Every Cal graduate was once a UC Berkeley student with preferred watering holes and places to grab a quick bite to eat. Time, however, has changed the foodscape around Berkeley. Many of these old haunts are no longer in business. Here are eleven shuttered Berkeley establishments that alumni still cry over.
Caffe Mediterraneum opened its doors in 1957 to generations of Berkeley’s finest. The cafe’s patrons included poet Allen Ginsberg; activists protesting during the Free Speech Movement and at anti-Vietnam War protests; members of the Black Panther Party; and actor Dustin Hoffman in the film The Graduate. Owner Craig Becker passed the lease to a group of restaurant owners, but not before he hosted a send-off which included guests like Berkeley mayor and Cal graduate Jesse Arreguín ’07. Caffe Mediterraneum closed in January 2017.
Fun fact: Founder and owner of Crepes A-Go-Go, Linda Gilman, began selling crepes in the Bay Area in the early 1990s from a food truck. She opened Crepes Ooh La La on University Avenue in 1994 before expanding to Telegraph Avenue with Crepes A-Go-Go. The location on Telegraph served UC Berkeley students affordable, fresh crepes with both savory and sweet options, including one named after Gilman’s son called “The King ‘Lias.” Students appreciated Crepes A-Go-Go not just for its convenient location close to campus and its $6 crepes, but also its speedy service that allowed them to get to class right on Berkeley time. Crepes A-Go-Go closed in April 2016.
Smart Alec’s Intelligent Food
Since 1996, UC Berkeley students knew to save their A-graded papers and exams to bring to Smart Alec’s for a bag of free, air-baked fries. Students without As still frequented Smart Alec’s for their affordable, healthy food offerings including salads, soups, and sandwiches. Founder Alex Popov sold Smart Alec’s in 2010 while he continued to oversee Pappy’s Grill. Due to rent increases and competition, Smart Alec’s new owner decided to close, but Popov reassures students that Pappy’s will continue to serve some of Smart Alec’s favorite selections—like its cornbread. Smart Alec’s closed in November 2016.
Pubs and Bars
Beckett’s Irish Pub and Restaurant
Martin and Mary Connolly opened Beckett’s in 2001, back when the building was being rehabilitated. The bar didn’t just offer drinks; it also hosted regular live music performances where students and locals gathered and formed a community. The Connollys ultimately decided to close Beckett’s, not because there was a lack of customers, but because the space was too large for their needs. Beckett’s Irish Pub and Restaurant closed in February 2011.
John Brennan opened the iconic Brennan’s Restaurant back in 1959, and before the restaurant’s closing in 2018, his granddaughter Margaret Wade was the third generation of their family to own the restaurant. Wade ultimately made the decision to close because of rising rent prices, citing decreasing numbers of people who drink as much as they did in the 70s and warmer winters that kept patrons from craving their classic, heavy meat-and-potatoes dishes. Up to Brennan’s closing day, locals went to enjoy the sports bar and the most famous Irish coffee in the East Bay. Brennan’s Restaurant closed in September 2018.
The Blue Nile
Seyoum Kebede opened The Blue Nile in Berkeley in 1982, just two years after he opened the restaurant’s first location in Oakland. The original Blue Nile was the Bay Area’s first Ethiopian restaurant and quickly became the gathering spot for the Ethiopians living in the area. Students in Berkeley loved The Blue Nile, and alumni who remained in the area continued to patron the restaurant for years. Most notably, the restaurant was known for its rich tej honey wine, which many have failed to find elsewhere since the restaurant’s closing. Based on Yelp reviews, The Blue Nile closed in January 2007.
In 1950, Oscar’s began serving burgers, fries, and other standard diner food to the Berkeley community. Students and professors alike frequented the reliable restaurant, where little changed during its 65 years of service. It was founded by a family who never chose to share their names, but carried on for one generation before they decided to close their business. Oscar’s closed in November 2015.
For 30 years, Sufficient Grounds served UC Berkeley students from its Sather Lane location with sandwiches served on housemade, one-of-a-kind bread. Many students were regulars and frequented the shop from their first to last year at Cal. The Daily Californian readers even voted Sufficient Grounds as “Best Sandwich” in the Best of Berkeley awards in 2001, 2009, and 2010. Owner Anthony Tasoulinh said his decision to close his shop was driven largely by the rising rent prices and declining revenue. Alumni still report that they miss the bread. Sufficient Grounds closed in April 2010.
The Beanery was frequented not just by Elmwood community members, but also Cal students and professors who spent many hours studying and writing in the cafe. While The Beanery still has storefronts in San Francisco and Alameda, its Berkeley location on College Avenue was sold after 18 years. Co-owner Sima Navaie sold the cafe because she wanted to dedicate more time to her family. Navaie and her husband, however, chose carefully when they sold their business, ensuring that Organic Greens, which would take over the location, would fill the needs of their loyal customers and community. The Beanery closed in February 2018.
Many freshmen at Berkeley will always remember fondly riding the 51B from their dorm down College Avenue to stand in a line that stretched several storefronts, to get their first taste of a Berkeley classic. Ici Ice Cream opened in September 2006. Founder Mary Canales had finished a nine-year tenure as pastry chef at Chez Panisse and was looking to create her own place, where she could express greater creativity with her food. For all 12 years of Ici’s time at Berkeley, the store was known for its fresh ingredients, rotating daily flavors, and homemade waffle cones. Ici’s closed in November 2018.
The Virginia Bakery many Berkeley alumni came to know and love began in 1954, when Charles and Dorothy Erdmann bought the location from its previous owners (the Poechel family, who had owned the bakery location since 1925). After Charles’s unexpected passing, the business was handed down to John Erdmann, one of the Erdmann’s sons, in 1976. After 42 years, John and his wife retired to spend more time with their families. Loyal customers—everyone from Berkeley students to Black Panther co-founder Huey Newton—will forever remember this mom-and-pop bakery for its beautifully decorated cakes and cookies. Virginia Bakery closed in April 2018.
These eleven establishments are only a handful of the restaurants that have closed their doors over the past couple of decades in Berkeley. If your favorites didn’t make it onto this list, please share them with us! You can also find a complete story about Spenger’s Fresh Fish Grotto from CALIFORNIA magazine.
Posted on January 2, 2019 - 11:22am