The East Bay's New Nightlife
Diablo's guide to a night on the town
Do You Wanna Dance?
Formerly located in a Pleasanton strip mall, the club reopened in April 2006 at the Courtyard Center, in the space formerly occupied by T.G.I. Friday’s restaurant.
The weekends draw big party crowds, but Wednesdays are also wildly popular, due to the salsa, meringue, cha-cha, and bachata lessons, which are free between 6 and 9 p.m. with the cover charge. Single and searching? Try no-cover Thursdays, and check your inhibitions at the door. ShBoom, 2410 San Ramon Valley Blvd., Ste. 130, San Ramon, (925) 837-9777, www.shboomnightclub.com
Spin Ultra Lounge
A trendy nightclub that serves pizza? The concept may seem a tad oxymoronic, but it’s working at Spin Ultra Lounge. The pizza menu offers a wealth of options, including the Cal Italia, the creation of chef and co-owner Tony Gemignani that the Food Network dubbed the Best Pizza in the United States in 2006.
As good as the food is, the dance floor is what really draws the crowds. The clientele at Spin bears a striking similarity to the crowds that frequented the building’s former tenants, Groove and Echo: dressed-to-impress twentysomethings downing cocktails (beer and wine options are limited) and bumping and grinding to the beats pumped out by the evening’s DJ. Spin Ultra Lounge, 1411 Locust St., Walnut Creek, (925) 934-9490
Rock and Roll All Night
Joe’s of Lafayette
This restaurant and nightclub, located on the Lafayette Reservoir end of Mt. Diablo Boulevard, brings an upscale sense of cosmopolitan cool to a location that was previously a stale sports bar and, before that, a lousy Mexican restaurant. Live music and entertainment—everything from jazz quartets to solo cellists to country rock bands and the occasional murder mystery dinner theater show—are booked Wednesday through Saturday nights. Joe’s of Lafayette, 3707 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-8807, www.joesoflafayette.com
Red House Live
This recording studio and play space is a great place to tune in to your inner rock star. Red House Live offers public music workshops and jam sessions every weeknight. And on Saturdays at 7:30 p.m., the place becomes a mini Fillmore, as lineups of local rock and pop acts take the stage and rock the Red House. Longtime Walnut Creek clubbers will recognize Red House’s location in local nightclub lore: The Punchline Walnut Creek, one of the nation’s top comedy clubs for a decade, was here before closing in 1994. Doors open at 7 p.m., admission is $10 (free for Red House members), all ages welcome. Red House Live, 1667 Botelho Dr., Walnut Creek, (925) 938-6900, www.redhouselive.com
Oracle Arena at Oakland
Want to get really great tickets for every concert of the year at the East Bay’s biggest indoor arena? It’s going to cost you, but the benefits are (almost) priceless. By joining Oracle Arena’s VIP club at a per-seat fee of between $200 and $450 per year, you get a pick of presale tickets to all non-Warriors events that year—which means you’ll have killer seats when headliners such as U2, Madonna, or Christina Aguilera (who plays Oracle on March 8) roll in. VIP members also get access to the Courtside Club, a swanky lounge that will make you never want to stand in a regular beer line again. Oracle Arena at Oakland VIP tickets, (510) 383-4627, www.oraclearena.com/vip
One look at the Uptown Nightclub’s marquee, a huge, guitar neck–shaped sign hanging out over Telegraph Avenue, and it’s obvious that this place is all about the music. The walls inside are adorned with Jimi Hendrix concert posters and other music memorabilia. Live bands—some with quite impressive pedigrees—play nearly every night of the week.
Right around the corner from the 19th Street BART station, the Uptown feels partly like an old Bill Graham venue and partly, due to its warm, wood decor, like an English pub. The friendly bar staff serves strong cocktails and offered free samples of the beers on tap on our visit. Uptown Nightclub, 1928 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 451-8100, www.uptownnightclub.com
OK, this one has been around for a while. The East Bay jazz club and Japanese restaurant landmark is so cool, however, that a second Yoshi’s is opening in San Francisco in August. Good to see that the other Bay Area city is finally catching up to Oakland cool. Salsa fanatics should check Yoshi’s schedule, as several weeknights per month, the club moves out the tables and chairs and brings in a hot Latin band. Yoshi’s, 510 Embarcadero W., Oakland, (510) 238-9200, www.yoshis.com
Don’t forget about these local treasures, all of which regularly schedule live music in their intimate spaces.
