Berkeley After Dark: Fourth Street

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Kate and I dropped into Brennan’s last night–the undead version that has opened in Berkeley’s old Southern Pacific train station across the parking lot from the old location. The old location was razed to make way for a massive block of condominiums, the top floors of which will have an intimate view of traffic on the University Avenue overpass. Maybe the condos atop the former Brennan’s site will experience some unquiet moments as tipsy patrons from ages past try to find their way to the old bar. If so, it will be the most lively after-dark activity in the neighborhood.

The new Brennan’s has one or two things going for it. The station is a beautiful Mission-style building and the bar’s proprietors went to great lengths to recreate a replica of the old, barnlike dining room in their new, more confined space. The place features Brennan’s familiar inexpensive meat-and-mashed potatoes menu, served from steam tables along a cafeteria line. It’s got beaucoups high-def big-screen TVs for sports fans, and the bar still has the best Irish coffees anywhere.*

But for myriad reasons, Brennan’s night-time business has died. Last night, we walked in about 10:30, an hour when you might expect to find a bar still revving up. There were about half a dozen people in the place. From what I’ve heard about the profit margin in bar alchohol sales, the gradual disappearance of that trade has got to have eaten into the owners’ income from the place. But they seem content to just let it continue dwindling. The Saturday night bartender is a taciturn sort, maybe given to sad contemplation of the absence of customers and consequent dearth of tips. In the two or three times I’ve done business with him, he gives the impression of rendering service glumly and a little unwillingly; the only act I saw him perform with any alacrity was switching off the “open” sign and most of the bar lights at 11 p.m. on the dot. He did not have to chase us out–we got the message.

We sat and talked in the car for awhile. The rain that had been falling on and off all evening started again as we started up the car. I stopped around the corner from Brennan’s to take a picture of the Spenger’s sign in the rain. Haven’t eaten there for ages, though we used to get takeout chowder from there regularly. Acquaintances who have partaken of Spenger’s fare have suggested that the sign may be the restaurant’s best offering.

*Statement not based on actual research.

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