Introduced by David Bratman
Written for but not distributed at World Fantasy Convention, October 2009 [Highly timebound, this has been updated in asterisks selectively.]
Berkeley! Named in 1866 by a founder of the University of California who stood on a hillside rock looking out over the Golden Gate and quoted a line from Bishop George Berkeley, "Westward the course of empire takes its way," it's been famous ever since for the university and all the cultural amenities that go with being one of the most famous college towns in the world: bookstores, restaurants, theatre and museums, and of course the history of protests and the colorful street life. Berkeley is also famous for its fantasy literature. I've arranged a short selection of sights by neighborhood. All phone numbers are area code 510.
A little guide like this must omit much. If you've been to Berkeley before but not very recently, you may find its booklife sadly diminished. Cody's is no more, and Black Oak has gone into hibernation, we hope to re-emerge some day. [The only good news in the used bookstore biz, Black Oak re-opened soon afterwards at 2618 San Pablo Ave. in the flatlands of West Berkeley.] But many others remain. In most cities the list of bookstores is quickly told. In Berkeley I have space to mention only half of them. And this doesn't even pretend to be a serious restaurant guide. I'm listing one personal favorite restaurant for each neighborhood of the city. If you want more, the online newspaper listings at East Bay Express and San Francisco Chronicle are good, and there's useful advice at Chowhound and even the health plan town hall of food websites, yelp.com.
Claremont/Elmwood The easiest drive to Berkeley from San Jose is to take I-880 north to downtown Oakland (about 42 miles from the Fairmont), then east on I-980 and state 24, off at the Claremont Avenue exit, and turn left. This will take you uphill directly towards the Claremont Hotel, the huge white wedding cake of a building that was host to, among other things, the 1981 World Fantasy Convention. In the hills just to the south is Greyhaven, the only private home to have given birth to an entire school of fantasy writers and its own anthology (DAW, 1983; the back cover blurb says its "exact location is known to a very special few" - actually, it's in the phone book).
Shops: On the way uphill you'll pass the Groove Yard (5555 Claremont, at Forest St., 655-8400), a used record store specializing in jazz LPs - yes, around here such places still exist - and then, on the left between Woolsey and Prince, at the Uplands traffic light, are no fewer than three book stores in one block. First is Dark Carnival (3086 Claremont, 654-7323), Jack Rems' rabbit-warren of a fantasy/SF/mystery store, filled with colorful knicknacks as well as new and used books in endless surprising alcoves. Also on the block are Afikomen (3042 Claremont, 655-1977), Jewish books and gifts, and Turtle Island (3032 Claremont, 655-3413, limited hours), a collectors' used book store specializing in modern mainstream literature and art books.
Food: Turn left on the side streets here, or at the next light at Ashby, and immediately downhill on College Avenue around Ashby you'll find the Elmwood shopping district. Among the restaurants here is Shen Hua (2914 College Ave., 883-1777), northern Chinese cuisine, noisy but clean with minimalist decor, and some with of the best shrimp dishes I've ever had in a Chinese restaurant.
Theater: A couple blocks north of Elmwood is the Julia Morgan Theater (2640 College Ave., 845-8542), a gem of a small performing space, named for its architect.
South Campus You can get here from state 24 by turning right instead of left on Claremont and then a hard right on Telegraph Avenue, or from Elmwood by continuing north on College Avenue to campus and turning left. Parking is challenging here. There's a public lot just east (uphill) of Telegraph between Channing Way and Haste Street that costs $1/hour in machines that take bills only, and the Sather Gate Garage just west of Telegraph between Channing and Durant Avenue where you pay at a counter before leaving, and which costs more but gives discounts through validation cards from local businesses.
The last stretch of Telegraph Avenue immediately south of campus is the soul of Berkeley, with colorful shops and all the street life you can imagine, from vendors selling tie-dye to the more exotic and less licit. Most Berkeley fiction, including fantasy, is set in and around here. The House Between the Worlds in Marion Zimmer Bradley's 1980 novel of that title, for instance, is somewhere on this part of Telegraph, and The Folk of the Air in Peter Beagle's 1986 novel of that title make their first appearance on the equivalent of this street.
Everywhere else in the city displays characteristic Berkeley qualities in direct proportion to its closeness to Telegraph. It's the Withywindle, the center from which all the strangeness comes.
