The biggest downside to the craft-cocktail revolution is that the cost of swilling one $12 drink after another makes it difficult to just get drunk on a weeknight at some random bar and see where the night takes you. Yeah, yeah: $48 for four drinks is no big deal if you’re doing all right for yourself these days. But for many of San Francisco’s glorious weirdos, that’s a prohibitive cost barrier, so you won’t see them out.
We don’t get out to Alameda nearly enough, but when we do, we’re reminded that this island city has a bevy of treasures that locals guard jealously. To wit: the Fireside Lounge, a large, artfilled venue with a stage and a red-lit beer fridge full of Allagash and Drake’s to-go, courtesy of an off-sale license.
With trivia night, rockabilly acts, and karaoke, Fireside embodies the soul of a true neighborhood dive — but it’s a respectable cocktail bar, too. There are whiskey apple shrubs, for instance.
Whatever it is, it’s pretty weird: A guy walked in on a rainy Monday holding a tuba and nobody regarded it as anything but ordinary.
For wringing out the dregs of Beer Week, Fireside is the place. Of the many beers on tap, there’s a Black Diamond Fracas Imperial Red, Dust Bowl’s Grapefruit Gose, and Ale Industries’ Need to Please Imperial IPA. If your idea of Alameda resembles a frozen-in-time decommissioned naval base and filthy tap lines pouring Bud Light, think again, because these brews were chosen with love (and an explicit desire to serve beer produced within a 125mile radius).
Co-owner Bitsy Eddy and her partners bought the Fireside a little more than five years ago, bringing life to a spot that had originally opened during World War II, acquiring a reputation among servicemen for “Esther’s garlic noodles.” (They’re long-gone now, but inquiries about their availability apparently lasted for decades.) Throwing back a shot of Four Roses with me, Eddy whips out a bullhorn and fauxshames me for leaning into the service-bar area. Then she takes the stage and croons a 1940s-era showstopper with the tuba player and a pianist.
Everybody starts dancing, including a garrulous party of middle-aged Elks Lodge members celebrating a birthday — at 10 p.m. on a Monday. Poltergeist is playing on mute on the TV, a fire is going in the fireplace, and somebody goes out for Nation’s Giant Hamburgers — a 64-year-old Bay Area chain that’s frustratingly unavailable in San Francisco proper. (Don’t want a burger? The Fireside is flanked by a sushi spot on one side and a taqueria on the other.)
The chanteuse resumes her station behind the bar. There is a fat stack of board games in the back, with contemporary classics like Cranium and Apples to Apples, perennial rainy-day favorites like Risk, and ’80s-era obscurities like Rummikub. There’s pool, too. But that’s no match for the pinball: a Dolly Parton-themed machine showing the Backwoods Barbie’s ample endowment more than a few times. (Perhaps uncoincidentally, the Pacific Pinball Museum is only a block away.)
Bars of this vintage usually have good bones, and the Fireside is no different: The shelves of liquor are mirrored, with curved wood and built-in drawers. Being a hangout for East Bay Burners skilled in the industrial arts, this bar has a custom-made sign set in Helvetica with each letter individually fabricated: “Be Nice or Leave.” It’s not clear what punishment anyone will mete out if you violate this commandment — and there’s an inspirational quote from Bernie Sanders tacked to the back of the to-go beer fridge — but in the restroom, there’s a blown-up image of Muhammad Ali hovering over a vanquished Sonny Liston. This bar is the greatest.
The Fireside Lounge, 1453 Webster St., 510-864-1244 or thefiresidelounge.com