Great blues, but don’t leave anything valuable in your car: Eli’s Mile High Club, 3629 Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Oakland, (510) 654-4549, www.oaklandmilehigh.com
Dance the night away to country and western music, or just shoot some pool, under the collection of cowboy boots hanging from the ceiling of this 134-year-old saloon: Clayton Club Saloon, 6096 Main St., Clayton, (925) 673-0440.
Jazz, folk, lounge, and light rock: Pleasanton Hotel, 855 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 846-8106, www.pleasantonhotel.com
Rock until you drop: Meenar Music Club, 349 Hartz Ave., Danville, (925) 838-1186, www.meenar.com
Air Bar and Lounge
Urban party destinations blow hot and cold, but Oakland’s Air Bar and Lounge, nestled below street level in the Old Oakland historic district, has drawn consistent crowds since it opened in December 2005. The majority of hipsters here are single, twentysomething knights in shining Armani, but open mike Wednesdays draw poetic types, and Saturdays call for couples grooving to
DJ-spun sounds of deep soul. Improve your karmic standing with the party godsby being a designated driver, or take BART—the 12th Street station is within walking distance from the bar. Air Bar and Lounge, 492 Ninth St., Oakland, (510) 444-2377, www.airoakland.com
Bing’s has been around only since November 2004, but it feels like it’s been part of Walnut Creek’s nightlife scene forever. Perhaps that’s because of the restaurant’s old-school vibe and Hollywood glamour. Whatever it is, the spacious cocktail lounge fills up every Thursday night and pretty much stays packed until last call on Saturday. If you sample enough of the bar’s martini menu, you’ll be swingin’ on a star. Bing Crosby’s Restaurant and Piano Lounge, 1342 Broadway Plaza, Walnut Creek, (925) 939-2464, www.bingcrosbysrestaurant.com
Nothing good comes easy—unless, of course, you’re Paris Hilton or you’re one of the many night owls who come to drop in on Oakland’s new hot spot, Easy Lounge. It’s got the VIP vibe and a great bar, with DJs spinning music nightly and a crowd that is urban, diverse, and chic. What else would you expect from the creators of über-hip Radio Bar and indie-fave Ruby Room? Easy Lounge, 3255 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland, (510) 338-4911, www.easy510.com
Forbes Mill Steakhouse
The cocktail area of this upscale Danville steak house has become the place to see and be seen on Thursday nights after 9.
If you can’t find your friends in Forbes Mill, try next door at Piatti Locali—partygoers tend to drift back and forth between the bars. Forbes Mill Steakhouse, 200 Sycamore Valley Rd. W., Danville, (925) 552-0505, www.forbesmillsteakhouse.com
As islands go, Alameda isn’t as exotic as, say, Tahiti, and when you’re outside the Forbidden Island bar on Lincoln Avenue, you might as well be standing on any quiet street in the East Bay. Walk through that dark wooden door, however, and you’ll be sling-shot into the Tiki Lounge, a fever-dream combo of South Pacific, From Here to Eternity, and the better Elvis movies. Open since April 2006, Forbidden Island isn’t frat-boy tiki but a meticulously created grog house—a living tribute to a kitschy, undeniably cool subculture. The crazy-cool menu of boozy concoctions includes recipes from long-lost tiki lounges. As the jukebox shuffles from the Ventures to Rosemary Clooney to Tito Puente, sip your mai tai, your suffering bastard, or your zombie, and let your brain drift off to Bora Bora. Forbidden Island Tiki Lounge, 1304 Lincoln Ave., Alameda, (510) 749-0332, www.forbiddenislandalameda.com
Tiki Freaks Take Note:
If shooting through the Webster Street Tube into Alameda is too much of an effort for your Polynesian pleasure quest, there’s always the place that started it all. Trader Vic’s (9 Anchor Dr., Emeryville, 510-653-3400, www.tradervics.com ). The Emeryville location has sweet views of the Bay.
