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The Lake Breeze: vodka, orange liqueur, cranberry, hibiscus, lime Thomas Kuoh

16 Strong Cocktail Bars in the East Bay

The finest places to drink cocktails in Oakland, Berkeley, and beyond

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The East Bay cocktail scene is thriving and beyond serving up the classics, many of the bars are experimenting with ingredients and flavors in exciting ways. And unlike neighboring San Francisco, many of the bars in the sunny side of the Bay have the benefit of ample outdoor seating. Check out these 16 spots that can serve a decently stiff drink, from Albany to downtown Oakland.

Health experts consider dining out to be a high-risk activity for the unvaccinated; it may pose a risk for the vaccinated, especially in areas with substantial COVID transmission.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

Hotsy Totsy Club

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One of the best bars in the Bay Area, period. This divey spot in cute and quaint Albany is alive with retro charm, from the excellent neon sign to the low, pressed tin ceiling that glows softly in the light of the soft-core 70s porn that often plays silently on the flat screen. Most important, the drinks are consistently excellent, with a big selection of spirits of all types.

Final totsy #eatersf

A post shared by Ellen Fort (@ellen_eats_sf) on

Though this trendy and bustling Mexican restaurant is primarily a dining destination, the back patio is reserved for drinking and snacking on chips, salsa, and guacamole. Snag a seat at one of the communal tables, or around the firepit, and grab a classic margarita from the patio cart that is stationed there on busy nights. Hit up the back bar for a Paloma or Jack Satan (Cimarron reposada tequila, hibiscus, inferno tincture, lime, and salt) and enjoy the open air.

Comal/Facebook

Study Hall Rooftop Lounge

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The opening of Study Hall really makes the case for the necessity of more rooftop bars in Berkeley. The views of the Cal campus — this will be a prime spot for alumni gatherings, one would guess — along with the Oakland and San Francisco cityscapes, pair well with Study Hall’s spirited take on cocktail classics, and make this spot an easy bet for groups.

A rendering showing tables and chairs in front of a plant wall on a roof. Study Hall

Prizefighter

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Easily the best bar in the area, Prizefighter is off the beaten path in Emeryville. A roomy, low-lit bar is accompanied by a very pleasant patio. The drink menu is categorized by punch bowls, mixed cocktails, wine, beer, sherry, and best of all, “from the freezer,” a selection of batched cocktails kept at freezing temps and requiring no shaking or ice.

Ellen Fort

Ramen Shop

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If you’re angling for ramen, you might as well grab a cocktail and sit awhile, because you’re going to wait at this super popular Rockridge spot. Luckily the restaurant expanded into a neighboring luggage shop to create a standalone cocktail bar. Shochu highballs, mixed drinks, and a big selection of Japanese whiskies are all pleasant time-killers that are also worth a visit to the bar on their own merits.

Honor Kitchen & Cocktails

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In an unassuming building at the intersection of Emeryville and Oakland lies Honor Kitchen, a craft cocktail spot lurks. Honor bills itself as a “gastropub,” with food items like bone marrow brulee and fried chicken. Really though, it’s all about the cocktails and hilariously good list of spirits, including a selection of Pappy Van Winkles.

Ellen Fort

North Light

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It’s easy to get distracted by all the wonderful non-cocktail bits of North Light: there’s the book section, the charmingly lo-fi scratchiness of records played over the speakers, plus the cozy barside and patio out back. But the drinks at North Light are their own worthy reason to stop in, with a bar menu put together by a team that obviously loves experimenting with flavors. Most of the drinks come with a strong spirits backbone then expand into unusual ingredients, such as the Jaguar Shark cocktail, made with whisky, lemon, egg white, orgeat, orange curacao, toasted sesame oil, and squid ink. Given the menu, the bartenders are unsurprisingly not afraid to try something new on customers, if you ask politely.

