Let’s be real. Bear’s Lair Pub doesn’t offer the best beer selection, nor is it a particularly classy joint. But if you ever need an excuse to day drink, this is it. Though lacking a full bar (despite this category being “Best Bar”), Bear’s Lair makes up for it with its punny slogan – “Go Beers” – and the collection of confiscated fake IDs hanging above the bar.
Apparently, Bear’s Lair also has daily happy hours ($2.50 pints!). But it’s better known for its crowded Friday afternoons, and the pub’s weekly Beat the Clock is the way to start off your weekend shenanigans.
It’s always an ordeal to get past the no-nonsense bouncers, through the always-crowded patio of newly-turned 21-year-olds and slip by the occasional older creeper. But once you actually make it to the bar, grab yourself a pitcher and a plastic cup and feel the solidarity around you of students whose only goal is to get fucked up. Might as well join in, since you’ll probably run into everyone you ever met at Cal who you never needed to see again. The best part? You’re in bed by 9 p.m. Oh, and the food isn’t bad, either.
With at least three consecutive years as a Best of Berkeley winner, Gypsy’s Trattoria Italiano once again makes it out on top – to nobody’s surprise. We all know that it’s hard to resist the nostalgic smells of garlic and late-night pasta runs freshman year while walking down the oft-traveled Durant Avenue. The power of Gypsy’s is real. All it takes is one to-go order of steaming lasagna for you to suddenly be surrounded by friends who would otherwise remain in their studying bunkers.
For all those students who are pinching their pennies, this self-declared Trattoria offers a relatively inexpensive splurge for a supremely satisfying meal-perhaps the first real one you’ve had time for in days.
By the time this article is published, I will actually be in Italy (yeah, I couldn’t help but drop that in there. Don’t hate me … too much). Do I in any way expect the quality of Berkeley’s best Italian to compare to the real deal? Absolutely not. Yet Gypsy’s offers everything us college students need: consistency and comfort at a cheap price. This fall when I order my steaming hot plate of linguini clams, I’ll know that I am truly home. No wonder Gypsy’s continues to be our go-to favorite.
Situated across from Asian Ghetto, the place I affectionately call “H of C” won’t wow with its decor (though when is that a problem in Berkeley?).
No, House of Curries continually dishes out quality Indian food: tasty biryanis that make for two whole meals, fluffy potato naan and tantalizing curries. Sometimes I can’t even make up my mind, what with all the options.
Just don’t be pigeon-holed into the ‘safe’ option of chicken tikka masala. Any of the vindaloos – trust me here, I’ve tried them all – are sure-fire choices, as are the mushroom and squash curries for any non-carnivorous folks out there. Oh, and be sure to drink up on free chai to your heart’s content.
To those who think that this place is interchangeable with Naan N Curry: You’ve been deeply deceived. Wanting to save a couple of bucks, I made this foolish mistake two years ago and left with an irritable feeling in my stomach – partly because Naan’s vindaloo was not to my liking, and partly because I had betrayed my go-to restaurant in Berkeley.
Oh, House of Curries, why can’t I quit you?
The serenity of the Berkeley Marina is what draws me there again and again. Easily accessible by the 51B bus, it’s a creative, fun and memorable idea for a date. Moreover, the Marina is a great spot because it is a setting that inspires conversation, laughter or maybe even that first kiss. On a golden afternoon, you and your date can enjoy the sun and the waves melding together and lapping wistfully at the shore. Sea birds trace the sky with their wings overhead, and the clouds traverse lazily and whimsically with the wind.
The Marina provides the ideal view of Berkeley, perched gloriously on its eastern hill, and of San Francisco and the iconic Golden Gate Bridge. Anchored between these two cities, it’s the perfect middle ground, an isolated oasis for you and your date to talk, picnic and catch the sunset. I actually suggested the Marina to a date just a few weeks ago. We spent our time perched on the rocks, gazing at the limitless horizon and sharing a peaceful moment together within our otherwise cacophonic lives. The Marina promises this perfect escape for you and your lover to get away from Berkeley’s city life.
Berkeley is blessed with a surfeit of movie theaters, and more often than not your selection might depend on what’s playing where. But if you just feel like catching a flick, Shattuck Cinemas has the nicest accommodations of anywhere around. It’s run by Landmark Theatres, which means the movies there are, roughly speaking, arthouse fare, but there is usually enough of an assortment showing on the 10 screens to suit varied tastes.
