Here, let me spell it out. This is not complicated. This is not Ma and Pa Kettle math. This is simple logic.
1) Food/restaurants are material culture.
2) Material culture can be quirky.
3) Food/restaurants can be quirky.
Q.E.D. Quod era demonstrandum. ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι.
I have yet to walk the major food streets and haven’t inventoried even a small portion of quirky Berkeley food joints, but I wanted to take at least the first, giant step. So here we go – food and restaurants/stands and neon signs and maybe other manifestations. Culinary quirk!
Hot dogs – quintessentially American.
If you want to know about the term, read what Barry Popik says. Nobody does this type of etymology research better than Barry does.
I have not eaten a hot dog since sometime in 1969. I was never that fond of them. My family moved from Massachusetts back to Pennsylvania in 1959. On one of the first days in our new house in Bryn Mawr, the leader of the neighborhood kids, Patsy Kay, led the three Gray brothers and my sister and me on a walk into downtown Bryn Mawr, about a mile away, destination the Jolly Rogers toy store on Lancaster Avenue. We had lunch at Beau & Belle on Bryn Mawr Avenue next to Parvin’s Pharmacy, where a few summers later my best friend Van and I would sit and drink lemon Cokes after playing tennis all muggy morning.
I can’t find a photo of Beau and Belle but here is Parvin’s. Beau and Belle had French-themed line drawing wallpaper as I remember, maybe correctly. My mother had eaten there as a girl in the 1920s. This was my first time eating out without parents. I was not yet eight. I ordered a hot dog and it came grilled. Not boiled – grilled. Grilled. Black burn marks from the grill. I had never seen that before. I was a picky eater. This was not an optimal experience. I may have cried. My childhood was littered with food traumas, largely self-inflicted but traumas all the same.
The point being, hot dogs have not been much a part of my life. But I find them quirky. Almost anywhere.
Berkeley may be the birthplace of California cuisine – think Alice Waters and Chez Panisse – but it has a few hot dog stands that lend quirk. First, the least settled, maybe the quirkiest, Dojo Dogs which is often found parked at Bancroft and Telegraph for student customers.
Another moveable hot dog stand is south on Telegraph, Oskar’s Sausages:
Dropping by 2109 Milvia, we find another hot dog stand. Maybe you remember it as Baskerville’s:
Or maybe you remember it as Little Gino’s:
Or as What’s Up Dog?
Or maybe as District Dog:
And now a new face and name – lots of change for a little hot dog stand. It is now Tsunami Dogs:
Before leaving Milvia, let’s go south a few blocks and remember the now-gone Doggie High. It changed to become Sumo Grub, and is now something once again new. But once upon a time it was a high dog joint:
The highest profile hot dog joint in Berkeley is Top Dog on Durant. Tons of foot traffic, major street scene, Very Berkeley:
There is a second Top Dog location at 2160 Center, between Shattuck and Oxford. It is almost gentrified, certainly not as gritty or urban a scene and not as much foot traffic, but it will do.
The third Top Dog location on Hearst is gone, closed, done. But I mention and salute it, in honor of northside students and a sweet little one-block stretch of Euclid bending around Hearst:
P.S. You can see this one from Berkeley – Casper’s at 5440 Telegraph just over the Oakland border on Telegraph. Let’s break the rules and show it! Risk all to win all! 生か死か!?免許皆伝は命懸け!
Not to be confused with Kasper’s further south on Telegraph, quirkier and closed.
To make matters slightly more confusing, there is another Casper’s, this one on San Pablo a few blocks north of the Berkeley/Albany line:
Berkeley has no great hot dog architecture, photos of which you can find here or here – both great websites and great photos. But, we did have Thomas J. Bates, the founder of Doggie Diner. We remember, I hope, the Doggie Diner head that we found on Harper Street?
Thomas Bates died in the summer of 2013. His family placed a plaque outside his home at 120 Hillcrest in his hot dog honor:
Okay. End of hot dogs.
Donuts / Doughnuts
I have never bought a donut, Mitynice or not. Almost never. Maybe a cruller from the Amish at the Redding Terminal Market in Philadelphia in the winter of 1968-1969.
And now that I think of it, certainly a glazed donut or two washed down by a Coke in a bottle – paid for by returning glass bottles dropped by others for the nickel deposit – at high school football games when I was in 5th or 6th grade.
But the point remains – I don’t buy donuts. Or doughnuts. Your call.
