Brunch is definitely making a comeback at East Bay restaurants. Go out any weekend morning, and you’ll see indoor and outdoor dining spaces bustling with folks who are savoring a leisurely meal, often accompanied by a special, breakfast-skewed cocktail. As opposed to listing every brunch cocktail in Berkeley, Oakland and the rest of the East Bay, we wanted to single out a few local options that approach the drinks side of brunch with special flair. If you have your own favorites, we’d love to hear about them via firstname.lastname@example.org.
A note about soju here: You’ll see soju listed on many brunch menus, and on this list again and again. The imported Korean alcoholic beverage, which is made from rice or sweet potatoes, has an alcohol content (not more than 24% alcohol by volume) that is stronger than wine or beer but is much less than nearly all vodkas (40% ABV).
A 1998 bill passed in California authorizes the sale of soju by establishments that are licensed to sell only beer or wine, making it ubiquitous at places that do not offer a full bar with distilled spirits. (The confusion of soju with shochu, a Japanese single-distilled spirit made from grains and vegetables, is a subject for another day.)
On the menu at 900 Grayson, you’ll find a multitude of fun brunch-worthy drinks. For folks seeking sweet, there’s Bubble & Squeeze, which is French sparkling wine and your choice of orange or pomegranate juice.
Savory fans might consider the Korean Soju Marty, which is soju, wasabi, tomato juice and tomolives (pickled green tomatoes). Other options include the Korean Soju Want Me? (soju, ginger syrup, lime juice and fresh muddled mint), Aquatic Park Sunrise (grape distilled tequila, orange juice, grenadine and pomegranate), or Red Beer (Pilsner, tomato juice, Tabasco and Worcestershire).
900 Grayson 900 Grayson St. at 7th Street, Berkeley
Chop Bar serves up the Bloody Mary to end all Bloody Marys: Hideout vodka, house made bloody mix and pickled veggies, as you can see in the photo at the top of this guide. Bacon and “x-tra spicy” versions are also available.
Other options at Chop Bar are overshadowed by that Bloody Mary, but are also great: there’s a Paloma Martini (Pueblo Viejo Blanco, grapefruit juice, lime, agave and grapefruit foam), a Strawberry Spritz (strawberry vodka, Campari, lime, simple syrup, and tonic), and a T-Bone Old Fashioned (with house infused smoked t-bone whiskey), among others.
Chop Bar, 190 Fourth St. near Madison Street, Oakland
Grand Lake Kitchen is still serving up boozy slushies, including a Salty Dog (gin, crème de pamplemousse, grapefruit and sparkling rosé). There’s also a wryly named My Bloody Quarantine margarita (tequila, mezcal, blood orange, hibiscus, agave syrup and lime).
Less icy brunch cocktails include the GLK Bloody Mary and a Michelada (clamato, lime, and Worcestershire, topped with lager and a tajin salt rim). If you want some caffeine in your booze, there’s an espresso martini (with house made coffee liqueur) and a traditional Irish coffee. On the “bubble” menu, find the Kir Royale (bubbles with black currant liqueur).
Grand Lake Kitchen, 576 Grand Ave. (near Euclid Avenue) and 2042 MacArthur Blvd (near Fruitvale Avenue), Oakland
Homemade Café, home of excellent chicken and waffles and everything else, offers a tightly edited list of classic breakfast booze: Mimosas (orange, cranberry or sunrise), Bloody Mary with soju and homemade bloody mix, and a bacon Bloody Mary, featuring bacon infused soju and, of course, bacon.
(As an aside, we’ll note that we’re happy to see the Homemade has hung in there during the tough times all restaurants are facing these days, and hope their current fundraiser is a success.)
Homemade Café, 2454 Sacramento St. (at Dwight Way), Berkeley
Honor Kitchen and Cocktails offers a couple drinks that are almost as fun to order as they are to drink: a Bloody Hell (Gruven vodka infused with peppers, house Bloody Mary mix and pickled veggies) and a drink called Morning Wood, which is Rittenhouse rye, Bigallet China-China amaro, maple syrup and whiskey oak bitters served over a cold brew ice cube.
The Brunch Punch is made with El Dorado white rum, aperol, grenadine, prosecco and orange, grapefruit and lime juice. Looking ahead to cooler weather, the seasonal cocktails on the menu now include a Yuletide Glogg and a Hot Toddy.
Honor Kitchen and Cocktails, 1411 Powell St. (near Hollis Street), Emeryville
Lake Chalet ups the Bloody Mary game with their chili infused vodka, “secret” Chalet bloody mix, and “all the fixings.” You can add prawns or even candied bacon for an over-the-top version of this traditional brunch drink. They also have a full bar, so really, anything goes for brunch at this spot with a view.
Lake Chalet, 1520 Lakeside Dr., near 17th Street, Oakland
A couple of standouts on the menu at Limewood Bar & Restaurant, located at the Fairmont Hotel-owned Claremont Club and Spa: their Blood Moon is Casamigos mezcal, Cointreau, blood orange puree and lime juice, and is a great counterpoint to most rich brunch foods.
The seasonally appropriate Autumn Moon is also worth serious consideration. It’s Bulleit bourbon, apple cider, cinnamon syrup, lemon juice and Angostura bitters.
Limewood also has a full bar if other cocktails strike your fancy.
Limewood Bar & Restaurant, 41 Tunnel Rd. (at the Claremont), Berkeley
At Shakewell, two top choices are the Cross My Heart (mezcal, aloe liqueur, watermelon, and lime garnished with drops of rose oil) and the Fairlane (habanero infused tequila, lime and coconut crème).
Another pick is the Tigerlily, which is made with rum, pineapple amaro, mango and lemon, with a chili salt rim. A new addition also intrigues: the Beetlejuice is made with gin, bay leaf, vermouth blanca and Alchermes liqueur.
(Interesting sidenote about this Alchermes: its reddish color, also called carmine, is due to the dried, pulverized bodies of female cochineal bugs, a type of scale insect found in Mexico, South America and the southwestern U.S. Think you’d never ingest this? Check any reddish food item for a listing of cochineal extract, carminic acid or carmine. Turns out the use of these bugs to make a natural food dye is actually centuries old.)
Shakewell, 3407 Lakeshore Ave. (near Mandana Boulevard), Oakland
And to look forward to: Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café has been saved from closure, and now that it’s reopened, the team has a new list of cocktails on the way. On a recent visit to the Emeryville cafe, the menu board promised that cocktails are “coming soon,” which we were told means in about a month.
When service ramps up, there will be a Bloody Mary (house Bloody Mary mix and soju, served with a spicy rim), the Pressure Drop (a pint o’ Guinness and a shot of espresso), and the Shakin’ Jesse: a milkshake with Guinness, espresso, and chocolate. Welcome back, Rudy!
Rudy’s Can’t Fail Café 4081 Hollis St. (near 40th Street), Emeryville
Featured image: Chop Bar’s spectacular Bloody Mary. Credit: Risa Nye