What's a night owl to do? New York may be the city that never sleeps, but here in the Bay Area, the East Bay's suburbs turn so sleepy after hours, it's hard to find a bistro that's open after the curtain falls or the movie credits roll.
We're not talking 1 a.m. barhopping or a 3 a.m. stop for fried chicken and waffles. We're just looking for cocktails, small plates and a little atmosphere after the show -- a place where the kitchen stays open until 11 p.m. or midnight on weekends, and no one ever asks if you want fries with that. Even if they serve fries.
Here are three lesser-known, very varied spots, including a swanky Lafayette bistro, a chic Oakland wine bar and a bustling Danville sports bar, that offer a little something for every taste.
Address: 5900 College Ave., Oakland
Contact: 510-658-5900; http://toastoakland.com
Kitchen closes at: 10 p.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 9 p.m. Sundays
Drinks and a nosh for two: $47.96
This stylish Rockridge wine bar is a prime dining option after a movie at the Elmwood, or, in our case, a sweaty hip-hop class at the dance studio a few blocks up. After popping and locking for more than an hour, we were looking to indulge and keep our buzz going.
Good thing we chose Toast, which offers a dynamic wine program that specializes in small production boutique wines by the glass ($7-$14), taste ($4-$7) or flight ($15). Among our favorite tastes: a dry, light-as-air French rose from Domaine de la Fouquette ($5) and an inky Stage Left Cellars Syrah ($5).
The cocktails ($9-$13) were equally enticing and featured artisan, homemade spirits, syrups and bitters. A perfect post-dance drink was the refreshing Nothing to Get Hung About, made with strawberry-infused vodka, lemon juice, simple syrup and a splash of cava.
Toast offers its full dinner menu until the kitchen closes at 10 p.m. (9 p.m. Sundays). But it's a small plates joint, so you'll need to order several dishes if you're looking to fill up. From the bar snacks menu we tried apple brandy-spiked Chicken Liver Pate ($4) on toast, which was mellow in flavor and creamy in texture (neither of us tasted the apple brandy).
We loved the small plate sourdough Grilled Cheese ($12) made with Franklin's Teleme, a soft, runny, ridiculously tasty San Luis Obispo white cheese that the chef topped with sweet red onion jam. Very satisfying served alongside a generous heap of fresh arugula drizzled with olive oil.
A simple tasty antipasto, roasted heirloom carrots with fava beans and garlic aioli ($7), rounded out our meal until we spotted a neighbor forking a decadent chocolate and peanut butter torte ($7) that made our mouths water. We ordered our own, which arrived, like everything before it, with expedience and a friendly smile. The torte, a perfect sliver of bittersweet dark chocolate and salty peanut butter, could have done without the unsweetened strawberry puree base, but you didn't see me complaining.
-- J. Yadegaran
Address: 3524 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Lafayette
Contact: 925-284-4422, http://metrolafayette.com
Kitchen closes at: 11 p.m.; bar open until midnight every night
Drinks and a nosh for two: $56.39
When most of the competition within city limits promotes drive-thrus and value menus, the bar for late-night success isn't too high. Lucky for Lamorinda residents, Metro chooses to raise the bar at its suburban-swanky but understated bar, offering high-end drinks and comfort snacks not often found on the east side of the tunnel after 10 p.m.
The Lafayette restaurant's full dinner menu is served until 10 p.m. on weekdays and 11 p.m. on weekends, and you can order from the bar menu until 11 every night. You don't need to sit at the stainless steel bar to nibble from the menu, however. A table in the popular courtyard might be the best place to grab a drink or two and a bite -- especially for larger groups -- on warm spring and summer nights.
For drinks, Metro has a rotating list of shaken and stirred classics, including the refreshing Organic Green ($11) -- with Square One Cucumber organic vodka, cucumber puree and mint -- and the Moscow Mule ($11), which packs a big kick, as a mule should. For a house specialty drink with a literary twist, try the Gatsby ($10), with Pierre Ferrand cognac, Fernet-Branca, Luxardo Maraschino liqueur, lemon and orange.
The tap handles are always changing, and on a recent visit included a range of selections breaking from the typical "Sierra Nevada-hefeweizen-domestic draft" rotation. The Belgian Chimay Triple ($8) was a standout of the eight offerings, but brewheads could have also sipped on Racer 5 IPA ($5.75) from Bear Republic in Healdsburg, Speakeasy Betrayal Imperial Red ($6.25) out of San Francisco and the East Bay's own Black Diamond Rampage Imperial IPA ($6.50).
The wine list is home to stalwarts, including Rombauer, Grgich Hills Estates and Talbott chardonnay ($12.50 a glass) from the Sleepy Hollow Vineyard south of Monterey Bay, and surprises, such as the Lagier Meredith syrah ($10.50).
For food, the late-night menu features items that are a bit pricier than you'll find at, say, a meat-market sports pub, but the quality is apparent in the ingredients and presentation. On the fancy side, the spicy tuna poke with sesame crackers ($15.50) is an artistic raw dish with Hawaiian origins that will leave you feeling fresh. The duck confit spring rolls ($12.75), with spicy lime dipping sauce, are full of flavor and a step above their often overfried Chinese cousins.
Want something more traditional? Opt for the wild fish tacos ($5.95 each), which are more filling, and messier, than you might expect, or go simple and sink your teeth into a Metro bar burger ($7.50) and sub garlic fries for a buck.
-- T. O'Rourke
McGah's Pub and Pianos
Address: 148 E. Prospect Ave., Danville
Contact: 925-743-8466, www.mcgahs.com
Kitchen closes at: 9 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays, midnight on Fridays and Saturdays
Drinks and a nosh for two: $31.50
Tucked away on a side street in twinkle-lit Danville, this classic sports bar is owned by the McGah family, whose Bay Area claim to athletic fame includes co-founding the Oakland Raiders. So it's no surprise that the place, which reopened this winter after a stint as That Bar, boasts flat-screen TVs and plenty of pennants. But the dueling pianos, pub trivia nights and sheer warmth of the place are the elements that draw crowds.
So grab a seat at one of the cocktail tables and order up -- a glass of pinot grigio ($7), perhaps, or a Cuban Irishman, made with Jameson whiskey, lime, mint and ginger ale ($9).
From 9:30 to 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, McGah's offers an appetizer-focused subset of the full dining menu. All that deep-fried naughtiness is terrible for you, of course, but very tasty, especially washed down with a tall glass of Lagunitas on tap. And you can always hit the gym tomorrow -- and the day after that and the day after that.
The best thing on the late-night menu is the Pepper Jack Mac 'N' Cheese Bites ($8), highly addictive, deep-fried nuggets of melty cheesy goodness, with a spicy kick from red pepper flakes and a marinara dipping sauce.
Sliders ($9 for three) are filled with beef, turkey or pulled pork and served with a side of your choice, including sweet potato fries and onion rings. We opted for very garlicky truffle fries ($7 if ordered separately). Suffice it to say, we had no vampire issues on the way home.
If you're having trouble choosing, there's a sampler ($12) that includes tastes of the Pots of Gold (potato skins filled with bacon, cream cheese and jalapeños), sweet potato fries, popcorn chicken and those irresistible mac 'n' cheese cubes. Just the thing after a show.
-- J. Burrell