Dine About Oakland: Grand TavernDecember 28, 2009
I’ve been really curious about Grand Tavern ever since they opened earlier this year, but somehow we just never seem to end up out and about in Grand Lake at an appropriate tavern time. (Also, for a while D. was resisting because their website plays music—a pet peeve of his—so that took a little coaxing!) A couple weeks ago, though, we were over at Grand Lake Ace for some errands, and it was cold, mucky, and drizzling out. As we passed Grand Tavern on the way home, it looked oh-so-appealing decked out in Christmas lights, and I suddenly remembered they had a fireplace, too. A few minutes later, we were headed in the door.
Grand Tavern moved into the Arts and Crafts house on Upper Grand that was home to Señor Nero’s until it closed last year. During the day, you can get a drink with light food; in the evening hours, they serve a full dinner. They still seem to be figuring out their place, caught between being a pub and being a restaurant. It was actually a perfect fit for what we wanted, though—drinks by the fire with a little snack. We ended up staying for a couple of hours, which meant an opportunity to really give the cocktail menu a workout. On the side, we tried some “small social bites” (or so says the menu). The vegetarian chili was okay, but not too exciting—in the category of “things I can make just as well at home” (and for considerably less!) The fries, on the other hand, were fabulous. “Fries” is something of a misnomer, since the “social skin fries” are actually more like potato chips—warm, crispy rounds of potato with a softer bit on the inside. We’ll definitely get them again, and might give the dinner menu a spin too. When we were there it had a burger in addition to several fancier main dishes; seems like the kind of menu that you can swing towards the casual or the upscale (which is to say, my favorite kind of menu, a la Wood Tavern and Sidebar!)
The list of wines, beers, spirits, and cocktails is extensive, with a distinctively “speakeasy” vibe. (Four different absinthes…!) The cocktails are old school classics reminiscent of the Prohibition era. I tried the Ward 8 and the Old Fashioned, which were both well made; D. was surprised to find that neither was too sweet for him, since generally if the cocktail description includes grenadine or gum syrup, it doesn’t bode well on that front. He stuck with the beer list, though, which features a lot of Belgian ales (including a few I’m not used to seeing anywhere but the Trappist and occasionally Luka’s) plus a good mix of local brews to round it out.
The early evening crowd was mixed on a Saturday night; people trickled in and out, but generally I don’t think this place has been discovered yet (which may be a good thing—a lot of its charm was the quiet by-the-fire environment). We didn’t stay into the dinner hour, so I’m not sure what it’s like then or as you get into going-out time (but generally I’ve found that Grand Lake shuts down a little earlier than some other parts of town, perhaps because it leans to the family side of things).
At any rate, this place was a nice discovery, and one we’ll be back to. While we savored the warm fire during the wintry rain, they also have a back patio that looks like it would be a great spot in the summer. If you bike, skate, or walk to the Tavern, you also get a $2 discount on your second drink, which is good news for us since it’s (sort of!) in the neighborhood.