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Tomato beef (mezcal, basil eau de vie, tomato water, “not lime”)
The Tomato beef (mezcal, basil eau de vie, tomato water, “not lime”) at Viridian
Patricia Chang

13 Strong Cocktail Bars in the East Bay

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

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The Tomato beef (mezcal, basil eau de vie, tomato water, “not lime”) at Viridian
| Patricia Chang

Despite the pandemic’s limitations, the East Bay cocktail scene is still thriving. And unlike neighboring San Francisco with its big city attitude, the sunny side of the Bay has managed to maintain a low-key vibe to accompany its selection of high-class cocktails, with the benefit of ample outdoor seating. Check out these 13 spots with cocktails that stand out from the crowd, from Albany to downtown Oakland.

In the mood for a tiki drink? Many of the Bay Area’s best island-inspired cocktails are in the East Bay. Check out the list here.

As of publication time, some of these restaurants offer seated indoor and outdoor dining. However, their inclusion should not be taken as endorsement for sit-down dining, as there are still safety concerns. Studies indicate that COVID-19 infection rates are lower for outside activities than dining indoors, but the level of risk involved with even outdoor dining is contingent on restaurants and their patrons following strict social distancing, face covering, and other safety guidelines.

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Note: Restaurants on this map are listed geographically.

1. Hotsy Totsy Club

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601 San Pablo Ave
Albany, CA
(510) 526-5986
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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

2. Comal

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2020 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704
(510) 926-6300
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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

3. East Bay Spice Company

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2134 Oxford St
Berkeley, CA
(510) 845-4427
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Located dangerously close to Cal campus, East Bay Spice Company is a dimly lit oasis, serving Indian-influenced cocktails and snacks. Spirits, with a heavy emphasis on rum, mezcal, and gin are combined with East Indian flavors, like kaffir, ginger, lime, and garam masala. It all pairs well with the menu of curries, tandoori, and other flavorful dishes on the menu.

4. Tupper & Reed

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2271 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA
(510) 900-2588
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Though in the heart of student drinking territory, this downtown Berkeley spot from SF’s Future Bars group (Bourbon & Branch, Pagan Idol) is no college watering hole. True to its roots, there’s a huge list of excellent whiskies and spirits of all types that are mixed into classic and creative cocktails. Happy hour is also excellent here, running from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

Tupper and Reed Patricia Chang

5. Prizefighter

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6702 Hollis St
Emeryville, CA
(510) 428-1470
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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

6. Ramen Shop

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5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA
(510) 788-6370
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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.

7. Honor Kitchen & Cocktails

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1411 Powell St
Emeryville, CA
(510) 653-8667
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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

8. Friends & Family

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468 25th St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 225-0469
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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 Black Cole, a longtime cocktail pro, who opened the bar with an all-female team just as the pandemic began. Now it’s back open, and the move is to order shrimp cocktail to pair with a “grandma’s standard” cocktail made with gin, dry vermouth, and a twist.

9. The Double Standard

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2424 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA
(510) 879-7601

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

10. Viridian

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2216 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 393-9333
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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 banane.

11. Cafe Van Kleef

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1621 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA
(510) 763-7711
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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

12. Sobre Mesa

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1618 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 858-7544
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This is the first bar from chef-owner Nelson German, whose seafood restaurant Alamar is located just a few blocks away. Like his restaurant Sobre Mesa is inspired by his Dominican and African-American descent, featuring plants, Haitian rums, and bar snacks like bacalao fritters and empanadas. Classic cocktails like Manhattans are there, but the main attraction are the tropical drinks like the passionfruit paloma with blanco tequila, orange liqueur, passion fruit, grapefruit juice, and lime, available by the pitcher.

A view of the main bar Thomas Kuoh

13. The Kon-Tiki

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347 14th St
Oakland, CA 94612
(510) 823-2332
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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.

1. Hotsy Totsy Club

601 San Pablo Ave, Albany, CA

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.

601 San Pablo Ave
Albany, CA

2. Comal

2020 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA 94704
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.

2020 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA 94704

3. East Bay Spice Company

2134 Oxford St, Berkeley, CA

Located dangerously close to Cal campus, East Bay Spice Company is a dimly lit oasis, serving Indian-influenced cocktails and snacks. Spirits, with a heavy emphasis on rum, mezcal, and gin are combined with East Indian flavors, like kaffir, ginger, lime, and garam masala. It all pairs well with the menu of curries, tandoori, and other flavorful dishes on the menu.

2134 Oxford St
Berkeley, CA

4. Tupper & Reed

2271 Shattuck Ave, Berkeley, CA
Tupper and Reed Patricia Chang

Though in the heart of student drinking territory, this downtown Berkeley spot from SF’s Future Bars group (Bourbon & Branch, Pagan Idol) is no college watering hole. True to its roots, there’s a huge list of excellent whiskies and spirits of all types that are mixed into classic and creative cocktails. Happy hour is also excellent here, running from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily.

2271 Shattuck Ave
Berkeley, CA

5. Prizefighter

6702 Hollis St, Emeryville, CA
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.

6702 Hollis St
Emeryville, CA

6. Ramen Shop

5812 College Ave, Oakland, CA

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.

5812 College Ave
Oakland, CA

7. Honor Kitchen & Cocktails

1411 Powell St, Emeryville, CA
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.

1411 Powell St
Emeryville, CA

8. Friends & Family

468 25th St, Oakland, CA 94612

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 Black Cole, a longtime cocktail pro, who opened the bar with an all-female team just as the pandemic began. Now it’s back open, and the move is to order shrimp cocktail to pair with a “grandma’s standard” cocktail made with gin, dry vermouth, and a twist.

468 25th St
Oakland, CA 94612

9. The Double Standard

2424 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA
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.

2424 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA

10. Viridian

2216 Broadway, Oakland, CA 94612

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 banane.

2216 Broadway
Oakland, CA 94612

11. Cafe Van Kleef

1621 Telegraph Ave, Oakland, CA

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.

1621 Telegraph Ave
Oakland, CA

12. Sobre Mesa

1618 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94612
A view of the main bar Thomas Kuoh

This is the first bar from chef-owner Nelson German, whose seafood restaurant Alamar is located just a few blocks away. Like his restaurant Sobre Mesa is inspired by his Dominican and African-American descent, featuring plants, Haitian rums, and bar snacks like bacalao fritters and empanadas. Classic cocktails like Manhattans are there, but the main attraction are the tropical drinks like the passionfruit paloma with blanco tequila, orange liqueur, passion fruit, grapefruit juice, and lime, available by the pitcher.

1618 Franklin St
Oakland, CA 94612

13. The Kon-Tiki

347 14th St, Oakland, CA 94612

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.

347 14th St
Oakland, CA 94612

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