A tour of historic Sixties Berkeley would begin on the chunk of brick sidewalk at the edge of campus on Bancroft Way at Telegraph. A dispute over the right of students to set up tables supporting political causes here gave rise to the Free Speech Movement of 1964. Just beyond it, on campus, is Sproul Plaza. Here and on the front steps of Sproul Hall (the administration building to the right, also home to a famous sit-in) were the famous rallies and speeches. Turn around and walk three blocks to Haste Street. Across the street on the left is a mural depicting the events of the era, and just up the street beyond that is People's Park, the university-owned vacant lot that was liberated into a park in 1969. Much of the subsequent police-student battle took place around the intersection of Telegraph and Dwight Way. On the far corner was the shop where Robert Anton Wilson's daughter worked and was killed in a robbery in 1976. Also near that corner (but before the road was widened) was the Garden Library, where Anthony Boucher and other members of the Elves', Gnomes', and Little Men's Science Fiction, Chowder and Marching Society met in the 1950s. Boucher lived four blocks south of here, and set some of his stories in the neighborhood.
Shops: Moe's, between Haste and Dwight (2476 Telegraph, 849-2087) is four floors of Berkeley's flagship used bookstore, with a separate antiquarian shop on the top floor. Jonathan Lethem used to work here. Across the street is Shakespeare & Co. (2499 Telegraph, 841-8916), also used and also good. At the Haste St. corner is Amoeba Music (2455 Telegraph, 549-1125), a large and excellent used-and-some-new CD store that also carries DVDs and LPs. Another block up, at Channing, is Rasputin Music (2401 Telegraph, 848-9004), somewhat similar. In the mall beneath the Sather Gate Garage is the Friends of the Berkeley Public Library Bookstore (2431 Channing, 841-5604, limited hours); the back half of its space was the original home of The Other Change of Hobbit, now downtown. On Bancroft Way below Telegraph are several stores specializing in textbooks (including one across the street on campus in the Student Union). A bit further down is The Musical Offering (2430 Bancroft, 849-0211), just about the last classical CD specialty store anywhere; it's also a cafe.
Food: Some is good, but this neighborhood can be spotty. Between the mural and People's Park you'll find Mario's La Fiesta (2506 Haste St., 848-2588 - recently moved from its old location half a block away), a long-standing Mexican restaurant offering what I consider the canonical chicken and pork tamales. Caffe Mediterraneum (2475 Telegraph, 549-1128) serves salads and sandwiches and is a noted hangout featured in Diana L. Paxson's contemporary urban fantasy novels.
The U.C. Campus Central campus, past Sather Gate at the far end of Sproul Plaza, is quieter than anything around it - an oasis of greenery and disparate buildings. Much of Earth Abides by George R. Stewart (a U.C. professor) takes place in its future ruins. At the center of campus is the Campanile; during limited hours you can ride the elevator to the top for $2. Facing it on the uphill side is LeConte Hall, the Physics building where Oppenheimer, Lawrence, et al had their offices. (Their element-discovering Chemistry colleagues had labs just up the hill in Lewis Hall.) The small building connected to LeConte, Birge Hall, then an empty space, was where Ernest Lawrence set up his first cyclotron. Facing the Campanile on the downhill side is the Bancroft Library, a rare books collection specializing in California history, and connected to that on the far side is Doe Library, the main library, designed by John Galen Howard. Doe's Reference Hall, on the second floor, has the most beautiful ceiling on campus.
Museums: The Hearst Museum of Anthropology (642-3682) is in Kroeber Hall (named for Ursula K. Le Guin's father, longtime professor in the department) at the corner of Bancroft Way and College Avenue. The Berkeley Art Museum (2626 Bancroft Way, 642-0808) is across the street from campus between Telegraph and College. High up in the hills above campus (drive up behind the football stadium and take the road going up the canyon) is the Lawrence Hall of Science (Centennial Dr., 642-5132), a good basic science museum emphasizing children's and general public education.
Downtown Downtown is just west of campus, and Shattuck Avenue is its spine. If you take BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) to the Berkeley station, you'll arrive at Shattuck and Center Street. Just behind you across the street as you emerge from the main escalator is 2165 Shattuck (now a GNC health store), site of the TV and electronics shop where Philip K. Dick worked in the 1940s, model for all the small businesses in his novels, though the neighborhood has changed much since then.
