2019 Best of the East Bay: Nightlife
Hit the town and pick your poison at fun and festive hangouts.
Owner of Residual Sugar
Starting a new business in the middle of a recession may sound counterintuitive, but that leap of faith launched Jim Telford on a path to success.
“There’s always a silver lining,” Telford says. For him, that was realizing his longtime dream of opening a wine bar, bringing Residual Sugar to Walnut Creek. Inspired by fellow Walnut Creek restaurant Prima, Telford went against the California grain and highlighted bottles from the Old World.
“I was looking at the millennials,” Telford explains. “I knew they would crave something different.”
He was right. Since its 2010 debut, Residual Sugar has drawn droves with its extensive list of worldly vinos and unpretentious atmosphere, becoming a favorite spot—and winning our Best of the East Bay award for Best Wine Bar for eight consecutive years, including 2019. Telford says he has regulars who’ve been coming weekly since the launch.
Walnut Creek imbibers weren’t the only ones to take notice. The developer behind Concord’s Veranda approached Telford to open another location in the shopping center, and the second iteration of Residual Sugar was born in October. The concept remains the same, but the new locale boasts a 100-person patio, firepits, and a full kitchen, in addition to offering 50 global varietals.
Between opening the Residual Sugars, Telford introduced Rooftop. Crowning a three-story building in Walnut Creek—and providing sweeping views of downtown and Mount Diablo—the swanky restaurant and bar emphasizes fun cocktails and phenomenal food. Throw in a retractable roof, and you get one of the hottest nightlife spots in the East Bay.
Telford plans to further expand his mini empire in the near future. “I’ll likely be opening more Residual Sugar locations,” he hints. “But you’ll have to wait and see where. .... I want to share my passion and offer people a taste of the world without them having to leave the confines of their hometown.”
What East Bay food and beverage businesses inspired you? “John Rittmaster and Peter Chastain at Prima started it all,” Telford says. “They were the pioneers of the Walnut Creek culinary scene, and they set the bar really high. I also love the food and drinks at Walnut Creek Yacht Club. No one is more hardworking than [chef-owner] Kevin Weinberg.”
Revel Kitchen and Bar, Danville
Runner-up: Jack’s Restaurant and Bar, Pleasant Hill
Club 1220, Walnut Creek
Runner-up: The White Horse, Oakland
The Last Word, Livermore
Runner-up: Rooftop, Walnut Creek
Epidemic Ales, Concord
Runner-up: Calicraft, Walnut Creek
Live Music Spot
WiseGirl Ristorante, Pleasant Hill
Runner-up: Armando’s, Martinez
Roundup Saloon, Lafayette
Runner-up: Dan’s, Walnut Creek
Longest-Loved Pub: The Albatross, Berkeley
Berkeley’s oldest pub has been a cherished local haunt for the past 55 years—and for good reason. Stepping inside the cozy, rustic bar, you won’t see patrons falling over drunk or need to shout over loud music. Instead, you can easily settle in at a table with a pint, play a game of chess (or one of the 16 board games), pony up to the pool table, and munch on the all-you-can-eat popcorn. Between the Tuesday night dart tournaments and the famous Sunday pub quiz, fun can be found here any night of the week. albatrosspub.com.
Most Extensive Booze Variety: Sauced BBQ and Spirits, Livermore and Walnut Creek
This lively barbecue joint has brought a slice of the South to the East Bay, but—as its double entendre name implies—Sauced also draws crowds with its wide-ranging bar program, offering 20-plus cocktails, more than a dozen rotating taps, and over 100 brands of whiskey. Every third Friday of the month, the Walnut Creek location hosts drag queen bingo night (no tickets necessary), where guests are encouraged to get their glamour on with the vivacious host, Mahlae Balenciaga. saucedbbqandspirits.com.
Excuse to Relive The Reagan Era: Retro Junkie, Walnut Creek
Experience a blast from the past at this ’80s-inspired nightclub, where you can dance the night away and enjoy old-school arcade games (Ms. Pac-Man, anyone?). The nostalgia is also captured in the new drinks menu, which features creative libations such as the Cherry Popakazzi, a strong concoction laced with Ciroc red berry vodka and enhanced with a Pop Rocks–candied rim. Come for the cocktails and games, then stay for the live music and DJ beats. retrojunkiebar.com.