There is one strong denier of donuts as quirky, or at least of Berkeley donuts as quirky. Her theory is, as I understand it, simple. Because Voodoo Doughnuts in Portland and its naughty slogan is so quirky, nothing donut-related in Berkeley could be deemed quirky.
Yes, I agree with you. This is a ridiculous position. Ignoring the implication that Portland trumps Berkeley, her argument would mean that Donut Nation in Los Banos is not quirky. Good luck with that argument. When I drove Julia to camp in the summer of 1997 we stopped and took photos of the sign. What a name! What quirk!
Sensing the weakness in her argument, Our Donut-Denier now asserts that in light of the cronuts sold by the Dominique Ansel Bakery in New York (also with a naughty slogan), donuts cannot be quirky in Berkeley.
Donuts not quirky? Preposterous. Ludicrous. Outrageous. Homer Simpson sold his soul to the devil for a donut.
Does that no make donuts quirky per se? Enough argument, let’s ask the judges:
Unanimous: denier’s objection overruled. Let’s look at Berkeley donuts then. Sadly, we have no giant donuts, but we have good signage and donuts in and of themselves are, as set forth above, quirky.
I propose starting at one that we don’t think of right off the bat, at 3043 San Pablo, Berkeley Donuts:
Great signage! Still on San Pablo, north of Berkeley Donuts almost to University, is Rainbow Donuts:
Further north on San Pablo, turn left at Gilman – Happy Donuts. More than once I’ve stopped at Happy Donuts on the way back from soccer practice at the Gilman complex. Not for me, for girls in the car. And for maybe her 9th birthday I took Charlotte there before school to buy two dozen for her class. High quirk here, and I am half-proud of the photo that I took:
East on Gilman is the least quirky donut joint in Berkeley. I almost hate to include it on account of it kind of supports the argument that donuts are not quirky – Toot Sweet Bakery.
Far away, the other side of town, Dream Fluff, on Ashby just below College. What a great name:
Finishing donuts with a flourish, let’s loop back to the campus area, specifically to the Asian Ghetto on Durant, for King Pin Donuts. I find the whole Asian Ghetto intrinsically quirky, and the signs at King Pin to die for:
Rest in peace All Star Donut on University , which became Yellow Brick Cafe, which closed. This is a photo from 2011 from Google Maps – I don’t have a better one. Sorry.
As is the case with many donut shops (including, I think, Happy and Dream Fluff), It was run by Cambodians. They also sold Cambodian BBQ. And some fusion meat/sweet donuts. While I’m at it, let me recommend without qualification the documentary Cambodian Donut Dreams.
P.S. If you are willing to leave Berkeley and drive 5.89 mies, in Richmond you will find a damn-near-perfect piece of donut quirk at Andy’s Donuts.
Pretty darned cool. For the record: On February 15, 2014, I drove the length of 23rd Street in Richmond. I am inspired, enchanted, awestruck. How real can you get? Is there a 23rd Street Richmond project in my future??????
Diners! How helplessly, hopelessly romantic.
And a terrific movie too.
I always think of Jack Kerouac’s description of a diner in the opening pages of Visions of Cody and I find myself in the destructive element immersed. I remember the diners of my past. First was the Mari-Nay on Lancaster Pike, Rosemont, just next to Bryn Mawr, where we ate dinner as a family every August the night before driving to Maine for our two or three-week vacation:
The mural shown in the interior shot depicts four local colleges – Haverford, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, and Villanova.
The mural was used for the cover of the the menu.
And in Maine, not all that far from South Bristol where we stayed, was Moody’s Diner. On a rainy day we would drive to Rockland to see the Wyeth paintings at the Farnsworth Museum and we would stop at Moody’s in Waldoboro for blueberry pancakes.
Not quite a diner, but close – the Horn and Hardart Automat. They were for several decades features on the East Coast.
There was nothing more exciting during a trip in to Philadelphia to the Academy of Music for a children’s concert than to then go to Horn and Hardart’s on Chestnut Street and put in the coins and lift the glass.
As for dives – well, they are usually better in theory than in reality. In reality, they inform.
The first dive that I knew was Cy’s Penn Luncheonette at corner of 34th and Walnut in Philadelphia.
This is where in the fall of 1969 I met Gabby – the first time I ever went to what students called the “Dirty Drug.” I went with my friend Peter who was a pinball wizard. Gabby figured in many of the dives of my twenties. (By the way, Gabby loved the Automat and he and I spent many happy friendship-building hours there, lingering over cup custard). He was living in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia working for the grape boycott. He had not yet met Emily, the Could-be Dream Lover of his Lifetime, and he was spending as much time as he could not in Kensington and in West Philadelphia, especially with one woman from The Resistance. He ate grilled cheese sandwiches and hot tea at Cy’s and dabbled in pinball. It was a greasy spoon. Torn down in 1974 – too bad, so cool.
