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Notes From The Underground: Festive Alternatives for Ringing in the New Year

By C. Suprynowicz
Friday December 26, 2003

å If you think a proper New Years Eve can only be had by weaving your way to San Francisco and back, praying for safe passage, think again. Plot Wednesday evening properly and you can sidle from one Berkeley nightspot to another—getting your fill of food, drink, and revelry—without ever getting near a cab, a limo, or your own endangered set of wheels. 

Starting off downtown, Rhonda Benin and Soulful Strut play at 9:30 p.m. at the eponymous restaurant. For those who haven’t been, Downtown is an upscale eatery hanging off the edge of what Berkeley is calling its theater district. 2101 Shattuck Ave., 649-3810. 

Less pricey, and certain to be more raucous, is the trouble that’ll be perpetrated right across the street that evening at Jupiter’s New Year’s Eve party, featuring Glider performing “eclectic rock” at 9 p.m. 2181 Shattuck Ave., 848-8277. $10.  

San Pablo Avenue is the Bowery of Berkeley. It has escaped the face-lift and collagen that are making over the center of town, and retains the funky charm that I remember from my own landing here 20 years ago. If the streets down in the flats are not glamorous, the ambiance is warm and inviting inside the Albatross, a local watering hole that has always reminded me—in the best way—of an English Pub. Founded in 1964, there’s often live music at the Albatross, always several dart games underway in back, always popcorn in the popper, always single-malt at the bar and Guinness on draft. Their plan for New Years Eve is the Fourtet Jazz Quartet, 10 p.m.-1 a.m. 1822 San Pablo Ave., 843-2473 or $5, including midnight champagne and party favors. 

Without having to find car keys or a taxi you can launch yourself either north or south from the Albatross. At the Freight and Salvage Coffee House (south), you got your New Year’s Eve Bluegrass Bash with High Country, Dix Bruce and Jim Nually at 8 p.m. 1111 Addison St., 548-1761 or $22.50 in advance, $23.50 at the door.  

North from the Albatross you got the New Year’s Eve Balkan Bash at Ashkenaz with Zabava, Izvorno, Anoush, and Edessa, and Joe and Leslie. For those who may have just landed on these shores, Ashkenaz is the place to go dancing in the East Bay. Dancing to Balkan music, by the way, counts for two Pilates classes and a weekend of Bikram Yoga. 1317 San Pablo Ave., 525-5054 or $18.  

In the East Bay you can have New Years Eve with petitions and manifestos, if you like. And you can commute from one bastion of righteous ideology to another without burning a single petro-molecule. First, there’s the New Year’s Eve Zapatista Party from 8:30 p.m.-2 a.m. at Oakland’s Humanist Hall. “Join a Global Celebration for the 10th Anniversary of the Zapatista Uprising!” is the pitch. And the fun factor seems to be in place, with live music and dancing, featuring ORIXA—Rock en Espanol, Cumbias Bodhi Busick Band (“World Conscious Latin Folk Rock Son de la Tierra”), traditional Son Jarocho from Veracruz, plus (wait, there’s more) Aztec Dancers Cuahtonal, and Spoken Word artist Rolando Carrillo. 390 27th St., Oakland. $15 admission goes to benefit the sister Zapatista county of San Manuel.  

A 15-minute bike ride north through the urban jungle and you can be at La Peña Cultural Center. Their New Years’ Eve Fiesta Fabulosa is built on a simple credo: classic Cuban dance music with Orquesta La Moderna starting at 9:30 p.m. $20 in advance, $22 at the door. And the Cafe Valparaiso’s open for dinner. 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. 

The University of California, of course, is where some of our finest troublemakers got their start. Right next to campus you can get stinking drunk and really deaf in the basement of Larry Blake’s, then wake up in your dorm room the next morning, having staggered there under your own steam. Larry Blake’s, is of course, the time-honored dungeon that lurks just below street level a block south of Sather Gate. KGB and Sol Americano hold forth at 9:30 p.m. on New Year’s Eve. 2367 Telegraph Ave., 848-0886or $12 in advance, $15 at the door.  

You want it quiet, elegant, virtuosic? The San Francisco Chamber Orchestra Season comes to our side of the bay for the 18th annual Berkeley New Year’s Concert. Guest soloists this year are mezzo-soprano Sally Porter Munro, and violin prodigy Evie Chen, age 12, who will play a concerto that Felix Mendelssohn wrote when he was a composing prodigy of 13. Same program: music of Handel, Hayden, and Schubert. It’s 8 p.m. at the First Congregational Church, 2345 Channing Way. (415) 392-4400. $20.  

Nearby—all this action is in a three block radius, folks—after a short inebriated stroll up Bancroft, the Top Hat Waltz Ball will take place at “The beautiful Chevron Auditorium in the 1930s historical landmark International House.” 9 p.m.-12:30a.m. Music by the Brassworks Band, dance performance by the Top Hats. Formal dress, they say, is admired but not required. A non-alcoholic event, meaning both that hip flasks will be much in evidence, and that all ages are welcome. 2299 Piedmont. (650) 326 6265 or $20 in advance (by Dec. 27), $25 at the door. 

One more stop? Midway between the revelry down in the flats, the parties downtown, the various bacchanals near campus, and the various events trailing out to the south toward Oakland, we have the Epic Arts Studio. Good, weird fun will be had with Rosin Coven at 9 p.m. This is cabaret by way of Tom Waits and the Andrews Sisters: two female-style singers out front, a trombone, bass, couple of cellos, a glockenspiel, and (of course) an accordion. And, again, all ages are welcome at this event. It’s $30 per person, children half-price. Price of admission includes hors d’ouevres and champagne toast. 1923 Ashby Ave., 644-2204 or Reservations required. 

So who needs a limo and a reservation at the Top Of The Mark? It’s all right here, brothers and sisters, in the People’s Republic. 

Remember, go in peace. And if you can’t go in peace, just go.