New Life at Croll's Corner
Two Homeboys Bring Pub Grub to a West End Landmark
What could be more hometown than Croll’s corner bar, since 1883? How about two homeboys to run it? The newly revived corner of Central and Webster is called 1400 Bar and Grill (named for its Webster Street address), and is under the careful guidance of native sons Mike Cooper and Yanni (John) Placourakis. Cooper, also known as “Coop” to a generation of Encinal High School kids, was principal at Encinal after several years teaching. He’s currently teaching the fourth grade at Otis Elementary School, where he and Placourakis met in kindergarten a million years ago. Placourakis spent 25 years in Hawaii in the bar and restaurant business, and he returned to the mainland when opportunity knocked.
The pair had dreamed of opening a bar together for decades, and it was always about “finding a place on the West End, and the
best location on the West End,” says Cooper.“When this became available, it screamed at us!”
“And we answered the call,” Placourakis adds.
Now their vision of a family-friendly meeting-and-eating place has become a reality. Prices are moderate, the food is simple but tasty, and the atmosphere is friendly in many respects: “kid friendly, dog friendly, elderly friendly, gay friendly, bike friendly,” says Cooper. They hire local kids to work, and the neighbors have made it their corner bar. It’s history-friendly, too; photos reflect Alameda’s story, and the artwork of Alamedan Owen Smith (famed for his New Yorker magazine covers) depicts the building of the Golden Gate Bridge. There’s a 100-something-year old mosaic floor in the bar, original to the building, but a little uneven and perhaps unsafe, so the owners carpeted the floor to protect it, and left
“We’ve tried to bring (the bar) back to life,” says Placourakis. As well, they’ve made it “as green as possible.” Wines from Blacksmith Cellars (Alameda) and Periscope Cellars (Emeryville) by the keg, Lance Montoya’s “Link’s Screamin’ Q Sauce” barbecue sauce, and whatever else they can locally source are on the menu. Domestic and imported beers and cocktails are available. Kids are handed crayons and goldfish crackers and made to feel at home.
The layout is a bit different from previous incarnations: the patio is bigger, brighter and destined to fill up on a warm day. In addition, a prep kitchen near the entry was turned into a private dining area for parties or dinners. The overall look is polished, yet comfortable, friendly and welcoming: just what the pair had planned.
Comfort food fills the menu, from cheesy jalapeño grits and mac-n-cheese to daily specials like lasagna or fried chicken. Placourakis’s Hawaiian sojourn peeks out of the menu as well, with an Asian influence: edamame, a special glaze for the chicken wings, Spam and steamed rice, and the breakfast special, “Loco Moco,” which includes Spam and a hamburger patty over rice with gravy. His 1946 Mai Tai recipe adds a tropical island flavor to the cocktail or brunch hours.
Cooper and Placourakis “had talked about opening a place for more than 30 years. We always said ‘someday,’ ”says Placourakis. It seems that someday has come.