Longtime Berkeley student pub the Bear’s Lair will emerge from a recent hibernation under new ownership and an updated name: the Bear’s Lair Tavern. Oakland catering company the Red Door Group took over the business on the edge of campus (at 2465 Bancroft Way) over the summer. To help bring it back to life, Red Door managing partner Reign Free recruited her friend David Lawrence (1300 Fillmore, Black Bark Barbecue) as consulting chef. The new tavern, with cocktails, 20 beers on tap, a beer garden space, and food designed by chef Lawrence, is due to open in early September, just in time for the back to campus rush.
The original Bear’s Lair, a student drinking institution since the ’60s, closed in 2012 amid a massive overhaul of Lower Sproul Plaza. A new, sanitized Bear’s Lair — with no more “beat the clock” drinking games — opened in 2015, run by food service company Chartwells. They bowed out over the summer, with Red Door stepping in.
Red Door hired designer Ben Frombgen of Bcooperative (Drake’s Dealership, The Alembic) to touch up the space, adding classic Cal memorabilia, communal seating at wooden tables, and an outdoor beer garden patio area. The bar will televise student and professional sports games, and the format for food and drink service will be order at the counter and take a seat.
For the new menu, Lawrence aims to please everyone from undergrads to their visiting parents: Think grown up mac-and-cheese with sharp cheddar, gruyere, and brioche breadcrumbs, and pizzas both classic and refined (from Margherita to wild mushroom and garlic confit with a maple drizzle). The chef plans to bring over his fried chicken sandwich from 1300 Fillmore, which closed last year after a decade in business, and he’ll channel his native Britain: “it’s a tavern, it’s like a pub in England,” says Lawrence. To go with their pint, patrons can order a Ploughman’s lunch with a Scotch egg. There’s no barbecue, sadly, from Lawrence’s Black Bark Barbecue, which closed this spring — but the good news is he’s on the hunt for a new location.
The new Bear’s Lair Tavern is just the latest update to a popular Cal institution: Chris Kronner and the Tartine Folks, for example, took over game day favorite Henry’s in the Hotel Durant (now the Graduate Hotel). And with several La Cocina businesses now serving food in the student union, Berkeley student dining doesn’t sound so bad.
Bear’s Lair Tavern will be open Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. and Friday and Saturday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., with Sunday hours from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.