New: Ghosts of the Past: Blake's Re-opening on Telegraph Avenue as Pappy's--a Happy, If Haunted, Reminder of Berkeley's Past

By Ted Friedman
Wednesday January 25, 2012 - 09:54:00 AM
Sleek new lookout at Pappy's, Saturday, retains Blake's view of the Avenue, but not from tables.
Ted Friedman
Sleek new lookout at Pappy's, Saturday, retains Blake's view of the Avenue, but not from tables.

Ghosts of Berkeley's Blake's past happily haunt us on Telegraph Avenue.

Don't expect a chronology here, but ever since I can remember, Larry Blake's on upper Teley, has been closing and re-opening. Re-opened once more as Pappy's Bar and Grill, Saturday, it is more Blake's than ever, thanks to "smart" Alex Popov, who runs Smart Alec's next door. 

I visited Blake's rathskeller in 1963, and, except for the absence of fraternity and sorority paddles and wooden booths, Pappy's downstairs den reminds me of 60s Blake's. Removal of the mezzanine upstairs is another throw-back, since the balcony was only around a few decades. 

If you thought Smart Alec's, next door, was intelligent, wait till you see Pappy's. Popov's smart half- block at Telegraph and Durant has made the whole neighborhood intellectual. 

Popov tells me he has dreamed of owning a sports bar and grill since 1997, when he tried to buy Kip's, another Berkeley nearby institution. Popov's dream-come-true, may enhance our own dreams. 

John Lineweaver, past president of Teley property owners, and owner of the Pappy's building is no chump either. Stepping in to stem noise, and other neighborhood complaints--when Blake's had morphed into a south of market noise machine--Lineweaver put strict noise controls on Pappy's. 

At the Pappy's pre-opening, Saturday, I asked Lineweaver if he was bothered by the music not emanating from the "rathskeller" downstairs. I had just emerged from the new downstairs den, where someone had requested by cell phone a "song," which re-iterated "chick-baby" so annoyingly--I just had to ask Lineweaver about it. 

"As long as I can't hear it upstairs [where he sat], I 'm happy," Lineweaver, a soft-spoken man, replied. 

These guys are smart. 

To say, I had anticipated Pappy's opening would be an understatement. But the re-opening was stalled by fire inspectors, according to Popov, and finally moved forward to Super Bowl weekend, a deadline it beat. I began snooping the site several weeks ago, even sneaking into the gated alley behind the building to peek in. 

My last visit to Blake's shortly before it closed, included blaring music from the mezzanine, and stale beer. When I heard the mezzanine would be gone at the new Blake's, and loud was out, I was cheered. 

Now for that beer. One sip of my "hefeweizen" pint threatened to rain on my parade. What to do? Sparingly sip the battery-acid brew, or take a chance. Elbowing my way over hunched shoulders at the bar to reach the bartender, I asked "Can I swap this out? I promise to not ask for another replacement." The next choice, Racer5, IPO Ale, was a winner, and free. I paid $5 for the replaced pint, a dollar less than Kip's. Beer problem solved. 

Pappy's solves a lot of problems. It restores pub life on the avenue, after the Sequoia fire took out Raleigh's, and it gives Berkeley yet another take on Blake's. It avoids drawing punks, and it might be a shot in the arm for the whole dispirited neighborhood. 

In my last visit to Raleigh's, I had been asked to leave the football game I was watching, if I didn't order beer or food. I left without getting my free Coke refill, vowing to not return, although I worried how I would survive without the onion rings. I understood the bartender's point, just disliked her manner. 

Based on my experiences, Saturday, and Sunday for the Niners game, I give Pappy's a ton of stars for good vibes. Everyone, from smart Alex to the bartender to the manager, Jessie Jones, to my favorite waitress,Tempest, were good folk. 

Wondering about the food? Here Popov faced a dilemma. What had made Smart Alec's food intelligent was precisely that it was not saturated-fat bar food. He had to bite the fat for Pappy's. 

While he was biting the fat, he brought three new food items to the avenue: tri-tip roast, and smoked-in-house turkey and chicken. Beef burgers, and pulled-pork patties (another first) are grilled over red oak chips--a first. Which one of these will kill you first? 

Pulled pork is the fattiest item, the tri-tip moderately fat. If you're worried about your health, you step next door for allegedly "healthy" foods. Popov covers your stomach. 

If you're unfulfilled by Smart Alec's salad, move to Pappy's for a heap of greens topped off with smoked meat or fowl. Looked worth drooling over. 

Best-of department: Pappy's has the best fries in town, based on my research. I'd tell you how it's done, but you can't do it at home anyway. 

Tempest, the gracious waitress, is handling on-line publicity, and plans are afoot to restore the former rathskeller to a fraternity-sorority hub, as it was in Blake's early years, according to her. 

Capacity seating (300 plus) was topped Saturday, just from word of mouth, according to Tempest, and on Sunday for the Niners game Pappy's was jammed. The 205 inch big screen projection TV, in the main room is another avenue first. 

Pappy's offered free food for its pre-opening, where the free tri-tip "sold" out. 

Popov is still putting the finishing touches on the sleek digs, such as tinting the windows for better viewing of the cyclopean screen. He might bring in more Cal memorabilia, but, as he told me, the Pappy's motif is not what Pappy's is all about. 

Perhaps Pappy's is about having a good-provider.