After spending a lot of time in Oakland over the past year (and even more time in Oakland restaurants and bars), one thing is clear: there is an interesting--and VERY exciting--cocktail renascence taking place here.
Several styles of bars and bartending are present here: the New York style (spirit-driven, classic and classic-style cocktails, bartenders dressed in classy vests or sleek chef coats), the San Francisco style (lots of fresh, seasonal ingredients, farmers-market style mixology, bartenders sporting retro hats and handlebar mustaches), and a style of bar and bartender that we are seeing more and more of; a style of bar, bartender and restaurant that is uniquely Oakland: places where the food and decor is minimalist but amazing. Bartenders who wear what they would normally wear, even if they were not working behind the bar: black jeans, t-shirts, proudly displaying their tattoos, playing music in the bar that THEY would usually listen to, that sort of thing. They are extremely knowledgeable about spirits, beers and wines, cocktail history and lore, and they're very creative in regards to crafting new drinks that fuse the best of East Coast and West Coast mixology. Their demeanor? Laid back and chill, but very hospitable as well. I'm liking it.
Some great places to check out, each with their very own style of drinks, bartending, food, ambiance and decor:
Boot and Shoe Service
Bar Three Fifty-Five
Liege Spirits Lounge
Revival Bar + Kitchen in Berkeley
ZUT! in Berkeley
Hotsy Totsy Club in Albany
And...soon to be opening in Oakland, Plum, Bracina, and Disco Volante. Lot's of buzz about the bars that will be inside of these upcoming restaurants.
Happy exploring in the Easy Bay my friends. CHEERS!
P.S. Cocktail Culture in the East Bay is certainly moving further out into areas like Walnut Creek, Lafayette and Orinda too, although still in its infancy. Walnut Creek has some hidden gems in regards to cocktails, but it really depends on the time of day/night you visit these places and who is behind the stick. Big brand names (style over substance) still reigns supreme for the most part, but some noteworthy places you should certainly check out include: Vesu (ask for bar manager Doug), Modern China Cafe (ask for Josh), Sasa, Eleve (the only place in this part of the East Bay who takes ice seriously and hand carves cubes of ice for certain drinks), and the Walnut Creek Yacht Club (they take a very seasonal approach to cocktails here, and they have a growing collection of great rums and interesting liqueurs).