What ever happened to fun restaurants and bars? You know the kind, dive bars plastered in bizarre paraphernalia or kitschy restaurants that go all in on a theme?
While they may not be as common as they once were, the Bay Area’s still got a few spots that aren’t afraid to go above and beyond current restaurant trends. Embrace the unexpected at these seven unique restaurants and bars.
The Alley: 1920s Dive Vibes in Oakland
(Courtesy of @lilhoopty)
The East Bay Express once aptly described The Alley’s interior as “Dashiell Hammet in Disneyland.” Indeed, with its wood shingled “roof,” swinging telephone wires, and interior windows, this divey restaurant-bar evokes a gritty urban back alley circa the 1920s. Founded in 1933, The Alley is one of Oakland’s last remaining piano bars, where patrons gather around a baby grand and sing, drinks in hand, or cozy up in one of the dark booths near the back wall’s “pawn shop” for an old school steak dinner.
// 3325 Grand Ave. (Oakland), thealleyoakland.com
Smuggler's Cove: A Marauder's Den With a All the Rum
(Courtesy of @tikichava)
San Francisco has some of the most committed tiki bars in the country (the walls thunderstorm and pour rain at the Tonga Room, for God’s sake). Each is great in its own right but Smuggler’s Cove, the pirate ship–themed, two-level Civic Center cocktail lounge, is arguably the most transportive. From a ceiling dripping in buoys, fishing nets, and lanterns to rock-lined walls and a back-lit watery cauldron, at Smuggler’s Cove you’re not only inside the bowels of a marauder’s hideout, you’re inside a marauder’s hideout with the largest rum selection in the country. Try as many cocktails as you can; their book of Polynesian pop fantasia recipes won a James Beard award in 2017.
// 650 Gough St. (Civic Center), smugglerscovesf.com
Specs' 12 Adler Museum Cafe: Curiosities + Live Jazz in North Beach
(Courtesy of @specsbarsf)
Richard “Specs” Simmons opened his curio bar 12 Adler Museum Cafe in 1968, back when San Francisco was still a darling of the counterculture movement. Specs filled his saloon with artifacts and knick-knacks ranging from the fascinating to the strange: taxidermy animals, African masks, Egyptian caskets, seafaring gear, and a healthy collection of historic photos and newspaper clippings plastered floor to ceiling. Now a legacy business, this North Beach dive still holds its own, especially during regular performances of the jazz and Rat Pack–crooner variety.
// 12 William Saroyan Pl. (North Beach), specsbarsf.com
Butter: Trailer-Trash Glory in SoMa
(Courtesy of @butterbarsf)
There’s no better place in the city 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 R.V. parked at the center of the bar, almost everything in the space unapologetically screams redneck, from the wide selection of tallboys to the wall art. Order up a Jell-o shot and some microwaved-and-deep-fried eats (fried Twinkies, anyone?) and do as the Butter-lovers do: Get FUBAR.
// 354 11th St. (SoMa), smoothasbutter.com
The Warehouse: Scary Bears + Prime Rib in Port Costa
(Courtesy of @treezyfbebe707)
Once a granary warehouse on the Carquinez Strait, the Warehouse Cafe is one of Northern California’s most weirdly eclectic restaurant-bars. The carnival-like decor includes not one but two life-sized taxidermy bears, suits of armor, creepy masks, street signs, and other oddities big and small. Live music plays weekly, prime rib dinners are served on weekends, and the pool tables are always open for a grift.
// 5 Canyon Lake Dr. (Port Costa), warehousecafeportcosta.com
Shuggie's Trash Pie: A Taste of the Wild in SF's Mission
(Courtesy of @sailorsavvy)
Mission newcomer Shuggie’s blew us away when it opened earlier this year, not just for its sustainable upcycled foods but for its color-drenched, over-the-top atmosphere. The pizza and natural wine joint has two color-blocked spaces, the sunny yellow cheetah room and the green room’s Incredible-Hulk-meets-disco-diner vibe. Everything in both rooms is served in lips, tits and asses that wandered their way out of a cartoon or, as the SF Chronicle put it, “Lisa Frank’s fever dream.”
// 3349 22nd St. (Mission), shuggiespizza.com
Orchestria Palm Court
(Courtesy of @contentmag)
Self-playing vintage instruments provide the soundtrack at Orchestria Palm Court in San Jose’s downtown SoFi District. Friday and Saturday nights (the only time it’s open), turn-of-the-20th-century player pianos, violins, jukeboxes, and even drums take turns performing one of hundreds of jazz-age ditties owner Mark Williams has collected over the years. Dig into comforting continental European food (think boeuf Bourguignon, shrimp puttanesca, and pesto gnocchi) as they reverberate through the lofty warehouse space, with its exposed brick walls, Art Deco accents, and Tiffany-style lamps. But don’t just stop at wine for your glass: Orchestria’s antique soda fountain pumps out early Americana in the form of chocolate malts, black forest phosphates, raspberry ambrosias, and huckleberry fizzes.// 27 E. William St. (San Jose), orchestriapalmcourt.com