press room




Inside Bay Area NewsBy Laura Casey,
Oakland Tribune Correspondent
Inside Bay Area News, April 11, 2014
The Albatross, Berkeley's oldest pub, is turning 50 this month and it sure is looking good for its age.
Step into the rustic, art-filled bar and you won't see people falling down drunk and you won't have to shout over the music blasting from the speakers. Instead, you can grab a draft of Belgian beer, borrow a game of Apples to Apples and play it at one of the many, many tables in the pub.
And pub owners Wendy Halambeck and Linda Zsilavetz are celebrating the milestone anniversary starting April 20 with 50 days of drink specials, retro cocktails, a 1960s band on June 6 and special giveaways.
"Our bartenders are going to be making 'Mad Men' style drinks like Manhattans, martinis, grasshoppers," Halambeck said. The fancy stemware has been cleaned for the marathon party, the T-shirts have been made and a sign announcing the anniversary has been propped up on the pub's façade.
The Albatross opened when the free speech movement was bursting at UC Berkeley and college students gathered here to debate – and sometimes argue – its finer points. Bartenders were slipping drinks across the bar when The Beatles were sweeping the nation and when people were fighting for civil rights shortly after hearing Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
Although its quality declined once in its five decades, Halambeck and Zsilavetz shined it up when they bought it in 1996 and it has consistently been named one of the best pubs in the Bay Area by newspapers and magazines ever since.
"It's a place where all age groups can feel comfortable," Zsilavetz said. "You can bring your parents, you can bring a date. It's not a pickup joint. It's somewhere where you feel comfortable coming with yourself or a group."
The Albatross is known for its games. Aside from a long list of social and board games kept behind the bar, the pub has several lanes for darts and a by-the-hour pool table in the back, right hand side of the building. You can play darts all night for $1 or join in on the Sunday night quiz nights. You can also feast on a bottomless bowl of popcorn for $1, served in a vintage telephone booth. Remember what they are?
Cocktails also aren't the $12 fare you see around town. You can get a "Truthseeker" – a vodka, raspberry and orange cocktail -- for $7 or a nice Maker's Mark Manhattan for $9.
"I really wanted this to be a reasonable night out for people," Halambeck said. "It's a place where people can have fun for not all that much money."
In the back is a fireplace lit on cold nights. A large, L-shape couch marks the middle of the space and that's where Berkeley's Eric Peterson sits with his dog Dante. Although people under 21 aren't allowed in, dogs are welcome if well-behaved.
"I like that it's mostly known for being a game bar," Peterson said as he tapped his Lab-shepherd mix on the head to make him comfortable on his first trip to the Albatross. "It has such a great atmosphere that I'm hosting a meetup group here next week."
The coziness of the place is intentional as the owners want it to be a place where drinking excessively is not the goal. "People say they're in their living room," Halambeck said. "We're able to do that because we have a comfortable space for tables and couches."
Albatross regular Rebeka Newbold, 30, comes to the bar after work for some good beer – from $3 Pabst to $15 Belgium Chimay Reds – and conversation.
"You have an intelligent crowd. UC Berkeley students come in who have gotten me off on philosophical conversations," she said over light but audible songs from Janis Joplin and the Rolling Stones. "Then you have your Average Joe coming in. It's a big mix."
Jamie Gannon, 34, doesn't come often because she has two kids, but when she has friends in town the Albatross is the first place she takes them.
"I like the ambience when you walk in," she said. "It kind of feels like you walking back in time and it's not like a dive bar. It has class to it. I feel like professors and students have been walking in here for years and discussing important things."