Recently, though, the theater has implemented changes to distinguish itself further. Two of the auditoriums substitute the typical rows of fold-down seats for a mess of couches, chairs and loveseats. And the theater now has the Lot 68 Lounge, which serves beer, wine and cocktails, with a selection of (somewhat pricey) food items. Some evening film screenings are restricted to 21+, so moviegoers can top off a tasty beverage during the show.
Among the other accessible options, Shattuck Cinemas is the classiest pick for a night at the movies in Berkeley. With the added bonus of Landmark’s student discount, it’s clear why Shattuck was voted Berkeley’s best.
The Big C on Charter Hill is a central component to Berkeley’s lively tradition and school spirit. As a representation of Cal, it has been mottled and maimed by time, and serves as a testimony to Berkeley’s unique history. It is a spot that must be visited by any true Golden Bear, and also by any serious stargazer. On game days, it’s crowded with Cal fans intent on cheering on their team, and by night, it’s haunted by Berkeley students intent on watching the stars and reveling in one of the city’s most breathtaking views.
A bit of a trek to reach, the nighttime view at the Big C is worth it because it offers solitude and a place to ponder the beauty of the universe. Sitting on the Big C, you will feel part of the constellations themselves, which lurk so closely that you can trace them with your finger. To reach the Big C, first go to the parking lot behind the Greek Theatre. From there, find the dirt path at the farthest right corner of the parking lot, and follow this for about ten minutes to find your destination.
Yeah, its a 307-foot tall phallus stabbing into the sky, but it is an important phallus.
When architect John Galen Howard was hired to orchestrate the physical expansion of Berkeley in the early 20th century – a massive effort that brought us the Hearst Memorial Mining Building, Wheeler Hall, Memorial Stadium and the Hearst Greek Theater – he made the Campanile the focal point of the campus’ architectural master plan.
Built in honor of the fallen Campanile di San Marco in Venice, Italy, the 13-floor granite structure is the most prominent part of Howard’s bold plan for constructing the “Athens of the West” in the foothills of Berkeley.
Since the massive tower went up in 1914, it has been visited by millions. Until metal bars were installed in 1981 it was also a popular suicide spot. In 1996, when Californians voted to ended affirmative action, 23 protesters occupied the tower as hundreds gathered outside.
In the century since Howard’s original vision was completed, the rest of the Berkeley’s expansion has been ad hoc, leaving Sather Tower as the premier symbol of the grandeur Berkeley’s founders were hoping to reach.
Best Salad: Cafe Intermezzo
Dressing on the side. If those words don’t exit your mouth when you’re standing before the counter at Cafe Intermezzo, you’ve made a terrible mistake.
The chef’s salad – which is what you should be ordering – is huge. Think two-meals huge. Think plastic-takeout-box-filled-to-the-brim huge. If you have your dressing mixed in, your leftovers will be left a soggy mess by the time you get around to it. And no one likes soggy salads.
But what’s actually in the chef’s salad, you ask? First you have your standard veggie fare: lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, and so on – normal salad stuff. But then you hit clusters of kidney beans and alfalfa sprouts, topped off with a sliced boiled egg and a generous sprinkle of croutons. Half an avocado is buried somewhere in the pile. Pick any sandwich meat and dressing, and your order is complete. (I prefer turkey and poppy seed.)
You’ll be greeted by a thick slice of honey wheat bread and a pineapple wedge on the side as well – if that doesn’t make you happy, then no salad will.
Best Sandwich: Cafe Intermezzo
There are a lot of mighty fine sandwich establishments in Berkeley. We are very lucky in that sense. Like, you could be the biggest sandwich Goldilocks ever and you would still always be able to find one in Berkeley that is just right.
Now, this isn’t to say that a sandwich from Cafe Intermezzo is always going to be the one, what with competition from Gregoire, Saul’s Restaurant and Delicatessen and the Coffee Spot running around. But Gregoire and Saul’s are sometimes a little on the steep side (both financially and geographically). Conversely, the Coffee Spot occasionally feels a bit quotidian.
Which means that a sandwich from Intermezzo will frequently be the perfect choice. Just right. Especially if you get the chicken salad sandwich. Oh god, the Intermezzo chicken salad.
I’m sorry if you’re a vegetarian (Intermezzo also makes a mean tofu sandwich, incidentally), but there actually might be crack in that chicken salad. I really don’t understand it. Plus, the honey wheat bread over there is seriously habit-forming. And, of course, the price is better than right for massive meals that are loaded up with everything that makes a sandwich delicious.
