Photos by Jen Muehlbauer
Berkeley. For some, it conjures up visions of hippies, college kids, or suburban 4th Street shoppers. For others, it’s a place with more good beer than seems reasonable for a town of 100,000.
Bars downtown are a bit more hoppin’ due to their proximity to Cal, while the bars on San Pablo provide more elbow room and a higher median crowd age. None are food destinations per se, but if you like pizza you’ll be in good shape. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a beer costing $6, let alone more, at most of these locations.
The bars below are reachable by BART and focus on local beer, but they’re far from the only watering holes in town. You could also go Irish at the Starry Plough, have a fancy cocktail at Revival Bar+Kitchen, or choose from a giant whiskey menu at Acme. There are also plenty of non-bar salutes to good brews, like the fantastic selection at Ledger’s Liquors, the daily brewery tour at Trumer, and Oak Barrel, one of the oldest homebrew shops in the country.
To make a day of Berkeley without just going to bars all day, add some hiking in Tilden Park, a visit to the UC Botanical Garden, or browsing at Rasputin and Amoeba. Or, from our stops on San Pablo, it’s not too far to the Berkeley Marina. Beer lovers with families should note that all the bars below except The Albatross are also restaurants, so kids are allowed.
Near Downtown Berkeley BART Station
2072 University Avenue (map), Daily 11am-11pm, (510) 665-8866
You’d think downtown Berkeley wouldn’t need two pizza-intensive restaurants with good beer on tap, and you’d be wrong. Just a few blocks from Jupiter, Bobby G’s packs a lot of local beer, Italian food, and live music into a small space. Some of the bartenders are more knowledgeable than others, but beer guy Josh knows what’s up and keeps the beer list fresh with three rotating taps in addition to the solid regular ten-beer lineup (yes, Russian River fanatics, Pliny the Elder is always on tap). Owner Bobby G is a Yankees fan, but this is also a fine place to watch Bay Area sports games. Tuesday is open mic night, Wednesday is trivia night, and Saturday features free jazz and blues acts.
Best time to go: 4-7pm for happy hour; Wednesday for trivia; before or after a meal at the Indonesian restaurant down the block.
2181 Shattuck Avenue (map), Mon-Thu 11:30am-1am; Friday 11:30am-1:30am; Saturday 12pm-1:30am; Sunday 12pm-12am, (510) THE-TAPS
The sizable back patio is probably the nicest (legal) outdoor drinking spot in Berkeley other than my yard. Expect a range of house beers, Drake’s beers (Jupiter is a member of the Triple Rock/Drake’s family), and guest taps from the likes of Moonlight Brewing and North Coast. Add pizza and jazz shows and you’ve got a crowd-pleaser.
Best time to go: A sunny day, though heat lamps and a firepit keep the party going after dark and in the colder months.
1920 Shattuck Avenue (map), Mon-Wed 11:30am-1am; Thur-Sat 11:30am-2am; Sunday 11:30am-12am, (510) 843-2739
Triple Rock is one of the first brewpubs in the country, going strong since 1986 (History wonks, make sure to get an eyeful of the breweriana on the walls and you can learn more about it here). Today it’s almost like three different places: the often crowded but always cordial bar area, the all-ages sit-down area, and, when open, the roof deck. All sections offer pub grub, Triple Rock’s excellent beers, and servers who actually know a thing or two about what what’s on tap. There should be a libation for everyone here, but arguably hoppy beers are where Triple Rock really shines. Try the IPAX, the seasonal imperial IIMAXX, and other lupulin-forward limited-release beers like the Single Hop Experience series. If you only make one beer stop in Berkeley, this should be it.
Best time to go: between lunch and dinner; during big sports games if you’re into that kind of thing. Thursday night, when patrons snap up servings of Monkeyhead strong golden ale by the liter bottle, is loved by some and loathed by others.
Near North Berkeley BART Station/San Pablo Buses
1822 San Pablo Avenue (map), Sun-Tue 6pm-2am; Wed-Sat 4:30pm-2am, (510) 843-2473
The oldest bar in Berkeley (founded 1964) is widely known for its borrowable board games, challenging pub quiz, pool tables, and dart boards. It’s also got a solid beer selection that, in most cities, would be the best beer list for miles around. It’s cash only, but more than makes up for it by allowing outside food — I recommend Pakistani fare from Kabana or a sandwich from The Cheese Steak Shop — and dishing up fresh, cheap popcorn. It’s more a pub than a bar, if we’re making such distinctions, and with only one TV set, it’s a cozy place to escape from the big game if you’re not into sports. There’s local art on the walls, dogs allowed inside until 8pm, old timey bluegrass every other Wednesday, and other live music twice a month or so.
Best times to go: Sunday nights to lose at trivia; late afternoon/early evening for good conversation with the bartender and old-timers.
2033 San Pablo (map), Daily 11am-11pm, (510) 845-1652
Beer and ‘za, take three. Well, it is still a college town. The little patio out back is smaller than Jupiter but still allows for drinking beer in the sunshine. The inside has local art, action figures of past bartenders, and a solid taplist of about a dozen regular and rotating taps from Iron Springs, Bear Republic, and other local favorites. As a bonus, there’s always one beer on cask, and during happy hour, the house pale (brewed by Drake’s) is the best deal in town at $2.75 per pint. If any of the babies in my social circle lived in the Berkeley, there’s no question they’d own Lanesplitter onesies by now.
Best times to go: weekday happy hour (3-6pm), weekend happy hour (11am-6pm), Monday (happy hour open to close). What can I say? This is a happy place.
901 Gilman Street (map), Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm; Fri-Sat 11:30am-11pm, (510) 528-9880
If your glass is half empty, most of these beers are middle-of-the-road Craft Beer 101 for new/unadventurous beer drinkers. If your glass is half full, these are solid, balanced session beers. Either way, here are some things about the Berkeley location that you might not know.
1) The brewery tour is free, and your group will probably be the only ones on it so you can ask as many geeky questions as you want.
2) Some of those limited-release/seasonal beers, like Uproar red from the Ignition series or MacTarnahan’s Lipstinger, may surprise you.
3) $8 growler refills after your first $13 fill. Bargain! And let’s say more breweries than you think will fill a Pyramid growler once they put their own logo on top.
Best times to go: weekdays at 4pm for the brewery tour; whenever you need a cheap growler fill; before a night at alcohol-free punk rock venue 924 Gilman.