Keith Rarick of Boathouse Tavern Talks Beer, Bait, and Bordeaux
There’s a new take on an old dive bar in Alameda.
Talking shop with Keith Rarick of Boathouse Tavern.
Photo by Lance Yamamoto
It may not be Webster or Park streets, but Clement is a major retail and commercial thoroughfare. The street, which runs parallel to the waterfront, is lined with businesses that have served the maritime industry for decades. The boatyards and commercial spaces are now in the sights of developers, but sailors and fishermen still frequent the marinas and look for supplies before they go out and drink a cold beer upon return. Today, though, new housing is also bringing in a younger crowd. Keith Rarick is the new owner of the Boathouse Tavern, an establishment with a foot in both the past and present eras.
Yelp gives you 4.5 stars; Facebook 5, and so you must be doing something right: What do you sell here?
In the bar, we’ve got four wines on tap. We have three beers on tap including A-Town Pale Ale from Faction Brewing. We have about two dozen beers in bottles and cans.
It’s unusual — we have a license that allows us to sell beer and wine both on and off the premises. In the cooler in the shop, we have all the beers, plus we just started selling some higher-end bottles of wine to take out.
I make deli sandwiches and hot specialty sandwiches: Reubens, Cubans, pastrami, and sometimes pulled pork. Regularly, pork loin or smoked turkey. Chicken wings if there is a big game on.
And then there is the bait. Lug worms, pile worms, night crawlers, and red worms for feeding turtles and composting. Lots of different types of frozen bait, too.
Fancy fare for a dive bar, aside from the lug worms. Is it OK to call this a dive bar, and what makes a good dive bar anyway?
I’m totally fine calling it a dive bar. I like kids, but I don’t want them running around my bar. A good dive bar has gotta be a little dark, a little dreary. Prices should be reasonable. We have a jukebox, TVs, a pool table. Good prices. It’s a place where you can come on your own and maybe run into someone you know. Maybe make a new friend. Or you can just keep to yourself. And any dive bar has to have a bartender who is a good listener.
This building has been around awhile. What do you know about its history, and what have you done since you took over the lease?
It was probably a horse barn. It’s a flimsy structure. Probably built in early 1900s. It may have been for fire department horses. It’s been a bar since the 1940s. It was once the Squirrel Cage. It was a biker bar, a rock ’n’ roll bar with bands where the cafe is now. There was a regular crowd. Twenty-five years ago, an owner who had the bait and tackle shop down the street bought it and moved the bait and tackle to the bar.
When I took it over, what I mainly did was just clean it up. I redecorated with new stools and chairs, but I didn’t want to change it too much. Where the bait shop was, I added tables to create the cafe. I’m adding a patio outside — a beer garden. I just need to get the permitting from ABC.
Alameda feels a little “Fargo by the Bay” or “Tiburon South Southeast.” Who are your clientele?
Some of both — but moving from former to latter. The demographics are changing. I took the place over in 2016, and by the time it opened in 2017, we had lost a few customers to “life.” Some had been drinking here since the 1950s. We get a real eclectic mix of people. Last night three ladies in their 60s or 70s. Recently some 30-year-olds who just moved to the area. Some people from the sailing crowd who have been in the area for years but have just discovered it.
We’re finally getting to be known as a decent happy hour. The doors used to shut at 7:30 p.m. — right after Jeopardy. The sign says we close at 8 p.m., but if we’re busy, we’ll stay open until 9 or 10 p.m. As long as it stays busy. And we’ll be open early for the rugby and World Cup.
How’d you happen to open a bar? You have a BA in Economics and a background in outside sales.
I knew the place. I’d been drinking here for 15 years — living and working in Alameda, off and on. I heard about the opportunity from a “little bird.” I had a breakup with the ex and decided to open a bar. I got the wine training at BevMo, where I worked for two and a half years, but my real experience was working in restaurants since I was 16. Then I was general manager of some smaller places. All kinds of food — seafood, Italian, pizza. All along, this is what I figured I’d return to. I’m 54 years old. I’m hoping to build this business up, that things will take off. I’m getting ready for the changes that are about to come.