Best Places to Find Your Dance Groove in Berkeley

Photo courtesy of Berkeley Underground
By Tom Molanphy, San Francisco Local Expert

If a friend, family member or total stranger said they were looking for some great dance clubs in the Bay Area, what would you tell them? Most of us would recommend that famous "City by the Bay," San Francisco, and its world-famous neighborhoods and hotspots: classic jazz clubs in the Fillmore, or hot Latin spots in the Mission, or maybe some psychedelic spots in the still-funky Haight-Ashbury neighborhood.

Or maybe you'd recommend heading across the Bay to Oakland, where many big time rap stars and club DJ's got their start.

Most likely, though, you'd forget to mention Berkeley, the eclectic college town best known for its famous protests in the 1960's. Contrary to popular opinion, though, Berkeley is not stuck in the 60's. This young college town has kept up with the times and offers just as varied and fun a mix of dance clubs as anywhere in the Bay Area, like the vibrant and unique 924 Gillman. So, when a friend asks where to direct her dancing feet, don't forget to recommend Berkeley.

10. Tupper and Reed
Photo courtesy of Tupper and Reed

Although it's taken locals awhile to warm up to Tupper and Reed - the bar took over the space of the beloved Irish bar, Beckett's - making fantastic cocktails is a good step towards winning anyone over. Housed in the former music store of John C. Tupper and Lawrence Reed, this classy bar keeps the music going with some of the best live music on Shattuck, including Jitterbug Riot on most Wednesdays and Classic Jazz with Rob Figliuzzi most Thursdays. The mixologists are so popular here that patrons are encouraged to reserve a seat at the bar through the website for a front-row show of their mastery.

9. Nick's Lounge
Photo courtesy of Nick's Lounge

Old-school Berkeley bar that also features some killer live music and an ample dance floor, Nick's is the perfect late night spot to head to when all you want to do is let your hair down and let your feet dance. The always popular Karaoke night is what makes this bar special, but it can be crowded, so groups of four or more should contact the bar to make advanced reservations. this is a simple, straightforward place to have a good time, so no food is served, but the bar is very reasonable in allowing snacks and small plates in from outside.

8. Berkeley Underground
Photo courtesy of Berkeley Underground

Marked by hardwood floors, two full bars, and comfortable couches and booths, this converted basement space proves to be ideal for both live performances and DJ led dance parties. Yards of fabric drape doorways and walls, while colorful lighting creates dramatic effects – the end result is both elegant and contemporary. Music ranges across genres, from funk, soul, and hip hop to salsa, rock, and reggae. A favorite that frequently turns up in the "Best of..." polls in the local media. If you want to get a taste of the Berkeley nightlife from the perspective of a raucous UC Berkeley student, make sure you swing by Berkeley Underground.

7. Missouri Lounge
Photo courtesy of Missouri Lounge

Live music comes in many form in Berkley, to the 60's traditions of a couple with flowers in their hair cooing into microphones to wall-to-wall heavy metal headbangers who would love to smash their guitar to pieces. If you prefer your music to be of the electronic variety spun by a DJ, the best choice is the Missouri Lounge. The coolest DJs in all of Berkeley wind up at the Missouri Lounge at some point in their lives, so just check their website for some of the local favorites like DJ Headnodic who spins Hip Hop, Funk and R&B. DJs spin every night of the week from 10pm to 2 am.

6. Beta Lounge
Photo courtesy of Beta Lounge

In addition to having some excellent craft beers on top, Beta Lounge also has the space to host DJ's and outstanding live music. With he capacity to seat 55-60 people and leave plenty of room for dancing and mingling, this lounge is only growing in reputation as one of the best lounges in Berkeley for socializing and listening to fantastic music. The small, clean and efficient space is modern but warm, and the crowd tends to have that youthful strain of energy that Berkeley is best known for. Also one of the better spots for late-night eats, like their French-bread style pizzas.

5. Albatross Pub
Photo courtesy of Albatross Pub

Bet you didn't know there was a short cut from Berkeley to Merry Olde England! It's called the Albatross Pub. The oldest pub in Berkeley is also the most British. You'll find all the traditional Brit activities pool, darts, board games plus a wildly popular quiz night on Sundays. Gather round the fireplace and enjoy a game of chess and a pint of ale, then enjoy a bit of live music. The music really draws in the crowds, so be ready to be elbow to elbow once the tunes start rolling. The pub is quite dog-friendly, too as long as Fido is on a leash, he's more than welcome! One drink minimum, cash only but ATM available.

4. Freight and Salvage Coffee House
Photo courtesy of Freight and Salvage

Freight and Salvage Coffee Hosue is a lovely holdover from the 1960's for those who like their music with a heavy dose of nostalgia. A Berkeley music and dance institution since 1968, it's heady-hippy pledge is to stay "deeply rooted in that aspect of Berkeley's culture that embraced freedom, tolerance, cooperation, and innovation." The attitude might be of another generation, but the fantastic folk, jazz, blues, bluegrass, world-beat, or gospel that pumps out of its state of the art speakers and amplifiers exclusively designed by Meyer Sound Labs of Berkeley sounds absolutely 21st century. Also: Check out their "Workshops and Jam Sessions" which are taught by top-professionals.

3. Jupiter

Housed in what was once a stable, Jupiter has taken full advantage of its unusual location by creating a unique modern day Gothic ambience. Pews and Gothic-style chandeliers were scavenged from an old church, bronze-colored pressed tin panels some of the walls, and copper tops the bar itself, and vintage games provide some entertainment. Upstairs there are several cozy tables set up around a woodstove, and out back there's a heated patio that functions as a lively jazz venue during the summer. Jupiter brews its own beer, but offers an array of other microbrews as well, and when hunger pangs strike, you can order a stellar wood-fired oven pizza.

2. 924 Gillman
Photo courtesy of 924 Gillman

How many dance clubs have a four-hundred page book written about them? And how many dance clubs can say they are a non-profit and run by volunteers who absolutely love their jobs and feel like the club is their home? 924 Gillman can claim both, and it has to be the most unique dance space in all of the Bay Area. A non-profit that has been supporting live music in Berkeley since 1986, 924 Gillman also hosts art and community events, and a place for "young people to work cooperatively." No alcohol or drugs allowed, but that does not deter regulars from partying like mad into the wee hours.

1. Ashkenaz
Photo courtesy of Ashkenaz

Ashkenazi has kept its doors open for dancing Berkeley feet since 1973, and it's probably a "must-visit" in Berkeley, whether or not you want to dance. But just try to not dance once you're in this funky space with as many Berkeley characters as funky space can handle. Their online calendar speaks to their eclectic and inclusive taste in music: African, Latin, Caribbean, Western, Jazz, Blues, Reggae, Flamenco - just about every kind of music you could think of, as well as some mixes you could never imagine. Always "kid-friendly," Ashkenenaz is a perfect place to find that almost undefinable "Bezerkeley" spirit.