December 9, 2011

December 9, 2011
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Step right up. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Owner Jessica Maria making a Hot Totsy. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

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Joyce DeWitt loves this place. Photo: © tablehopper.com.

I know many of my East Bay pals adore the ~HOTSY TOTSY CLUB~, Albany’s oldest bar (“Keeping Albany tipsy since 1939”). If this bar was in the city, it would assuredly be overrun with hipsters, girls yelling “woooohooo!” as they progressively get more wasted, and generally impossible to find a seat at, ever. But because this gem of a bar is tucked away on a distant stretch of San Pablo Avenue in Albany, it has maintained a stellar neighborhood bar vibe that I love to see. A total hodgepodge of clientele, keepin’ it real.

The place made me think I was at a reallllly good Silverlake bar in Los Angeles, with vintage swivel barstools, an amazing Pabst light-up sign that looks like it’s from the late 1960s/early 1970s, artwork of crying children (love those—although the ones here look like they are eating their dogs), a brilliant neon sign that serves as a beacon for boozers (you can’t miss it), a shuffleboard table, a pool table, a pressed tin ceiling, wood wainscoting, a choice soundtrack, and a signed picture of Joyce DeWitt. Really, there is nothing more that you need. There are all kinds of special events (hello, Stewsday!). Daily happy hour until 7pm. And then you see the El Autlense taco truck parked in the neighboring lot, and you think your head might explode, it’s all just so f*cking great. And you haven’t even had a drink yet.

Bar owner Jessica Maria has been running the show here for three years (she owns the business with her boyfriend), and I have heard her bar staff just rocks. The selection of spirits is all that and then some, ditto on all the vintage glassware. The place definitely shows a stylish woman’s influence, with all the smart little touches. I really enjoyed watching Jessica make drinks, with her quiet flair, total confidence, and grace. I also learned the one thing missing from my Manhattan-making at home: a thermometer to measure the perfect chilled temp.

But it’s cold as eff out, so we’re here to discuss the swell cold weather cocktails on offer right now. When we walked in, we were lucky to witness Jessica making the Hot Totsy ($9, overproof rum, Fundador brandy, honey syrup, lemon juice), and then create a sparky fire show with a flurry of nutmeg, cinnamon, and other spices. Uh, hell yes! Lemme see it again! The hot buttered rum ($8) comes in a spiffy vintage glass, and wait until you taste it—I decided my own version was tragic after tasting this one. Back to the drawing board. There’s also a Brandy Alexander, Jessica’s Wicked Hot Cider…. Go to town.

My only lament is that this bar is so far from my apartment that I have to seriously pace myself if I’m going to make it home safe. No flashing lights in the rearview mirror for me, thanks. Time to start saving for the Hopper Chopper, or as my friend just christened it, the TableChopper. But in the meantime, I’m ready to keep working my way through that list of holiday cocktails.

601 San Pablo Ave. at Garfield, Albany, 510-526-5986.