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Trader Vic's is most famous for being the place where the Mai Tai was invented, which is why happy hour is the perfect time to try a discounted house version. It tastes like a staycation in a glass, and is also available in mango, guava or Maui flavors.
But be careful — this drink is strong and goes down easy. It's best to balance the booze and sweetness with some deep fried, salty snacks, like pork crackling and crab rangoon. After a couple hours of sipping Mai Tais, enjoying the beautiful marina view, and feeling slightly like you're in a 1960s Disneyland hotel bar, you'll be ready to return to reality feeling, well, happy. Because isn't that what happy hour is all about: forgetting your problems while taking a quiet, relaxing, booze-filled two-hour vacation away from the rest of the world? Don't forget to wear a Hawaiian shirt and tip your valet! Happy hour is Tue., 4 p.m. to close; Wed.–Fri., 4–6 p.m. and 9–close. 9 Anchor Dr., Emeryville; 510-653-3400; TraderVicsEmeryville.com. (P.R.)
A Futuristic and Underground Oasis
It felt like the hottest day of the year — one of those summer afternoons where everything is sweaty and it hurts to move your limbs. On those days, there's only one antidote: As my roommate proclaimed, springing off the couch: "Dollar Oysters! Blind Tiger!"
For the unacquainted: Blind Tiger is the bar next to Gogi Time on Telegraph Avenue and 27th Street that opened this past spring. The front entrance is dark, besides the gleaming, silver tiger head that guards the front doors. Inside, a staircase leads to a huge basement oasis that feels a little bit like a life-size diorama of an Asian marketplace — except underground. An array of Chinese lanterns floats along the ceiling above rows of picnic tables, and projections of cult-classic movies light up the walls. There's a futuristic air to the room, too — like this might be where people who live on spaceships go instead of the beach.
But the cooling atmosphere is only the second-best reason to go there. No. 1: During happy hour, which is every day from 5–7 p.m., the raw bar is half off — and the featured oyster of the day costs only a buck each. Drinks — house cocktails, beer, wine, and champagne — are a dollar off.
And these aren't some cheapo oysters that will make you sick. They're elegantly presented on a bed of ice with all the proper toppings, perfectly cooled. And no matter what oyster is $1 that day, it's always super fresh.
Other raw-bar selections include yellow tail sashimi ($15), ahi tuna poke ($12), and rock cod ceviche ($11). But I advise sticking to the oysters.
Spend your extra cash on a tropical cocktail. On a recent sweltering afternoon, I chose the Chango Tranquillo: a mix of mezcal, guava puree, grenadine, and lime juice. It was smoky and fruity and not too sweet. I sipped on my cocktail as the bartender placed a dozen oysters in front of me and I forgot entirely that I had been melting just twenty minutes earlier. Even on a day with reasonable weather, it can be difficult to ascend back into the regular world. 2600B Telegraph Ave., Oakland; 510-899-9694; BlindTigerOakland.org. (S.B.)
Fernet and Free Bites
Adesso's aperitivo hours (Tue.–Thu., 5–6 p.m. and 10:30–11:30 p.m.; and Fri. and Sat. from 5–6 p.m. and 11 p.m.–midnight) are relaxed and low-key, just like the bar itself.
For the early evening happy-hour, martinis (both gin and vodka) are $7. And for the late-night happy hour, you can get $5 Lambrusco and Fernet. At both times, plates of snacks will come out from the kitchen for you to munch while you drink. Recently, these free bites were crostini with ricotta and honey, slices of house-made salumi, and potato chips. The menu is built for snacking, with about twenty types of salumi, and a handful of pâtes to start with. I also highly recommend the arancini — perfectly fried risotto balls filled with cheese and pork ragu; the crispy and refreshing little gems salad; and, on the cheese plate, the nocciolo, a creamy and flavorful sheep, goat, and cow blend.
If you're looking for heartier fare, Adesso has a frequently changing list of three to four panini with interesting fillings; make sure to get there before the end of tomato season to try the Early Girl tomato panini.
On the regular cocktail menu, the Billionaire (a bourbon-based drink with lemon, grenadine, and absinthe), may help you forget Donald Trump is running for president, and the Jalisco's Burning, with tequila, lemon, and chili, has a great kick.
On a recent Thursday, the bar was only half-full, which makes this the perfect spot to meet up with a friend you want to actually have a conversation with, or for a date with someone you already know you like. 4395 Piedmont Ave., Oakland; DopoAdesso.com. (J.G.)
Big Like Boogie Nights
Otaez Mexican Restaurant
It's uncommon these days to see margaritas served in traditional glassware, such as the vessels used in that scene from Boogie Nights, when Brock Landers hands Dirk Diggler a high-octane marg. But that retro cocktail glass remains de rigueur at Otaez, the down-home Mexican spot just west of the tunnel in Alameda: The gigantic margaritas in glasses probably six or seven inches in diameter.