Friends & Family

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Inside this welcoming oasis on 25th Street is a bar and back patio filled with plants, excellent cocktails, and natural wine. Cocktails are from owner Blake Cole, a longtime cocktail pro, who opened the bar with an all-female team just as the pandemic began. Now it’s back open, with a nod from the James Beard Foundation; the pro-move is to order shrimp cocktail to pair with a “grandma’s standard” cocktail made with gin, dry vermouth, and a twist.

The Double Standard

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A hidden backyard patio lurks beneath a redwood tree in an otherwise no-frills bar. Cocktails are skillfully executed, but there’s no pretension at this Oakland bar.

The Double Standard

Viridian

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Viridian is offering up truly gorgeous cocktails in a moody, cinematic space in uptown Oakland, along side dim sum and sweets that are just as photogenic (and delicious). A team of seriously talented Bay Area hospitality veterans are behind it, with experience at Lazy Bear, Moongate Lounge, and more. Drinks like the Yuzu Bamboo combine Asian flavors like yuzu, sesame, and Shao Xing wine with vermouth and curaçao, while a Baijiu Groni is a take on a negroni using Japanese gin, Baijiu, Italian bitter, vermouth, and banana.

The fun of Drexl isn’t just based on the fact that there’s a Skee-Ball machine to play on — although, it certainly adds to the atmosphere. It’s also about the care and attention the bar staff puts into its drinks. Drexl’s social media presence is filled with drinks the group seems to be playing with at the moment, and the menu highlights ingredients and alcohols not-oft-used in cocktails stateside: including kummel, fino, mastikha, mole bitters, and more.

Cafe Van Kleef

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Greyhounds are the order of the day here, where the bartenders juice bushels and bushels of fresh grapefruits for the bar’s most popular drink. There’s other liquor available of course, but this classic East Bay institution is known for its classic citrus refresher. Live jazz and dazzlingly eclectic wall-hangings will keep drinkers occupied for hours.

The Cafe Van Kleef Greyhound is a thing of simple beauty: vodka, fresh grapefruit juice #eaters #eater

A post shared by Ellen Fort (@ellen_eats_sf) on

Bar Shiru

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Those with an appreciation for all things jazz, or who have a knowledge and appreciation for Japan’s hi-fi listening bars, will find a favorite in Bar Shiru. The atmosphere is more low-key than most bars you’ll find in Oakland, with vinyl spinning as patrons sit and listen while they drink — rather than a standing crowd overpacking the place. The drinks are as specialized as the music is; try a Japanese whisky flight or a specialty cocktail as the music floats through the air.

Sobre Mesa

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It’s difficult to say what’s the true draw at Sobre Mesa, what with its strong cocktail list and equally-strong tapas and dessert menu courtesy of chef-owner Nelson German. But no matter: whatever lures you to this Oakland Afro-Latino cocktail lounge will be worthy of your time. If you move past the (solid) classic cocktails, try the bar’s more unique offerings like the Spice Me Down, which combines two types of rum with a spiced pear liqueur, soursop puree, and jerk bitters. For those who prefer to stay dry, there are three specialty options, as well as a low ABV offering. There’s no wrong dish to pick, instead just go with what moves you at the moment; you’ll likely be more regretful you didn’t order something, than if you did.

A view of the main bar at Sobre Mesa. Thomas Kuoh

The Kon-Tiki

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The Kon-Tiki does not waver in its absolute dedication to the tiki genre, from its interior adorned with fishing nets and palm fronds to the carved statues that welcome guests at the door. Grab an extremely potent rum drink and a seat in the palapa, before adding a fried chicken sandwich or burger with Kewpie mayo and pineapple jam to the order.

One of Oakland’s newest bars isn’t a full-service spot with everything from whiskey to gin; instead, it is “mezcal church” with a thorough selection of tequilas and mezcals — and nothing else. But rather than feeling limiting, the menu feels exploratory and, yes, educational. The mezcal flights take you on a journey through the complexities of the smoky spirit, while the cocktails show you what can be done with it. The Cornhub delivers notes of corn, while the El Mazapanso incorporates orgeat, mole bitters, and nutmeg. Tacos El Precioso is running the food menu, so whether you’re looking for something hearty to eat, or perhaps a cheese or meat board to snack on, the kitchen has you covered.

