press room



Homey Albatross feels like familiar nest

Jessica Yadegaran
04/20/2006 - The Contra Costa Times
So, I’m about to gush. This happens rarely, I know. What can I say? I’m no longer in my easy-to-please 20’s when anything with a pink hue in a pointy glass kept me devoted to a bar.
Then again, I’m not hard to please, either. I’m just over scenes, paper umbrellas and music so loud it dominates my heartbeat. Why go somewhere stiff as nails and watch the pretty people when you can feel like you’re at the house of someone – that high school friend’s with the cool parents – who always throws a killer party?
You get that at the Albatross Pub, the cabin-like Berkeley watering hole that turns 42 this month. And if the whole 40-is-the-new-30 thing applies to bars, I can honestly say that the Albatross is hotter than ever. Where else can you find 50 bottled beers and play dozens of board games – Trivial Pursuit , Pictionary, even Connect Four – as you slam your next scotch? Did I mention darts? There are six lanes of fun, and a giant ceiling-high Viking toasting your every toss with a chalice and a smile.
I flew solo on Saturday night, saddled on up to the cozy bar – which has hooks underneath to hold your purse, brilliant! – and ordered myself a Moscow Mule, a delicious blend of vodka, ginger beer and lime juice. I’ve tried this concoction with rum, and it kills the refreshing tingle ginger like talk of Mom kills the mood. Always drink it with vodka.
I chatted with the bartender, Jack, the lady to my left (an artist) and the gentleman to my right (a mechanic). Both are Albatross regulars, especially, they said, because they can bring their dogs to the bar before 8 p.m. A horrible accident involving stepping on a pup led to the somewhat recent doggy curfew. Otherwise, the canine love abounds.
Before long, the object of my affection arrived and together we hooked up the popcorn (25 cents gets you all you can eat out of a converted phone booth) and ran into not two or three but six of his friends. We grabbed a table in the back near the dart aisles and talked optometry (they’re third years at Cal). Everyone had an Albatross story. Kevin remembered hanging with a homeless dude there. His buddy recalled getting his rear kicked at chess while tossing back some stuff ones. Good times.
Well into the night, the 20 or so tables in the front room were packed with people creaming each other over Black Jack, slamming their winning hands hard on the table and cackling over whatever tunes might be playing (jazz and bluegrass bands play on alternating Wednesdays and Saturdays). Along the side of the bar, more tables gamed, with low lamps illuminating moody paintings above that are surely homages to Gustav Klimt. The jack spot of all is at a table in the center of the bar, behind a flickering fireplace.
It wouldn’t be home without competition, so owner Wendy Halambeck hosts a dart tournament on Tuesdays and trivia quiz on Sundays that supposedly draws hundreds of people who would otherwise be tuning in to “Grey’s Anatomy.”
Toward the end of the night, I saw Halambeck buzzing around, chatting up her friends. Er, guests. You know what I mean. That’s when it felt like a living room. Andy Tester’s mom’s to be exact, sophomore year in high school. His band, Groove Tortoise, would play before we stuffed our faces with popcorn and busted out the Monopoly.