At 5 a.m. on gameday, the fog is heavily settled. Across campus, everything is as quiet as the trees. Meanwhile, inside a basement on Shattuck Avenue, a team of bakers craft sandwiches, pizzas and pastries as they yell to each other over the ovens and stoves. When PiQ opens at 8:30 a.m., the lighting is pleasant. The glass cabinets and countertops brim with Italian food made Californian-style. With many cedar tables, a luxurious patio and the aroma of home-roasted coffee, the only force that breaks the draw of staying here is that of gameday.
By 11 a.m. the sunshine has burned off the fog. En masse from all directions, followers of the Golden Bears march toward the stadium. To the sidelines of Bancroft Way, bacon-wrapped hot dogs are grilling and being sold. In the garden of the Berkeley Art Museum, a few fans gather at the stylish and newly renovated cafe Babette. The owners, Joan and Patrick are husband and wife and lifelong chefs serving quality apple galettes, apricot-slabbed Napoleon bars, French-pressed coffee, trio salads, stews and sandwiches. They make everything from scratch using whatever local organic ingredients are available and in season. The environment of linen lamps, sofas, watering orchids, marble counters and intoxicating aromas make for an artful, cozy den. Along with a sunny lawn and patio Babette provides a resplendent climate to gather in before the game.
Further up at the top of Bancroft, a DJ and crowds gather: International House is happening. With a huge menu, new and expensive bar tops, tables and a staff committed to organics, students who “live in the cafe” and Cal fans alike could not be happier. The new manager Blanca Garcia is not only kind and cheerful but also responsive. As crowds flow in, Blanca rolls out a widescreen TV and sets up carts offering street food, ice cream and free ice water to passersby. At 2 p.m., they hand out coupons for half-off Trumer Pils, a German-style pilsner on tap, as part of their season-long tailgate party. International House is a lively place to hang out until the game begins.
Inside the colossal gray-faced stadium, 66,000 roaring fans and Golden Bears finally have a place to call home. By 3 p.m., the game breaks down as the Golden Bears fight for victory. At the stands, the pricey festival food has fans wishing they had got more of those $3 bacon-wrapped hot dogs along the way.
When the game is over, there is no place to hang out like Free House, Berkeley’s new neighborhood pub located across the street from Caffe Strada. With a coffered-wood interior, fireplace and bar with bottles staggering high, Free House is warm and welcoming. This month, the staff is dressed for Oktoberfest. Their pub grub and lineup of tap beer delight both homebrewers and students returning from Ireland, not to mention alums. Beside their long fire pits in the backyard, they have picnic tables crafted from the original Port-Orford-cedar bleachers of the former stadium. In the front yard, they will install gas lamps and a fire pit ready in time for the weekend. Free House closes on gamedays at 11:30 p.m.
With such variety so near at hand, the new Memorial Stadium has turned gameday into a grub fest.
Contact Josh Escobar at [email protected].