The Downtown Berkeley Arts District Is a Lively Place
Get your fill of theater, music, history, and food in the downtown Berkeley Arts District.
Photo of Berkeley Rep by Lance Yamamoto; photo of Joseph Young by Jeff Roffman
The downtown Berkeley Arts District is always hopping. Live music at Freight & Salvage, theatrical performances at Aurora and other theaters, and delicious food at widely varying prices. Addison Street serves as the cultural heartbeat of this arts-infused district.
Stop in the Berkeley Historical Society inside the Veteran’s Memorial Building overlooking MLK Civic Center Park. In operation since 1976, the nonprofit society is volunteer-run and researches, preserves, and shares Berkeley’s history. Entrance is free, but donations are welcome.
Bill Roberts, a former university archivist for UC Berkeley and a society volunteer for over 10 years, enjoys making Berkeley’s history available to everyone. “We collect all kinds of materials. We have over 10,000 historical photos in our collection, 300 maps, paper records about the city, and also personal records. We also archive physical objects that tell Berkeley’s history — one example being an ashtray from the recently-closed Spenger’s.” Roberts explained the nonprofit welcomes donations relevant to Berkeley’s history, so if you have a treasure trove of Berkeley memorabilia in your attic, email photos (email@example.com). Relatedly, if you have a Berkeley loved one who’d make a compelling candidate for an oral history interview, reach out to the society.
Visitors have access to the library of historical materials as well as the exhibition space, which rotates twice a year. The fall 2019 exhibit explores South Berkeley and celebrates the Black families who have historically lived there. Beyond the walls, volunteers lead walking tours that dive into different aspects of Berkeley’s past. 1-4 p.m. Thursday, Friday, Saturday, free entry. 1931 Center St., 510-848-0181, BerkeleyHistoricalSociety.org.
Did you know Berkeley has the nation’s only independent accredited music conservatory devoted solely to the study and performance of jazz? The California Jazz Conservatory offers nondegree granting classes, workshops, and intensives for jazz musicians of all ages and abilities. Some programs offered through the Jazzschool require an audition, while others are open to anyone who registers. The Jazzschool includes vocals, instrumentals, theory and improvisation, composition, and arranging. Jazz fans can take in concerts by the renowned professional jazz performers who play there. 2087 Addison St., 510-845-5373, CJC.edu.
The Addison Street Anthology is a delightful collection of poems, song lyrics, and other literary pieces that showcase Berkeley’s rich artistic and literary history. It’s a beautiful book (edited by Robert Hass and Jessica Fisher) that is also part of the fabric of Berkeley’s city sidewalks. Next time you’re on Addison Street, slow your stroll to take in the poetic iron-and-ceramic plaques implanted into the sidewalk. The words of artists such as Alice Walker, Gertrude Stein, and Bertolt Brecht grace the streets. It’s the perfect way to pass time before your theater or musical performance starts. Open 24 hours a day and sure to inspire, look for the 120 plates on Addison Street between Shattuck and Milvia.
Immerse yourself in the arts with season tickets to the Berkeley Repertory Theatre, a local institution since 1968. With two playhouses — Peet’s Theater and the Roda Theater — a West Berkeley campus, a school of theater for youth and adults, writing space for playwrights, The Ground Floor (a space to foster and develop new work), and so much more, the organization infuses arts into the Berkeley community. The upcoming season promises exciting works under the helm of the new artistic director, Johanna Pfaelzer. You can always buy individual tickets to shows, too. Box office, 2025 Addison St., 510-647-2949, BerkeleyRep.org.
Gift your child classes at the Bay Area Children’s Theater. The fall semester runs September through November with a range of classes for many ages and interests. In addition to the Berkeley campus, BACT has locations throughout the East Bay. BACT schedules grade-segregated theater classes to prepare students for a play or musical as well as targeted singing, acting, or dancing training series for young actors wanting to hone their craft. It also stages high-caliber family-oriented theater based on children’s books with professional performances by award-winning artists. 2055 Center St., 510-296-4433, BACTheatre.org.
Indulge in a symphonic series subscription to the Berkeley Symphony season. So much talent, so much sweet music, such a wonderful way to experience the sounds of Berkeley. Single tickets are available for the shows, which begin in October. New music director Joseph Young (pictured here) has planned a season with world and Bay Area premieres and classics.1942 University Ave., 510-841-2800, BerkeleySymphony.org.
The downtown Berkeley Arts District has a welcoming home inside Revival Bar + Kitchen. Owner Amy Murray cultivates a space not only for (sustainably sourced) delicious food and drink, but also community, performance, and the arts. The restaurant is closed Mondays, so Murray uses that time to host creatively themed dinners and parties that showcase local talent or dive into social issues from a food angle.
Debuting this fall is a speakeasy program. “Our bartenders are very excited for the speakeasy events. There will be live, old-time music, costumes, food, and drinks,” Murray said.
Her investment and commitment to community run deep: When researching her restaurant space at the Berkeley History Room, “I learned the building was built by Henry Shattuck in 1901 and reflects the Mission Revival and Colonial Revival styles of architecture. I realized that Revival would be the perfect name to celebrate the past and the future of the space.” Enjoy weekend brunch, a pre-theater happy hour or meal Tuesday through Sunday, or check out one of the special Monday night pop-ups (Facebook.com/RevivalBarandKitchen). 2102 Shattuck Ave., 510-549-9950, RevivalBarAndKitchen.com.
Get fresh and local produce, eggs, nuts, and other seasonal items at the Berkeley Farm Stand, a satellite stand of the Ecology Center serving downtown. Open 3-7 p.m. Monday through Friday, this small farm stand has a big heart with its aim to provide healthy, accessible, fruit, vegetables, herbs, and more to city residents. Just outside the downtown BART stop, it’s convenient and easy. The youth-run farm stand is also a way to provide onsite job training to the young people involved in the Ecology Center’s Youth Environmental Academy. At Shattuck Avenue at Center Street, the Berkeley Farm Stand accepts all forms of payment, including EBT. EcologyCenter.org/bfs.
For budget but delicious Japanese comfort food, try Tamon Tea. The perfect spot for a quick meal before a show, this tiny eatery serves up bento boxes, donburi (rice bowls), and udon noodle soups, all with a variety of proteins and flavor profiles. If you’re running way late, grab some omusubi — triangle wrapped, stuffed rice balls that are more or less a portable cousin of sushi. There are plenty of vegetarian options, plus the selection of Japanese desserts and packaged candies are a real treat. Tamon Tea offers dango, a dessert similar to mochi but made with rice flour, as well as mochi. After you get your meal, take a shortcut through the Berkeley Central Arts Passage, an art-filled alleyway curated by local galleries and showcasing works in glass cases. 2055 A Center St., 510-647-9370.