Alameda has become one of the Bay Area’s most popular towns for imbibing, with distilleries, breweries, and wineries — and their impressive views of the San Francisco skyline — drawing in folks from all over. But downtown Alameda has thus far lacked a stellar cocktail bar, and that’s what motivates the team behind Town Tavern, an 1,800-square-foot bar and restaurant now open at 1437 Park Street.
Owner Stanley Yee took over his family’s former gift shop Silver Tree and has spent the last four years building out the space, including new walls, huge windows, and fresh plumbing. He’s long wanted a spot for a perennial happy hour vibe in his hometown — a social environment with great drinks and bites. To help execute his vision, he brought on Russell Davis and Danny Ronen of consulting group Unlimited Liabilities. Davis a bit of a celebrity in the bartending world as a former star on Spike TV’s Bar Rescue — not to mention a slew of awards and his ambitious bar Academia in Austin. He also spent years at Bourbon & Branch and Rickhouse, and consulted on Cole Valley’s Ice Cream Bar. “My heart is really in the Bay Area,” he says.
Rounding out the team is bar manager Patrick Natola, who just moved here from Chicago, and executive chef Justin Rucobo, who first met Yee about 10 years ago. They’ve been planning to open a place like Town Tavern together ever since. Meanwhile, Rucobo used to work with Davis at French restaurant Péché in Austin.
“Having anything new in Alameda is challenging. It’s an older town. Change happens at a slower pace,” Yee says. “We’re excited to drop the bomb on Alameda.”
That bomb is coming in the form of cocktails highlighting local ingredients and a globally-inspired menu of small plates. Cocktails will lean on East Bay-made spirits, including those from Wright & Brown Distilling and Oakland Spirits Co.
“Just because it’s local doesn’t make it good,” Davis says. “Luckily, we’re in a spot where there is a lot of great stuff.”
Davis also wants to track down ingredients that aren’t necessarily local but grow exceptionally well in this climate, like passionfruit. (“Ingredients that were meant to be local,” he says.) The longterm vision is to age, ferment, and cure local produce at its peak, and incorporate those results into cocktails. But for now, the drinks aren’t so experimental. There’s a whiskey sour with Riptide Rye and a hint of coconut, with a vegan foamer on top instead of the usual egg white. Oakland Spirits Co.’s Marjoram Brandy stars alongside sherry and amaro for a lower ABV option.
For the food, Rucobo takes international influences from his own background. His father is Hispanic, his mom is from Canada, his wife is Lao, and his formative restaurant years were spent at a French bistro and working for a New Orleans chef. He was most recently a corporate chef, and before that, a chef at the Oakland Coliseum and Cashman Field in Las Vegas. “I’m trying to take stuff from everywhere,” he says.
There are fried-to-order chicharrones, bacon pierogi, bison poutine, New Orleans-style barbecued shrimp, and pork belly sliders loosely inspired by Taiwanese gua bao. Despite the local bounty of fresh produce, vegetables aren’t appearing on the standard menu — instead, they’ll be daily specials, like a smoked beet and shaved Brussels sprout salad. (Check out a sample menu below.)
The 49-seat space is family friendly until 10 p.m., which is when minors will need to go home. Yee intentionally hasn’t set a closing time — he envisions Town Tavern as a destination for industry workers to go after their shifts end. After all, the late-night options in Alameda are scarce.
Town Tavern is open starting at 3:30 p.m. every day except Sundays. The grand opening takes place Tuesday, December 18.