Oakland’s vast array of bars makes choosing between high-end mixology and a beer garden a happy dilemma. Exploring the variety is all part of the fun, after all. Here are 10 bars to visit right now that span different drinking styles and genres, from an ‘80s-inspired cocktail lounge to historic watering holes that are as dive-y and delightful as ever.
The ’80s and ’90s want in on your bar crawl. This funky cocktail bar, which opened last November, takes a trip back to the golden era of mall arcades, moody neon lighting, plasma balls and classic beats. Located in Uptown Oakland next to sister restaurant Good Luck Gato, it’s the perfect post-dinner stop. Cocktails are named after throwback music and movies and feature intriguing house-made shrubs and syrups. Try The Next Episode — a nod to the 2001 Dr. Dre song — a dried rosemary-smoked mezcal drink with carrot shrub and a hint of orange.
Cellarmaker doesn’t make ordinary beers — rather, it crafts intense elixirs that have earned a cult following since opening in SoMa a decade ago. The much-anticipated offshoot in Jack London Square started pouring last September, drawing crowds with brews like Coffee & Cigarettes, a chocolatey smoked coffee porter, and Tiny Dankster, a super juicy pale ale. Housed in the old Blue Bottle warehouse, the Oakland brewery combines the best of its Mission pizzeria and Berkeley brewing operations. Grab a seat on the patio and dig into Detroit-style pepperoni pie or polenta fries in-between barrel-aged stouts.
Grand Avenue in Oakland was once a hub for piano bars, where patrons congregated around a piano player to belt out popular tunes after a drink or two. Ella Fitzgerald, Peggy Lee and Merv Griffin all performed at The Alley, which opened in 1933, making it the third oldest bar in Oakland and the last piano bar standing. The Alley still flaunts a ramshackle roadhouse look and stools around the piano, and its walls are plastered with layers of business cards and old-timey memorabilia. For such a trip back in time, the natural choice is a vodka Martini and steak with a baked potato (it’s technically a restaurant with a cabaret license and full bar).
The 7 Best Wine Bars in San FranciscoThese spots offer excellent pours — and cool vibes — by the glass
Opened in 2020, this beautifully moody bar draws on Beverage Director William Tsui’s local roots and his time at San Francisco gems like Lazy Bear, Hotel Nikko and True Laurel. Ingredients like guava, taro, yuzu and five-spice star in cocktail and food menus that pay tribute to “growing up Asian in the Bay area.” That means you’re just as likely to see foraged wild botanicals in your drinks as you are to taste White Rabbit milk candy. The Tomato Beef cocktail — a spin on the classic Chinese dish — features tomato water and vodka (don’t worry, there’s no beef).
Audiophiles, rejoice! Down the block from the Fox Theatre, this hi-fi listening bar stokes a chill, mid-century vibe that’s perfect for enjoying a vast vinyl collection of jazz, soul and international music. Inspired by the cocktail dens of Tokyo, there’s a large selection of Japanese whiskey, wine, sake and non-alcoholic drinks. You can’t go wrong with the smooth Green Eyes, a minty vodka and elderflower concoction that’s surprisingly refreshing.
With craft cocktails and sports on TV, the Double Standard may be the epitome of a neighborhood bar. But the big draw is the hidden patio in the back, built around a majestic redwood tree. With rustic seating at wine barrel tables, string lights and funky murals, it’s just the kind of unpretentious place you’d want to sling back a few beers with your crew. Winter weather doesn’t deter outdoor tipplers who warm up with Toddies or other specialties from the hot drinks menu.
Once a Bay Area institution, this century-old bar and live music venue was home to the local indie rock scene in the ‘90s and early aughts before shutting down during the pandemic. But the people behind Eli’s Mile High Club and Mosswood Meltdown music festival came to the rescue. With the help of filmmaker John Waters, they revitalized Thee Stork Club in 2022 as the ultimate campy dive bar — think black light velvet paintings and an atrium with a gold disco ball. The venue once again books DJs and musical acts on its stage.
The first thing to know about this local watering hole is it’s off the beaten track, located on San Pablo Avenue where Oakland, Berkeley and Emeryville meet. Once you walk in the doors, you’re plunged into a charming world of dive bar culture, complete with flea market art, a standup piano, pinball machines and a backroom pool table. It’s not the diviest of dives, but the drinks are appropriately strong and cheap. Pastrami sandwich maestro Delirama will open an offshoot next door by midyear; rumor has it they’re planning a window inside Wolfhound for late-night grub.
Named after the West Oakland neighborhood where it was founded, this brewery was launched in 2012 by a metal band who also happened to be home brewers. Numerous awards and two taprooms later, Ghost Town was crowned Brewery of the Year in 2022 at the Great American Beer Fest, mesmerizing fans with its epic IPAs. Open at noon on Friday through Sunday (and 3 p.m. during the week), the industrial warehouse — which boasts a patio and dog-friendly policy — is the best day-drinking option around. Before you leave, grab some four-packs, crowlers (32 oz.) or growlers (64 oz.) to take home.
Finding a bar to please a group can be daunting, but Drexl is a best bet, especially because it has skee ball. This Downtown Oakland hangout, between Lake Merritt and the Fox Theatre, is a solid spot for simply chilling, but the details send it over the top. Think carefully crafted cocktails created with interesting ingredients like mole bitters and Batavia arrack. Craft beer and wine on tap round out the reasonably-priced drinks menu.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.