If you want to stay on the east side of the Caldecott, there’s Tiki Tom’s (1535 Olympic Blvd., Walnut Creek, 925-932-9202), recently acquired by Darrin DeRita, who sold his Six80 Lounge in Danville (which will be reopened by new owners as an upscale nightclub this year) to invest in both the small tiki bar and Walnut Creek’s Spin Ultra Lounge.
Izzy’s Trophy Bar
When Izzy’s Steaks and Chops opens its East Bay location this month in San Ramon’s Marketplace Center, its adjacent Trophy Bar cocktail lounge is certain to create quite a buzz. The bar will be decorated with a collection of trophies, and a variety of live music will be featured on weekends. Izzy’s Trophy Bar, 200 Montgomery St., San Ramon, (925) 830-8620
Kingman’s Ivy Room
Albany’s Ivy Room, a classic bar on San Pablo near Solano, has been a great music and drink spot since the 1940s. In December, Kingman Yee (of Oakland’s Kingman’s Lucky Lounge) took over the Ivy, and he has given the place a major makeover, taking the Ivy from comfy dive to retro chic. A full martini menu, nightly DJs, and no cover charge add to the Ivy’s newfound charm. Kingman’s Ivy Room, 860 San Pablo Ave., Albany, (510) 526-5888, www.ivyroom.com
Ever-changing Emeryville has more to boast about than IKEA and P. F. Chang’s. The coolest spot in town is Kitty’s, an urban-chic bar in a brick building that formerly contained a meat-smoking house. Owner Kitty English, a longtime KALX DJ and bartender at the Ivy Room, opened her namesake nightclub to the raves of Bay Area hipsters in December 2005.
The vibe is chilled out—lots of post-work Pixar employees and other Emeryville loft-dwellers sipping cocktails at the curvy wooden bar or outside, under space heaters, on the hardwood patio. Top DJs get a cosmic groove going seven nights a week, with English herself spinning ’60s and ’70s R&B and soul on Wednesday evenings. Bar Kitty’s, 6702 Hollis St., Emeryville, (510) 601-9300, www.barkittys.com
Paragon Bar and Café
We wanted to remind you about this stylish bar and restaurant, part of a Mill Valley–based chain, which opened in Berkeley’s Claremont Resort & Spa in 2001. Paragon was an instant classic, largely thanks to the most stunning view of San Francisco from anyplace in the East Bay, but also because of the chic cocktails that blend perfectly with the bar’s modern decor. Sip on the
Feng Shui, a cool combo of Ketel One Citron, fresh ginger, cucumber, and lime. Or sample the house special, the Claremont, a refreshing mix of blueberry-infused vodka and fresh lemonade. Live jazz is booked Wednesday through Saturday nights and is free, except for
the $10 cover on Fridays—the Paragon’s busiest night. Paragon Bar and Café, 41 Tunnel Rd., Berkeley, (510) 549-8585, www.paragonrestaurant.com
Laughs and Illusions
Tommy T’s Comedy Club and Steakhouse
Tommy Thomas is not a new name to East Bay nightlife: The comedy club owner has run Tommy T’s venues in San Leandro, then Concord, then San Ramon, then Concord again. But the newest incarnation in Pleasanton is his fanciest club yet. Opened in August 2006, the club features a ribs-and-steaks restaurant and a full bar. Thomas’s many years in comedy mean he has a Rolodex of talent to book; recent headliners included TV stars Damon Wayans and Tommy Davidson. If you’re not keen on really dirty jokes, get tickets for a show such as Three Blond Moms, a trio of sarcastic soccer moms who have been blowing the roof off during their regular bookings. And Tommy T’s hosts frequent open mike nights, so if you think you’re funnier than, say, Seinfeld’s Michael Richards, here’s your chance to shine. Tommy T’s Comedy Club and Steakhouse, 5104 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 227-1800, www.tommyts.com
Bourbon Street Comedy
This club in Concord books headliner comics and rock, country, and salsa bands. The comedy schedule is a little inconsistent, but the club also hosts dance nights with top DJs. Bourbon Street Comedy, 2765 Clayton Rd., Concord, (925) 676-7272, www.bourbonstreet-ent.com
California Magic Dinner Theatre
This unusual entertainment option opened in Martinez on April Fool’s Day 2004, but for magic fans, it’s no joke. Lifelong East Bay resident Gerry Griffin ran a magic shop in Pleasant Hill for 24 years before opening his dream theater, which serves a three-course dinner on Friday and Saturday nights, then wows audiences with national magic headliners. The family show is recommended for audiences over age 12. Admission is $54 per person. California Magic Dinner Theatre, 729 Castro St., Martinez, (925) 374-0056, www.calmagic.com
Art Murmur in Oakland
Downtown Oakland has long been associated with urban blight, but now the city is gaining attention for something far more positive: one of the best art scenes in the country.
