsy and its long, sordid and beautiful history but for those of us with grandfathers who were kicked out once upon a time, we already know how great this landmark bar is. They do all the stuff a good dive is supposed to do behind the bar and go the extra to line up a taco truck outside and put on events where you can buzzedly view the worst teen movies of the 80’s under pressed tin ceilings. What more can you ask for?

Hotsy Totsy Club in Albany, Calif. Photo courtesy of Women’s National Book Association

So, there’s your very short and very cool crawl through what was and still is old Albany. Be sure to hit these places up before the gentrifiers catch on and ruin a good thing, and try to behave better than my Bampa did.

Pro tip: Taco Bell doesn’t like it when you order at the drive-thru without a car – trust me…

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Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Nik Wojcik - East Bay Editor

Journalist, editor, student, single mom to a pack of wolves, foodie, music lover, resident smart ass, and champion of vulgarity and human kindness.