A Funny Thing Happened…
3 Homes the East Bay comedy club Tommy T’s has had since the ‘70s. The exuberant Oakland native Tommy Thomas launched his first laugh house in San Leandro in the late 1970s and then opened a second location in Concord. In 2006, under the direction of franchise owner Rick Fields, Tommy T’s found a lasting home in Pleasanton, where it has continued to attract local talent as well as big-name comics, such as Craig Ferguson, Marlon Wayans (pictured), and Cedric the Entertainer, who takes the stage July 12 and 13. tommyts.com.
Eager to enjoy an evening of bar-hopping without racking up too many Uber charges? Here are the best neighborhoods for a good, old-fashioned bar crawl.
Jack London Square, Oakland
1. Pull up a stool, grab a heady pint of Guinness (or a quintessential cocktail), throw some darts, and listen to live Irish music at the East Bay’s own piece of Ireland, Sláinte. slainteoakland.com.
2. Enjoy an evening on the waterfront with a classic libation or local craft brew at the kitschy, 136-year-old Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, where author Jack London did his homework as a schoolboy. heinoldsfirstandlastchance.com.
3. The esteemed Japanese restaurant, upscale bar, and intimate music venue Yoshi’s has been a Jack London Square staple since its debut in 1997, fostering local talent and attracting such noteworthy jazz, soul, and other musicians as Kenny G, Arturo Sandoval, and Herb Alpert. yoshis.com.
4. With tasty tipples, an energetic dance floor, and comforting bar bites (which celebrity chef Guy Fieri couldn’t get enough of on Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives), Brix 581 was made for drinking, dancing, and late-night revelry. brix581.com.
Locust Street, Walnut Creek
1. Get the night started at Torsap Thai Kitchen, a new hot spot dishing up delectable Thai fare and creative cocktails like the Hanuman Gin Fizz—a vibrant, flower-adorned elixir featuring lemongrass-infused gin, egg white, deep-sea foam, and fresh lime. torsapthaikitchen.com.
2. Landlocked suburbanites have long flocked to the venerable, nautically themed Walnut Creek Yacht Club to drink (and eat) like sailors. Sip the famous mai tai or the off-menu “No Name” to feel as though you’re on the high seas. wcyc.net.
3. The Western-themed watering hole Broderick Roadhouse beckons with its lively bar pouring signature craft cocktails and boozy milkshakes. Sit back and savor one of the strong concoctions, or throw down the discounted whiskey shot of the day on a quick stop. broderickroadhouse.com.
4. Belly up to the bright, bustling bar of Limón Rotisserie to enjoy perfect pisco sours, house-made sangria, and the eponymous punch laced with pisco, pineapple and ginger syrups, lemon, and rhubarb bitters. limonrotisserie.com.
Main Street, Pleasanton
1. Swing by the speakeasy-style Beer Baron Bar and Kitchen just off the corner of St. Mary and Main streets, where you can find elevated pub grub, 15-plus craft beers on tap, more than 250 whiskeys, and innovative libations starring local and seasonal ingredients. beerbaronbar.com.
2. Sabio on Main not only serves Spanish-style tapas but also stellar, upscale drinks—like the award-winning Tennessee Tiki (rye whiskey, house-made tiki mix, fresh citrus, and bitters). sabiopleasanton.com.
3. Oenophiles descend upon Pairings Wine Bar, which boasts more than 100 vinos alongside 18 themed wine flights with fun names like Pretty in Pink and The Italian Job. Sip and swirl on the front patio to soak up the warm summer nights and live tunes. pairingscellars.com.
4. Choose from 16 local microbrews on tap at McKay’s Taphouse and Beer Garden, then take a seat out on the dog-friendly patio and revel in the relaxed ambience under twinkling string lights. (If it’s a Saturday night, you can enjoy live music too.) mckaysbeergarden.com.