Art galleries have sprung up throughout the neighborhood around the 19th Street BART station. On the first Friday of every month, the galleries host the Oakland Art Murmur, with free openings from 7 to 10 p.m. The artwork runs the gamut from DIY clothes, sculptures, and zines at the thrift store–esque Rock Paper Scissors Collective to refined sculpture and oil paintings at the Esteban Sabar Gallery.
The epicenter of the Art Murmur is at 23rd Street and Telegraph Avenue. Twenty-third Street is closed on these Fridays, and it quickly draws a diverse crowd that includes art mavens from both sides of the bridge, hipster kids carrying 40s of malt liquor in their backpacks, and locals set up on the sidewalk selling everything from food to potted plants. On our visit, the Blue Roots—a New Orleans jazz and blues band that features guitars, trumpet, and washboard (yes!)—had a relaxed crowd smiling and tapping their feet.
If the art and music start to make you thirsty, there are plenty of options for getting a drink: Mama Buzz Café (which has an adjoining gallery that participates in the Art Murmur) has food, drink, and a pleasant, if smoky, rear patio; Luka’s Taproom and Lounge has an upscale dinner menu and impressive beer list; the Stork Club and Kim’s Backyard are neighborhood watering holes full of eccentric locals; and a few blocks down Telegraph, the Uptown Nightclub and Cafe Van Kleef offer a terrific live music scene.
For more information, visit www.oaklandartmurmur.com . Rock Paper Scissors Collective, 2278 Telegraph Ave., (510) 238-9171, www.rpscollective.com ; Esteban Sabar Gallery, 480 23rd St., (510) 444-7411, www.estebansabar.com ; Luka’s Taproom and Lounge, 2221 Broadway, (510) 451-4677; www.lukasoakland.com ; Mama Buzz Café, 2318 Telegraph Ave., (510) 465-4073, www.mamabuzzcafe.com ; Stork Club, 2330 Telegraph Ave., (510) 444-6174, www.storkcluboakland.com ; Kim’s Backyard, 2424 Telegraph Ave., (510) 834-8624; Uptown Nightclub, 1928 Telegraph Ave., (510) 451-8100, www.uptownnightclub.com ; Cafe Van Kleef, 1621 Telegraph Ave., (510) 763-7711, www.cafevankleef.com
This gallery, in a 1940s bungalow near downtown Walnut Creek, features a constantly rotating exhibit of impressive sculpture, paintings, and mixed media works by mostly local artists. Literally a backyard gem, the owners frequently schedule artist receptions, with wine and food, in the property’s backyard sculpture garden. Check the website for upcoming shows. Artscape Gallery and Sculpture Garden, 1161 Alpine Rd., Walnut Creek, (925) 944-1544, www.art-scapegallery.com
Chabot Space and Science Center
Message to anyone who loved the Pink Floyd laser light shows of the ’70s: Dude, you have got to check out the Sonic Vision show that rocks Chabot’s awesome planetarium every Friday night. The show features music from rock gods U2, David Bowie, Radiohead, and Queens of the Stone Age choreographed by master mixer Moby to psychedelic computer graphics that extend into the planetarium’s cyber heavens. Also, once a month, the center becomes a Lunar Lounge party with live bands (Flying Venus rocks!) and food and drink in the Celestial Lounge. Parents and kids should also try to catch the center’s equally inspiring—and free—telescope viewings every Friday and Saturday night. Chabot Space and Science Center, 10000 Skyline Blvd., Oakland, (510) 336-7300, www.chabotspace.org
Oakland Museum of California
The success of Oakland’s Art Murmur inspired the Oakland Museum to throw a similar party the first Friday of every month. Listen to live music, then stroll around the museum’s gallery exhibits, which stay open until 9 p.m. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland, (510) 238-2200, www.museumca.org
Studio 7 Fine Arts