Shops: The Other Change of Hobbit (2020 Shattuck, 848-0413) is 2 1/2 blocks north of BART on the left (west) side of the western branch of Shattuck. Dave Nee runs this, the other fantasy/SF/mystery bookstore in Berkeley. Besides the books, enjoy the classical music on the radio and the two cats, which (as of two months ago when I wrote this) were still young enough to scamper across the floor and underneath the bookcases in pursuit of any dust bunnies they could find. Update: It's moved to 3264 Adeline Ave., south of Ashby in South Berkeley, a bigger and more pleasant location.] Just down the street [from the old location] is Comic Relief (2026 Shattuck, 843-5002), a comics bookstore of mindboggling size and stock.
Food: There are some gems hiding here. Just around the far corner and half a block down the street from the Other Change is Jayakarta (2026 University Ave., 841-0884), a modest Indonesian restaurant that's extremely inexpensive and incredibly good.
Theater: These are located in the block of Addison Street west (downhill) from Shattuck, a block north of the BART station. Berkeley Rep (2025 Addison, 647-2949; www.berkeleyrep.org) is currently running a set of short plays by Tony Kushner, collectively titled Tiny Kushner, get it? The Aurora Theatre Company (2081 Addison, 843-4822; www.auroratheatre.org) next door is performing Neil LaBute's Fat Pig. The new home of the Freight & Salvage Coffeehouse across the street (2020 Addison, 548-7603; www.freightandsalvage.org) is ground zero for acoustic music. Nightly performers offer folk, neo-urban folk, bluegrass, or Celtic; occasional jazz, blues, western swing, or even classical; and sometimes the just plain unclassifiable.
North Shattuck Continuing north on Shattuck Avenue from downtown is the area that used to be called the Gourmet Ghetto. It's calmed down somewhat since then, but there are still many upscale foodie places between Delaware and Rose. If you want to eat at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse (1517 Shattuck, closer to Vine than Cedar, downstairs restaurant 548-5525, upstairs cafe 548-5049) - which I never have - you'll already have made a reservation. My usual hangout in this part of town is Saul's Deli (1475 Shattuck, just north of Vine, 848-3354). It's not a patch on a good New York Jewish deli, and it may not even be the best deli in the Bay Area, but it does have the best atmosphere. Across the street from Chez Panisse is the Cheese Board (1504 Shattuck, 549-3183), a fabulous cheese shop which probably would have Venezuelan Beaver Cheese if you were crass enough to ask for it. On the cross street just above this corner is the original outlet of Peet's Coffee and Tea (2124 Vine, 841-0564).
Solano Avenue/Albany As you keep going north past the Gourmet Ghetto, the artery changes names a couple times and then dives into a tunnel. When you emerge you're on Solano Avenue westbound. In the mile-and-a-bit of Solano between here and San Pablo Avenue, in this part of Berkeley and the adjoining town of Albany, are packed what I consider the best restaurants in the area. There are several Chinese and Thai places, literally half a dozen other Asian nationalities represented, and some other things including Mexican and a few good varieties of basic American. I've never finished exploring the depth here, so I'm not even going to try to make recommendations, except to note the presence, near the tunnel end, of Zachary's Pizza (1853 Solano, 525-5950), deep-dish Chicago style, often considered the best pizza in Berkeley. It's also right next door to Pegasus Books (1855 Solano, 525-6888), specializing in high-quality remainders, also offering new and used books.
Coming from Shattuck, if you skip the tunnel by turning uphill on Del Norte, the last street to the right before the tunnel, this will curve around and deposit you at a traffic circle above the tunnel. Running uphill from here is upper Marin Avenue, once a streetcar line, barreling straight up at a terrifying incline that will challenge your car's transmission. It's one of Berkeley's odder sights.
West Berkeley Generally known as the Flatlands, the west part of Berkeley runs from residential to industrial. The southern part is mostly an Afro-American neighborhood. Most of the best neighborhood food is further south in North Oakland, but many people swear by Everett and Jones Barbecue, a small local chain with an outlet just north of the corner of San Pablo and University Avenues (1955 San Pablo, 548-8261).
The northern part is more like Albany. Fourth Street (halfway between San Pablo and I-80) between Hearst and Virginia is yuppie shopping central around here. San Pablo Avenue nearby has scattered good restaurants of the Solano Avenue kind. My latest discovery here is Zaki Kabob House (1101 San Pablo, 527-5452), at Dartmouth two long blocks south of Solano, notable for its rotisserie chicken, which you may wash down with mint lemonade.
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