It’s not a dive bar. No, Baggy’s By the Lake is better than that.The neighborhood watering hole on the east end of Lake Merritt is a lounge lizard’s paradise. Call it a place for the incognito rendezvous, a spot for beer nursers and cocktail sippers or a night owl’s roost. Call it what you want — except dive bar.
Local legend has it that the co-owner bartenders didn’t like it when a newspaper that rhymes with barnacle applied that description to the East 18th Street drinkery.
So, how about, say, unintentionally retro with a splash of punk?
That’s how I would sum up the decor that combines pastoral paintings of cowboys, lavishly romantic bronze statues of angels (or some celestial creature) and a gaming contraption that was a cross between a slot machine and TV game show.
Bleep, bleep, bleep.
The hurricane candles on the worn, shiny oak tables were reminiscent of a Las Vegas bar at the end of the strip, circa 1975.
Then there was the signs that read “Business hours are subject to change during fishing season,” and “Enjoy Baggy’s By the Bay happy hour.” ($2 PBR pints — short for Pabst Blue Ribbon — $3 well drinks and $3 microbrews.)
“We’re the only ones here,” said a man at the more dignified bar as I pulled up a stool and stared right into the face of an angel sculpture that doubles as a clock.
The angel was resplendent under a huge photograph of Baggy’s that looks old enough to be from the days when pioneer Moses Chase pitched a tent on land that would become the Clinton Park (aka Eastlake) neighborhood.
Local legend also has it that Clinton was the last name of the love of his life, a Massachusetts lady who broke his heart.
That’s a story to ponderwhile riding in a gondola on Lake Merritt, or over a martini sitting in one of Baggy’s highback chairs near the fireplace.
Another story is that Gertrude Stein lived at the Tubbs Hotel, which was nearby on East 12th Street. She’s the famous writer who gave Oakland the painfully misunderstood slogan “There’s no there there.”
Well, Tubbs probably was gone before Baggy’s ever opened.
The bar is not that old, but it did make it past the old days, the bad times and the better ones that began with the opening of the Parkway Speakeasy Theater, which hipped up the neighborhood and drew in residents, in turn drumming up business for Baggy’s.
Too bad the kitchen closed down a while ago. The next-door Vietnamese restaurant has saved many a hungry patron, but this night owl settled for a bag of nacho cheese Doritos (don’t ask) to go with her martini — a petite one served by a sympathetic, pixie-cute bartender with three, count them, three olives.
They were itsy-bitsy olives, though.
Bourbon and water is the drink of choice by day, the bartender told me. Manhattans are the after-hour pick, however.
“I’d have to say more people drink Manhattans than martinis,” she added.
Right, I thought, and said, “They’re not for everyone.”
“You have to like vermouth a little bit,” she said.
Still, the martini is the bar’s mascot (we share so much in common).
On the facade, a neon martini glass shines in all its alcoholic glow over Baggy’s written in neon cursive lettering.
There’s another neon sign. The one in the window that reads “OPEN.”