This fine arts gallery in downtown Pleasanton recently tripled in size, making it one of the largest galleries in the Bay Area. A great stop on a stroll through Pleasanton’s historic downtown, Studio 7 has a wide-ranging collection of art that impresses with its quality and entertains with its whimsy. The gallery stays open until 7 p.m. on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays, and until 8 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays for special events, such as trunk shows and artist receptions. Studio 7 Fine Arts, 400 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 846-4322, www.studio7finearts.com
A Night at the Movies
Cerrito Speakeasy Theater
This long-awaited sibling to Oakland’s popular Parkway Speakeasy Theater is a rare case of the sequel being better than the original. Owners Kyle and Catherine Fischer teamed up with the city of El Cerrito to meticulously restore the old art deco Cerrito Theatre, which last showed a film in the 1960s (it’s been a furniture warehouse for the past 30 years). When the Cerrito Speakeasy opened in October, patrons accustomed to the comfortable funkiness of the Oakland Parkway were blown away by the brand-new comforts of the Cerrito.
For the uninformed, one visit to either of these movie theater–nightclubs will make you never want to deal with a multiplex again. Two screens feature mainstream and art house films, various cult movies, special engagements, and Hollywood classics on the weekends—and the admission is only $6. You can sip on a soda or sample a variety of microbrews. There’s popcorn and candy but also salads and hummus samplers. And the pizza is good—not Cheese Board good, but heaps better than those faux-cheese nachos at the megaplex.
The theater is open only to patrons 21 and over, except for family-friendly weekend matinees starting before 6 p.m. Wednesday nights are two-for-one admission, the most reasonable dinner-and-a-movie date anywhere in the Bay Area. There’s also the weekly Baby Brigade (Mondays at Parkway, Tuesdays at Cerrito), when new parents get the rare pleasure of taking their infants to grown-up movies. Cerrito Speakeasy Theatre, 10070 San Pablo Ave., El Cerrito; Parkway Speakeasy Theater, 1843 Park Blvd., Oakland, (510) 814-2400; www.speakeasytheaters.com
Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum
Long before Greta Garbo talked, silent cinema was king of the entertainment world, and the East Bay was known as Hollywood North. Landmark silent films, such as Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm, Charlie Chaplin’s The Tramp, and 300 other movies were filmed in Pleasanton, Sunol, and Niles. Those movies are still fascinating (not to mention entertaining), and Hollywood North is well remembered at the Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, which opened in Summer 2004. The museum runs a two-hour program every Saturday night beginning at 7:30 that includes short films and a feature, with live piano accompaniment, all for $5. This is a terrific venue for families and a must-visit for film buffs and local historians. Niles Essanay Silent Film Museum, 37417 Niles Blvd., Fremont, (510) 494-1411, www.nilesfilmmuseum.org
Paramount Theatre Classic Film Series
When the Paramount’s Classic Film Series suddenly stopped in 2004, many devoted patrons were baffled. Months went by, with no announcement of new schedules. Fortunately, the theater finally restarted the series last November.
Every Paramount Classic evening offers a live prize giveaway, a Wurlitzer organ performance, Movietone newsreels, and Looney Tunes shorts before the screening of a feature classic, such as Casablanca, The Wizard of Oz, or The Sting. This is the way these masterpieces were meant to be seen—on a giant screen in the most spectacular art deco theater in America. If you’ve never been to a movie at the Paramount, check it out: It’s guaranteed to be the beginning of a beautiful friendship. Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland, (510) 465-6400, www.paramounttheatre.com
Wine Lovers Take Note
The East Bay wine tasting scene doesn’t necessarily keep pouring until the wee hours of the morning, but these local shops offer regularly scheduled tastings—a great way to mix and mingle with wine lovers.