My downest and outest dive was the Rodeo Waffle Shop in Salinas. From 1975 until 1979 the offices of the legal department of the United Farm Workers were on the second floor of the Glikbarg Building on Gabilan Street.
For the first few years that we worked there this was a seedy part of town. The Greyhound station was across the street, and around the corner on Main Street was a block of sin. The Cominos Hotel with its abandoned barber shop dominated the north side of the street, seen here in its glory days which were long gone by the time I got there:
There was a pawn shop (I remember the mother of pearl inlaid parrot on what looked like a 1940 Martin 5-17 guitar), pool halls, Chinese and Mexican Restaurants with far-away names (Victory Lounge, La Revancha, Tu y Yo, Latin Club, United Café, etc.), card rooms, a Mexican movie theater, bars, liquor stores / grocery stores, and a tattoo parlor, thumping distorted bass from jukeboxes playing Javier Solis and Los Trés Gallos Mexicanos, endlessly Tesoro Mio, and the crack of pool ball symphony.
And the Rodeo Waffle Shop.
Boy was that a dive. I would meet Gabby – by now we were both working for the UFW legal department – there and once in a while his girlfriend Emily (he called her Young Emily) for a waffle. Did I mention that it was a dive? Very. That was the funkiest dive I ever went to. Young Emily did not care for it. When you went in the morning it was the end of the day for the clientele. One way or another they had been working all night. It was a rough scene, farming town skid row, soon but not yet reborn as Old Town Salinas. It was the undisputed turf of dope dealers, dopers, junkies, pool hustlers, card sharks, domino cheats, pick-pockets, alkies and rummies and addicts, pimps and prostitutes, rip-off artists, stumblebums, tramps, shitbirds and sick and venal no-accounts of all races and ages.
That was my first dive. Enough about me, though.
The mother of all dives in Berkeley restaurants is Makris, 2105 University, just above Shattuck. For several months in 1957, Jack Kerouac lived three blocks away on Berkeley Way, with his mother. The apartment where they lived has been torn down. This is what it looked like then:
Several times a week he came and ate at Makris, where he could escape his mother and the bitch goddess success that was pursuing him after publication of On the Road. He writes in his journal of walking up to Shattuck and then crossing at University.
He said it reminded him of the Paradise Diner in Lowell, his hometown.
He usually was alone when he ate at Makris, but sometimes he was joined with his friends, famous, not famous, and soon-to-be famous.
Yes, that was all a lie.
Kerouac did live around the corner on Berkeley Way with his mother in 1957. That is the end of the truth. The rest – expedient exaggeration.
I doubt Makris was even there in 1957.
This photo from 1978 probably nails it. No Makris in 1978, so no Makris in 1957.
But it fits, it is the type of joint where Kerouac would have felt at home, like Robbie’s on Telegraph. But – check it out, grits and all:
If you crave the down and out, if have carry a distaste for the pristine, if you harbor a desire for degradation and depravity, if you ascribe spiritual values to people and cultures below your station in life, if your inner Montrichard romanticizes the lower class – this is your place. A duck placed on a lake with swans will miss his pond and eventually return to it. This is the duck’s pond.
For the second dive/diner here, let’s walk from Makris west to Shattuck, turn right, a walk to Hearst – Oscar’s! In one place we combine hot dogs, diner, and dive. It’s all of them. No donuts, but not bad.
Oscar’s was built in 1950 and is a bold example of Googie architecture, a term that is difficult to define but easy to recognize. It embraces the lowbrow modern, fantastically futuristic flourishes in commercial architecture that we associate with the 1950s, sometimes more formally referred to as Coffee Shop Modern, proof positive that vulgarity achieves a certain charm with age.
Oscar’s fits Googie. Or almost fits Googie. Semi-Googie? Hamburgers sizzling on an open grill night and day. Oscar’s rocks.
There are many more quirky dives to talk about, and I will. I since I’ve gotten the personal recollections off my chest the future dives should go a little more quickly.
I printed out this posting and showed it to my friend. He prefers the printed page to a screen. He nodded as he went through it, and then hit me with a musical lyric as he is prone to do – “You’re telling me, you’re not nostalgic / give me another world for it / you who are so good with words / and at keeping things vague.” I said that I didn’t say that I wasn’t nostalgic. He said that wasn’t the point. I pressed him – what about the posting?