As you'll have read earlier, Oakland has some very nice places to drink. This post deals with some other fine bars elsewhere in the East Bay, but first, I need to discuss food.
I'm no gourmand, much less a gourmet. I do like good food, and these days I'm usually much more aware of things like provenance and production, but my tastes are pretty basic. When I'm travelling, a decent breakfast and access to fresh fruit and milk, usually keeps me going. If I need to top up, the local pub grub or street food will do the trick.
Quite a lot of the street food in California is Hispanic. For some years, I've been interested in the idea of this, but trying to explain the UK experience to a local causes loud guffaws. We have to start somewhere with any new cuisine (anybody else remember Birds Eye frozen pizza in the 70's?), but try and describe an Old El Paso taco kit to somebody who has access to a dozen decent Mexican eateries 10 minutes from home and watch the disbelief give way to hysteria.
Last trip out, I'd shout excitedly as we passed a Taco Bell, until everybody was fed up. So, this trip was the one where I'd move on from the concept of the Taco and actually eat that mofo. First night in, Rap and I head up to Rockridge (cue Hedley Lamarr impressions off Blazing Saddles). Beer later, first we're going into the Cactus Taqueria. I had a couple of soft tacos carnitas (pork) with some mango juice to wash them down. These are a bit of challenge for somebody who grew up thinking a taco shell is basically a giant dorito. The food is simple but nourishing and, concept realised, it was time for a beer.
Up the block is Barclays Pub & Restaurant. This place is packed with Giants fans watching a game on TV. On the right of the bar, there's a dartboard and some kind of match on. The bar has a decent sized beer garden through which you walk to go in. We get seats at the bar and aim for Blind Pig. They serve beer in UK 20oz pints, and there's enough for one pint before the keg kicks. I sip it and start to zone out a bit as the day catches up with me so it's just the one pint and back home to bed. ZZZzzzzzzzzzz...
On Friday we're all meeting up - Rap, Mr & Mrs Snake, Tef and I - and aiming to hit a few places around Berkeley and Rockridge. Berkeley was a hotbed of student activism at the height of domestic opposition to the Vietnam War in the 60s but the campus these days is much more moderate. You know you're in a university town, though. We're heading to Triple Rock Brewing, a brewpub which has been operating since 1985. We plot up on the roof terrace and munch on some appetizers washed down by some house brew. They have a seasonal programme and support local homebrewers, and also host a cask fest. Mr Snake helped out at this year's, and told me that many US brewers don't 'get' cask. Overly yeasty or under-conditioned casks were not uncommon.
We have to meet Tef, so head back over to Rockridge. We end up getting there on the same BART train, so all head towards Barclays to drink some Blind Pig. Rockridge, though part of Oakland, has a pleasing township vibe, and tonight it's some kind of open house musical thing, so bars, cafes and restaurants all have some kind of live music on offer, and whole families are out dining and enjoying the early summer atmos. Most of the musicians are playing jazz, including a quartet of spotty high-school kids. Tragic really, to be playing this self-indulgent rubbish so young, I find myself hoping they grow out of it soon - maybe get some piercings and body art, raid their parents' record collections and find some Dead Kennedys or similar. Anyway, I try and tune the laid-back choons out.
Barclays are even busier tonight, so we hide by the dartboard. Worse, they still don't have any Pig, though there are two fresh kegs tantalisingly close to us. We hang about drinking draught Negro Modelo, the dark stablemate to Corona, but it's all a bit unsatisfying. Unable to get a table (Waitress: "table for 5, party name of Jackson?" Tef (for it is he): "Yes, we're the Jackson 5..."), we head off to a restaurant called Hudson's.
This place looks very swanky inside, and again, we can't get a table. There's seating outside though, so hardy souls that we are, we block the pavement as the air cools. They have local beers on, so I'm into Linden Street Burning Oak black lager. We spend an hour or so shooting the shit, eating and taking the piss out of the impending End Of The World (Harold Camping is based in Oakland, and his 'church' paid for huge electronic billboards with countdown timers on around the Bay Area). An excellent evening.
On Sunday, after Rap and I get back from Sonoma and a trip to Russian River, we meet with Mr & Mrs Snake and head off for more authentic Mexican food, at El Huarache Azteca in Fruitvale. The neighbourhood has a 'barrio' feel I've encountered in places like Echo Park in Los Angeles, and this restaurant has a good reputation. A huge mural covers all the internal walls, some locals are in watching the Mexican Primera Division, while one corner is given over to what looks like a small sweetshop.
We're drinking Negro Modelo out of the bottle, and it's a different beer to the one we had on Friday, lots more chocolate and roastiness. It's still served with a slice of lime in the neck, though. I get behind a huge plate of Alambres, three types of meat with peppers and onions, melted cheese on a bed of tortilla. Meat frenzy and it's excellent.
Heading back to Rap's, we drive by Lake Merritt, a huge man-made body of water which looks beautiful at night. Lake Chalet, a sister restaurant to the Beach Chalet on Ocean Beach in San Francisco, is all lit up, sitting right on the water. They don't brew here, so I didn't bother to check it out.
That's all from the East Bay. Coming up, the trip to Sonoma and Russian River...