Albany: Off to the Races

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With one of the biggest days in horse racing just around the bend, you don’t have to be in Kentucky to enjoy the derby. Golden Gate Fields in Albany offers a place to watch the race, drink mint juleps and wear glamorous, horse themed or outrageous headwear in the annual hat contest. A Berkeley hat store meets all of those derby hat desires and nearby Albany has restaurants for brunch or burgers and bars to wind down after the excitement.

Jodie’s Restaurant (902 Masonic Avenue, Albany)
A favorite among locals, this 24-year-old Albany secret is a first-rate stop for breakfast, lunch and original takes on diner classics. Seating is offered outdoors as well as at a small counter inside, where newcomers are quickly acquainted with owner Jodie Royston and an amiable crowd of regulars. The philosophy is easy; good food takes time and everything is made to order. The wall is filled with menu items, and “what's on the wall isn't in the menu and what's in the menu isn't all there is.”
Open Wednesday through Friday, 8a.m. to 3p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, 8a.m. to 4p.m.

Berkeley Hat Company (2510 Telegraph Avenue, Berkeley)
The Berkeley Hat Company is filled to the brim with hats of all color and description. The store has been on Telegraph Avenue for over 30 years, and owners Carol and Ed Dougherty got their start making and selling Panama hats at fairs around California. The store now carries something for every headwear enthusiast. Hats are hand selected from all over the world for the Kentucky Derby season, one of the busiest at the store.

Golden Gate Fields (1100 Eastshore Highway, Berkeley)
Now the only major racetrack in Northern California, Golden Gate Fields hosts horse racing throughout the season, and live coverage of the Triple Crown races. Weekends at the track are fun for the family, racing enthusiasts and the gambling inclined. For those who are green to racing, the website provides step-by-step tutorials on how to pick the winning steed (or come up with a theory of your own). Every Sunday is Dollar Day, an across-the-board winner, which features admission, beer, hot dogs and soda for only a buck each. Bring a hat and get ready to cheer.
The Kentucky Derby party is Saturday May 4, starting at 11a.m. and ending at 4p.m. Check the website for hat contest details. Free shuttles depart from North Berkeley BART station.

Club Mallard (752 San Pablo Avenue, Albany)
Wood paneled and adorned with taxidermy animal heads, this hunting lodge themed neighborhood bar is a must stop for expertly made cocktails and inexpensive billiards. With two floors and an outdoor patio, it is equipped for a casual drink or lively nightlife. Continue the derby theme with an Orange Manhattan made with Kentucky bourbon. With its close proximity to the race track, jockeys have been known to stop by for libation after the races.

Written and photographed by Beth LaBerge for the SF Weekly.

Published on May 2, 2013

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