What happened to fun restaurants and bars? You know the kind of dive bars covered in quirky paraphernalia or kitsch restaurants that focus on one theme?
While they may not be as common as they once were, the Bay Area still has a few places that aren’t afraid to go above and beyond current dining trends. Embrace the unexpected at these seven unique restaurants and bars.
The Alley: 1920s Diving Vibe in Oakland
(Courtesy of @lilhoopty)
The East Bay Express Once aptly described the interior of The Alley as “Dashiell Hammet at Disneyland”. Indeed, with its wooden shingle “roof”, swinging telephone wires and interior windows, this dipping restaurant and bar evokes a gritty urban alley of the 1920s. Founded in 1933, The Alley is one of the last piano- Oakland bars, where patrons gather around a grand piano and sing along, drinks in hand, or cozy up in one of the dark booths near the back wall’s “pawn shop” for an old-fashioned school steak dinner.
// 3325 Grand Avenue (Oakland), thealleyoakland.com
Smuggler’s Cove: A marauder’s lair with all the rum
(Courtesy of @tikichava)
San Francisco has some of the most engaged tiki bars in the country (the walls are raining and raining at the Tonga Room, for goodness sake). Each is awesome on its own, but Smuggler’s Cove, the Civic Center’s two-level pirate ship-themed lounge, is arguably the most transportable. From a ceiling dripping with buoys, fishing nets and lanterns to rock-lined walls and a backlit watery cauldron, at Smuggler’s Cove you’re not just in the bowels of a marauder’s lair, you’re are inside a marauder’s lair with the largest selection of rums in the country. Try as many cocktails as you can; their Polynesian pop fantasia cookbook won a James Beard award in 2017.
// 650 Gough Street (Civic Center), smugglerscovesf.com
Specs’ 12 Adler Museum Cafe: Sightseeing + Live Jazz in North Beach
(Courtesy of @specsbarsf)
Richard “Specs” Simmons opened his curio bar 12 Adler Museum Cafe in 1968, when San Francisco was still the darling of the counterculture movement. Specs filled his living room with artifacts and trinkets ranging from the fascinating to the bizarre: taxidermy animals, African masks, Egyptian coffins, sailor’s gear, and a healthy collection of historical photos and newspaper clippings pasted from floor to ceiling. Now a legacy business, this North Beach dive still holds its own, especially during regular performances of the jazzy and Rat Pack-crooning variety.
// 12 William Saroyan Pl. (North Beach), specsbarsf.com
Butter: Trailer Glory and Trash in SoMa
(Courtesy of @butterbarsf)
There’s no better place in town to get dirty than this bright yellow bar on 11th Street. Drinks are notoriously strong at Butter, where trailer-trash-chic is the name of the game. Not only is there an actual RV parked in the center of the bar, but almost everything in the space screams shamelessly, from the selection of great boys to wall art. Order a Jell-o shot and some deep-fried, microwave-fried entrees (fried Twinkies, anyone?) and do as butter lovers do: get FUBAR.
// 354 11th Street (SoMa), smoothasbutter.com
The Warehouse: Scary Bears + Prime Rib in Port Costa
(Courtesy of @treezyfbebe707)
Once a grain warehouse on the Carquinez Strait, the Warehouse Cafe is one of Northern California’s most bizarrely eclectic restaurant-bars. Carnival decor includes not one but two life-size stuffed bears, armor, scary masks, street signs and other oddities large and small. Live music plays weekly, prime rib dinners are served on weekends, and pool tables are always open for a rip off.
// 5 Canyon Lake Drive (Port Costa), warehousecafeportcosta.com
Shuggie’s Trash Pie: A taste of nature in the SF mission
(Courtesy of @sailorsavvy)
Mission’s newcomer, Shuggie’s, blew us away when it opened earlier this year, not only for its sustainable recycled food, but also for its colorful and over-the-top atmosphere. The pizza and natural wine joint has two color-blocked spaces, the sunny yellow Cheetah Room and the Incredible-Hulk-meets-disco-diner vibe of the Green Room. Everything in both rooms is served up in cartoon-esque lips, tits, and asses or, as the SF Chronicle Put it, “Lisa Frank’s Fever Dream.”
// 3349 22nd Street (Mission), shuggiespizza.com
Courtyard of the Palm Trees of the Orchestra
(Courtesy of @contentmag)
Self-playing vintage instruments make up the soundtrack at Orchestria Palm Court in downtown San Jose’s SoFi district. On Friday and Saturday nights (the only time it’s open), pianos, fiddles, jukeboxes, and even turn-of-the-century drums take turns playing one of hundreds of ditties from the age jazz, Mark Williams, which the owner has collected over the years. . Delve into comforting continental European cuisine (think beef bourguignon, prawn puttanesca and pesto gnocchi) as they echo through the large warehouse, with its exposed brick walls, Art Deco accents and stylish lamps Tiffany. But don’t just stop at wine for your drink: Orchestria’s antique soda fountain pumps out early Americana in the form of chocolate malts, Black Forest phosphates, raspberry ambrosia and bubbly. blueberry.
// 27 E. William St. (San Jose), orchestrapalmcourt.com