Electric Avenue

The down-and-dirty bars on Albany's San Pablo Avenue

If you like bars where people curse freely and drink during the middle of the day, the Albany stretch of San Pablo Avenue may be your dream come true. A good place to start: Gino and Bear's, a homey little joint where regulars shake the bartender's hand and chug plenty of long-neck Buds. "It's a down-and-dirty kind of bar," says Sherry, who bartends, sipping a Gin Aloha as she waits for her shift to begin. G&B's also happens to be a football bar, which means a crowd of 20 or so has gathered on a Sunday for a (technically) meaningless pre-season game between the Raiders and that team from San Francisco. Says Sherry, "I'm a Niner fan, but this is a Raider bar, so ...."

Needless to say, she ain't in red and gold.

"Don't let him get nothing. Get his ass!" screams one customer during a 49er gain.

"Now, now, Helen," says Steve the bartender, a soothing type who can apparently read minds (as a Bloody Mary dwindles, there's Steve, standing ready with another).

Looking comfy in a Hawaiian shirt and "Oak-town" hat, Reid, a regular, says the place "is like my living room" before sharing a joke so inappropriate that even Larry Flynt would object. He also has a message for the public at large: "Any pool players out there who enjoy a little competition, this is a very good place to come."

Another patron seconds the motion, and, as halftime arrives, the Raiders are up by one. At that point, we venture up San Pablo to chat with the good people at the Ivy Room. At night the Ivy is one of the East Bay's finest music bars (live bands four times a week). During the day, it's a tranquil place where everyone knows everyone and the lighting is a few shades dimmer than a moonless winter night in Alaska. If you must, you can watch football here on Sundays, though Joanna the bartender says she wouldn't pay attention if the game were taking place in her own back yard. A dude named Brian is watching, though: He's got $20 on the outcome. So who'd he pick?

"The Niners, not the Oakland fucking Traitors, the silver and blackout. The hell with them. Al Davis is a transvestite."

Brian chose the right team (the 49ers win) and the right place to hang out (the folks at Gino and Bear's might have used him as a toilet brush). To his left sits Allan, a somewhat mellower Albany native whom some may know as the announcer for Incredibly Strange Wrestling. His voice is so suave that he could talk Dr. Laura into making pornography. "You've got the voice, too," he croons. (Note to Allan: If you ever need a guest announcer -- hell, even a guest wrestler -- the Mix is ready to get it on.)

Farther up the street, Club Mallardisn't particularly divey: a youngish crowd, tiki torches on the patio, and the Police on the jukebox, for Christ's sake. For a more roughneck experience, stop by the Hotsy Totsy, a timeworn honky-tonk in which a man identifies himself as "Uncle Gus." Uncle Gus is quite the character, with his handlebar mustache, violent blue eyes, and ...

"Say what?" drawls Uncle Gus.

OK, pretty turquoise peepers.

A regular named Tony wears a Hotsy Totsy T-shirt and sports an accent. "I'm a Persian," he explains.

"A born-again virgin!" exclaims Karen the bartender. "How do you do?"

Then there's Jimmy, a construction guy from Yonkers, whose shirt is ripped due to "a little scuffle" at another location.

"This place [California] is relatively mellow," Jimmy says. Translation: He's been visiting for a month and has had his shirt torn only once. Back home, he says, it happens "once a week."

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