Adahlia Cole

Hotsy Totsy Club

One of the best bars in the Bay Area, period. This divey spot in cute and quaint Albany is alive with retro charm, from the excellent neon sign to the low, pressed tin ceiling that glows softly in the light of the soft-core 70s porn that often plays silently on the flat screen. Most important, the drinks are consistently excellent, with a big selection of spirits of all types.

Final totsy #eatersf

A post shared by Ellen Fort (@ellen_eats_sf) on

Comal

Comal/Facebook

Though this trendy and bustling Mexican restaurant is primarily a dining destination, the back patio is reserved for drinking and snacking on chips, salsa, and guacamole. Snag a seat at one of the communal tables, or around the firepit, and grab a classic margarita from the patio cart that is stationed there on busy nights. Hit up the back bar for a Paloma or Jack Satan (Cimarron reposada tequila, hibiscus, inferno tincture, lime, and salt) and enjoy the open air.

Comal/Facebook

Study Hall Rooftop Lounge

A rendering showing tables and chairs in front of a plant wall on a roof. Study Hall

The opening of Study Hall really makes the case for the necessity of more rooftop bars in Berkeley. The views of the Cal campus — this will be a prime spot for alumni gatherings, one would guess — along with the Oakland and San Francisco cityscapes, pair well with Study Hall’s spirited take on cocktail classics, and make this spot an easy bet for groups.

A rendering showing tables and chairs in front of a plant wall on a roof. Study Hall

Prizefighter

Ellen Fort

Easily the best bar in the area, Prizefighter is off the beaten path in Emeryville. A roomy, low-lit bar is accompanied by a very pleasant patio. The drink menu is categorized by punch bowls, mixed cocktails, wine, beer, sherry, and best of all, “from the freezer,” a selection of batched cocktails kept at freezing temps and requiring no shaking or ice.

Ellen Fort

Ramen Shop

If you’re angling for ramen, you might as well grab a cocktail and sit awhile, because you’re going to wait at this super popular Rockridge spot. Luckily the restaurant expanded into a neighboring luggage shop to create a standalone cocktail bar. Shochu highballs, mixed drinks, and a big selection of Japanese whiskies are all pleasant time-killers that are also worth a visit to the bar on their own merits.

Honor Kitchen & Cocktails

Ellen Fort

In an unassuming building at the intersection of Emeryville and Oakland lies Honor Kitchen, a craft cocktail spot lurks. Honor bills itself as a “gastropub,” with food items like bone marrow brulee and fried chicken. Really though, it’s all about the cocktails and hilariously good list of spirits, including a selection of Pappy Van Winkles.

Ellen Fort

North Light

It’s easy to get distracted by all the wonderful non-cocktail bits of North Light: there’s the book section, the charmingly lo-fi scratchiness of records played over the speakers, plus the cozy barside and patio out back. But the drinks at North Light are their own worthy reason to stop in, with a bar menu put together by a team that obviously loves experimenting with flavors. Most of the drinks come with a strong spirits backbone then expand into unusual ingredients, such as the Jaguar Shark cocktail, made with whisky, lemon, egg white, orgeat, orange curacao, toasted sesame oil, and squid ink. Given the menu, the bartenders are unsurprisingly not afraid to try something new on customers, if you ask politely.

Friends & Family

Inside this welcoming oasis on 25th Street is a bar and back patio filled with plants, excellent cocktails, and natural wine. Cocktails are from owner Blake Cole, a longtime cocktail pro, who opened the bar with an all-female team just as the pandemic began. Now it’s back open, with a nod from the James Beard Foundation; the pro-move is to order shrimp cocktail to pair with a “grandma’s standard” cocktail made with gin, dry vermouth, and a twist.