Bella Vino. Tastings on Thursday evenings, $8–$15. Bella Vino, 3450 Camino Tassajara Blvd., Danville, (925) 648-1300, www.bvino.com
Ristorante Amoroma. Free tastings the first Thursday of every month from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. On the first Tuesday of every month, the restaurant, in conjunction with the Rheem Theatre, offers Italian and French movie nights for $12. Ristorante Amoroma, 360 Park St., Moraga, (925) 377-7662, www.amoroma1.com
Wine Thieves. Friday evening tastings in the Lafayette and Clayton locations, $1. Wine Thieves, 3401 Mt Diablo Blvd., Lafayette, (925) 299-9070; 5443 Clayton Rd., Clayton, (925) 672-4003; www.winethieves.com
The Wine Steward. This Tri-Valley shop’s wine bar is open until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays and 8 p.m. on Saturdays. The Wine Steward, 641 Main St., Pleasanton, (925) 600-9463, www.thewinesteward.com
Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants, which has tastings Fridays (5–8 p.m.) and Saturdays and Sundays (2–5 p.m.), $10–$20. Pleasant Hill Wine Merchants, 2685 Pleasant Hill Rd., Ste. D, Pleasant Hill, (925) 939-9463, www.pleasanthillwinemerchants.com �¡
This restaurant and nightclub on the corner of Solano and San Pablo avenues in Albany is a great place to go if you want to get a jump-start on your dream of being a salsa dancer. Montero’s offers intermediate-level salsa lessons on Thursdays at 8 p.m. and beginners lessons every Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. A live band performance following the lesson gets the room sizzling. And the upscale Mexican food in the restaurant is muy deliciosa. A dress code is enforced in the evening: no white T-shirts or white tennis shoes.
Club Montero’s, 1106 Solano Ave., Albany, (510) 524-1270, www.clubmonteros.com; for more salsa instructions and lesson locations, go to www.salsalesson.com
Just Dance Ballroom
This enormous ballroom dance studio opened in September and provides a variety of classes every night. Rumba, salsa, swing, tango, waltz—even the hustle—are offered. Beginners are welcome, and if you’re really serious about your steps, you can sign up for a month of classes. Just Dance Ballroom, 2500 Embarcadero, Oakland, (510) 436-9888, www.justdanceballroom.com
Y’all wanna learn the country two-step and the West Coast stomp? From 7:30 to
9 p.m. Wednesdays through Fridays you can take boot-scootin’ dance lessons at the top Bay Area country and western club, which moved from San Jose to Fremont in 2003. After the lessons, stay for the tunes of various country-rock bands. If the mechanical bull knocks the wind out of you, try one of the bar’s oxygen shots. On some evenings, the club transforms from country cool to stoner chic, when Dazed and Confused–era bands, such as Blue Oyster Cult and .38 Special, are booked to rock the Rack. The Saddle Rack, 42011 Boscell Rd., Fremont, (510) 979-0477, www.thesaddlerack.org
ShBoom forgoes techno music for its weekend play lists and brings out hits from the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s. San Ramon’s new nightlife destination attracts an established set that comes to get down.
When Pleasanton resident and San Francisco nightlife impresario George Karpaty opened Aura in July 2005, he brought a sexy, cosmopolitan flair to an otherwise quiet Tri-Valley strip mall. The you’ve-got-to-see-it-to-believe-it locale, which stays open until 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, smacks of Vegas’s slinkiest scenes: You’ll find contortionists, stilt-walkers, and go-go dancers on any given night at Aura.
Suburban professionals flood the bar in the early evenings to sip champagne and sample the tapas-style dishes. The pickup lines fly fast and furious on Thursday and Friday nights, when top DJs, such as Scribble and AM, draw serious club-hoppers. But twentysomethings don’t always dominate the scene—tiny tots get to shake their groove things at monthly disco parties for parents and kids age six months to seven years. Aura, 4825 Hopyard Rd., Pleasanton, (925) 416-0777, http://www.nightclubaura.com.