It’s 1 a.m. and you’re aimlessly wandering around Berkeley with your friends. Whether you’re drained from tirelessly working on a project or stumbling around in a post-party daze, you might find yourself drawn to the grilled, greasy goodness of Top Dog. With dogs ranging from the classic Top Dog Frankfurter to the smokey Linguica, Top Dog will satisfy any case of the late night munchies.
You want meaty? The hearty Bockwurst will fill your midnight munchies with its succulent combination of pork, veal, milk and egg. Feeling spicy? The Hot Link’s four different peppers will jolt your senses with a fiery pain that is still somehow pleasing. Hell, even nocturnal vegetarians can munch on the Wienie (note: it’s a veggie dog).
With a warm, toasted French bun encasing the juicy dogs like a crunchy blanket, its easy to see why Top Dog has become a staple favorite of Berkeley. Students have eloquently described the dog stand as “an adventurous treat for my mouth!” and “the perfect midnight calorie-fest.” Conveniently located at three spots around campus, Top Dog’s savory grub will please anyone in need of an after-hours indulgence.
Strada’s success may not seem surprising – after all, it’s close to campus and student housing. But Berkeley has many cafes that share these benefits without the same success. There are at least 10 places on campus to buy coffee, and Cafe Milano has prime real estate across from Sproul Plaza.
But the welcoming atmosphere of Strada places it above its competitors, believes owner Daryl Ross. When Ross was a UC Berkeley student, he found some cafes intimidating. “The scene was so intense, and it was like cliques had formed within the cafe,” he said. With its outdoor seating and European ambiance, Ross feels Strada provides a more casual culture.
Of course, the coffee is held to a high standard. According to Ross, employees can make coffee drinks only after six months of observation. This commitment to quality, combined with Strada’s setting, has earned it seemingly irrevocable rights to the throne.
The menu – stocked with everything from breakfast options to fresh-squeezed juices to Mediterranean plates – doesn’t stick to In-N-Out-style minimalism, but the burger doesn’t really suffer for it. From the first bite, you can tell that this is something that was put together with a certain level of attention and care.
The patty – Niman Ranch, which purports to be “the finest tasting meat in the world” – is thick without being too absurdly large for your mouth. Shredded lettuce is an underrated feature that mixes in well with the standard mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup. If you decided to get the mushroom burger, you find that the each little slice pops with juicy, smoky flavor. Toss in tomatoes and grilled onions, then sandwich it all between thick, toasty sesame seed buns.
For around $6 for the burger alone, there’s really no contest – at least within walking distance.
When you think of Qualcomm Cyber Cafe, you usually think of wraps. Custom-made wraps. Spinach, whole wheat, flour – the choice of flatbread is yours. Tucked away in a corner on the north side of campus in Sutardja Dai Hall, Qualcomm is one of the few cafes in or around the immediate area that offers quality wraps.
Most Qualcomm customers are en-“wrap”-tured by the wrap combo, which includes a drink and bag of chips to your liking. The food options don’t stop there, though. Have your pick of gourmet salads, mac & cheese, soup – or if you wanna go wild, try a breakfast wrap.
It even gets better than that: There’s a Peet’s Coffee inside Qualcomm, too! It’s the closest Peet’s you’ll find if you live right off of North Gate, and it’s one of three Peet’s locations in Berkeley that takes meal points.
You can leave Qualcomm with a pumpkin spice latte in one hand and a whole-wheat turkey wrap in the other. Bonus to spending meal points and time in Qualcomm: Every once in a while they’ll play Shakira’s Laundry Service album (ya know, the “Whenever, Whatever” one). What a deal.
On a beautiful day in Berkeley, you’ll see Sproul Plaza artfully splashed with the eclectics of the afternoon. There’s Yoshua, handing out his doomsday propaganda. There’s the countless brigade of students handing out their own faceless fliers. Sproul Plaza is a place to meet, a place to greet; a place made famous by Mario Savio, by Barack Obama’s televised inauguration speech, and by the plethora of protests, marches and demonstrations that pass through. It defines Berkeley and its history, and serves as the beating heart to a teeming, growing city.
Sproul is considered the best place to people-watch in Berkeley because it seamlessly combines the community with the campus. For this reason, Sproul is one of my favorite places; it’s the quintessential intersection between Telegraph Avenue and Sather Gate, the place that attracts activity daily. It is a place to revel in Berkeley’s characters, and essentially, in Berkeley’s spirit. The city is known as “Berzerkeley” for its characters, its creeps, its combined insanity and its integral place alongside San Francisco in a progressive-thinking world. Come sit at Sproul. You never know who – or what – you’ll find.