The Double Standard

The Double Standard

A hidden backyard patio lurks beneath a redwood tree in an otherwise no-frills bar. Cocktails are skillfully executed, but there’s no pretension at this Oakland bar.

The Double Standard

Viridian

Viridian is offering up truly gorgeous cocktails in a moody, cinematic space in uptown Oakland, along side dim sum and sweets that are just as photogenic (and delicious). A team of seriously talented Bay Area hospitality veterans are behind it, with experience at Lazy Bear, Moongate Lounge, and more. Drinks like the Yuzu Bamboo combine Asian flavors like yuzu, sesame, and Shao Xing wine with vermouth and curaçao, while a Baijiu Groni is a take on a negroni using Japanese gin, Baijiu, Italian bitter, vermouth, and banana.

DREXL

The fun of Drexl isn’t just based on the fact that there’s a Skee-Ball machine to play on — although, it certainly adds to the atmosphere. It’s also about the care and attention the bar staff puts into its drinks. Drexl’s social media presence is filled with drinks the group seems to be playing with at the moment, and the menu highlights ingredients and alcohols not-oft-used in cocktails stateside: including kummel, fino, mastikha, mole bitters, and more.

Cafe Van Kleef

Greyhounds are the order of the day here, where the bartenders juice bushels and bushels of fresh grapefruits for the bar’s most popular drink. There’s other liquor available of course, but this classic East Bay institution is known for its classic citrus refresher. Live jazz and dazzlingly eclectic wall-hangings will keep drinkers occupied for hours.

The Cafe Van Kleef Greyhound is a thing of simple beauty: vodka, fresh grapefruit juice #eaters #eater

A post shared by Ellen Fort (@ellen_eats_sf) on

Bar Shiru

Those with an appreciation for all things jazz, or who have a knowledge and appreciation for Japan’s hi-fi listening bars, will find a favorite in Bar Shiru. The atmosphere is more low-key than most bars you’ll find in Oakland, with vinyl spinning as patrons sit and listen while they drink — rather than a standing crowd overpacking the place. The drinks are as specialized as the music is; try a Japanese whisky flight or a specialty cocktail as the music floats through the air.

Sobre Mesa

A view of the main bar at Sobre Mesa. Thomas Kuoh

It’s difficult to say what’s the true draw at Sobre Mesa, what with its strong cocktail list and equally-strong tapas and dessert menu courtesy of chef-owner Nelson German. But no matter: whatever lures you to this Oakland Afro-Latino cocktail lounge will be worthy of your time. If you move past the (solid) classic cocktails, try the bar’s more unique offerings like the Spice Me Down, which combines two types of rum with a spiced pear liqueur, soursop puree, and jerk bitters. For those who prefer to stay dry, there are three specialty options, as well as a low ABV offering. There’s no wrong dish to pick, instead just go with what moves you at the moment; you’ll likely be more regretful you didn’t order something, than if you did.

A view of the main bar at Sobre Mesa. Thomas Kuoh

The Kon-Tiki

The Kon-Tiki does not waver in its absolute dedication to the tiki genre, from its interior adorned with fishing nets and palm fronds to the carved statues that welcome guests at the door. Grab an extremely potent rum drink and a seat in the palapa, before adding a fried chicken sandwich or burger with Kewpie mayo and pineapple jam to the order.

Related Maps

Odin

Adahlia Cole

One of Oakland’s newest bars isn’t a full-service spot with everything from whiskey to gin; instead, it is “mezcal church” with a thorough selection of tequilas and mezcals — and nothing else. But rather than feeling limiting, the menu feels exploratory and, yes, educational. The mezcal flights take you on a journey through the complexities of the smoky spirit, while the cocktails show you what can be done with it. The Cornhub delivers notes of corn, while the El Mazapanso incorporates orgeat, mole bitters, and nutmeg. Tacos El Precioso is running the food menu, so whether you’re looking for something hearty to eat, or perhaps a cheese or meat board to snack on, the kitchen has you covered.

Adahlia Cole

Related Maps