A Berkeley Treasure Needs You--
Help Bail Out Le Bateau Ivre !

Becky O'Malley
Friday October 10, 2014 - 08:05:00 AM
Two of the Dazzling Divas, Eliza O'Malley and Kathleen Moss Miller, plus accompanist Alexander Katsman.
Two of the Dazzling Divas, Eliza O'Malley and Kathleen Moss Miller, plus accompanist Alexander Katsman.

It’s a noisy world out there these days. Although we’ve lived on Ashby Avenue for more than 40 years, I’m still not used to it, and it’s getting worse. As neighboring streets have gradually barricaded themselves from traffic, parking restrictions have popped up almost everywhere except in front of our house, it seems. But where we live, U.C. commuters from over the hill can park all day long, and they do.

Since they’re basically exurbanites, leaving their oversized and ugly SUVs on a Berkeley street makes them nervous, so they invest in the loudest car alarms money can buy. And since we get a lot of very noisy truck traffic all day long, the street shakes, and that sets off the alarms, all day long. LOUD!

What can those of us who are trying to work at home do about it? Exactly nothing. Yesterday, I called the city of Berkeley’s vaunted 311 number, supposed to provide answers to all problems civic, to see if any law was being broken by having a hypersensitive car alarm blaring for a quarter of an hour.

Of course, quelle surprise, there was no one available to answer the phone. “Press 1 to leave a message and we’ll get right back” the nice recorded person said (or something like that). So I pressed, but the next not so nice recorded person said the office was closed (at 2 in the afternoon). I dutifully left a message anyway, but no one has called me back.

Of course, deep in my heart of hearts I know that Berkeley tolerates any amount of noise, including the illegal gasoline-powered two-stroke engine blower that the gardener down the block uses early on Sunday mornings, the power tools which are building a possibly-legal addition around the corner and the occasional loud parties at the big house across the street which seems to be rented to students. Mostly, I’ve gotten used to it, but the car alarms are slowly driving me even madder than I must already be to live on Ashby.

Which is why (after that long preamble) I value a quiet evening at Le Bateau Ivre. In a town where restaurants seem to be competing to see who can split the patrons’ eardrums first, “The Bat,” as its fans call it, is blessedly quiet, with just a faint undertone of well-selected classical music in the background to muffle any sound escaping from Telegraph Avenue. If you go with friends, you can converse. I used to go to Peets for the music chosen by founder Alfred Peet, but the last time I was in the Domingo branch the ambient loud sound reflected instead the taste of the teenagers behind the counter.

At The Bat (or The Drunken Boat, if you don’t have any French) you can even hear live music, increasingly rare or expensive in a corporate and digitized world. Real people play real instruments and sing with real voices from 7 to 9 every Wednesday night.

I’ve heard Mal Sharpe playing jazz, Irish music both traditional and modern, an old-timey fiddle band, and my personal fave, the Dazzling Divas, three lovely singers and their accompanist who fill the intimate space with opera’s top hits.

You can even indulge in a gourmet French dinner or tasty snacks with a glass of wine or beer while you listen. And it’s free, no cover charge, though the sign on the tables says “tips are the performers’ only compensation”, and you’d have to be pretty broke or pretty churlish not to drop something in the basket when it’s passed.

Which brings us to the uncomfortable but necessary subject of money.

Proprietor Arlene Giordano started Le Bateau Ivre 42 years ago with her husband, known to most only by one name, Cooper. They ran it together, with Cooper onsite most of the time and Arlene working by day at a demanding technical profession. In 2008 he died suddenly, and since then Arlene has been struggling to keep the boat afloat. She’s retired from her day job, and now works day and night to preserve what has become a valued community institution.

But inevitably after all this time stuff wears out, stuff needs to be fixed and even improvements are needed. So, prompted by customers who have now become friends, Arlene has launched an Indiegogo campaign to raise capital for urgent fixes. And if you’ve never experienced the Bat’s warm European ambiance, this Wednesday, October 15, would be the perfect opportunity to see what you’ve been missing.

The Dazzling Divas will be back. (Full disclosure: I’m related to one of them.) If you get there about 6:30, you can choose your favorite table in the cozy room where the live shows take place and order dinner before the music starts at 7.

If you’ve never heard Puccini or Mozart up close and personal you have a real treat in store—they always rock the room. It’s the opposite of quiet, of course, but once in a while some glorious noise is welcome, isn’t it?

Le Bateau Ivre is located in a delightful old house a few blocks south of the U.C. Berkeley campus, in the quieter residential section of Telegraph in Berkeley at 2629 Telegraph Avenue.

Click below on the poster to learn more about that Indiegogo campaign.