Berkeley CA – From Hippie to Hip
We came to Berkely by BART – public transportation. We each had a small suitcase and a shoulder pouch for water and a granola bar on BART. We surfaced at Shattuck and Alford to the new Berkeley.
The formerly grubby BART plaza has been upgraded with brick paving and ornamental iron lampposts. Brightly blooming flower baskets and brightly colored graphic banners swing from the lampposts. Instead of a rush of pan-handlers, we are greeted by a bright-green and teal booth with a placard “Welcome to Berkeley” staffed by two beaming green-and-teal jacketed volunteers armed with Downtown Berkeley maps and information brochures about where to Sleep, Dine, Shop, or take in Art and/or Theatre. All seems to be happening within a few blocks of where we are standing.
Our hotel, the Shattuck Plaza Hotel, is less than a block from the BART plaza. There are a couple of people selling beaded jewelry from a blanket on the plaza, a guy strumming a guitar and singing in a creaky voice, but it all seems quite tidy.
We enter the lobby of the hotel, past a new plaque proclaiming its historic past. The interior is quirkily renovated: the original arched windows still line the lobby, the high ceiling is still supported by Ionic and Doric columns, but the white marble floor has a huge peace symbol inlaid at the entrance, the décor is Victorian curliques executed in minimalist black and white with red accents in the Venetian glass chandeliers and wall sconces.
Oh happy day! We are upgraded to a suite! A long and twisting 5th-floor corridor leads us to two nicely furnished rooms in pastels and a fine view overlooking the bay, the San Francisco skyline, and the Golden Gate and Bay bridges.
We stroll over to the UC campus. It is Big Game Weekend, and we can hear the strains of the Cal fight song coming from the band rallying on Sproul Plaza. By the time we get there, the band is gone, but the booth selling GIVE US THE AXE! and STANFURD T-shirts is still there. I confess my Stanford allegiance and the clean-cut student vendor actually apologizes to me.
Our dinner in the hotel restaurant, Five, is excellent. We share a salad of late-season peaches with baby arugula and roasted nuts – like having dessert first! – followed by sustainably caught sea bass in a delicate curry sauce with roasted new potatoes, and an excellent cappuchino. Then around the corner to Berkeley Rep for a top-flight presentation of a Broadway play featuring a mix of original cast and local performers – all excellent. We stop off at the Walgreen’s on the corner for some late-night chocolate bars to finish off our evening – it takes us a good fifteen minutes to make our selection from the lavish display of gourmet flavors from Godiva, Lindt, Ghirardelli, and Dove.
The next morning we sit by the arched windows having our breakfast and watch the students of Berkeley High pass by on their way to school. It is Homecoming Week, and the students are aglow with the school colors of red and gold. Thanks to the fog we are spared body paint and Speedos The scene could be the 1950’s (except that the skirts are a lot shorter . )
As we BARTed our way back to the bottom of the bay, I was thinking, it’s not the Berkeley I used to know, but it is definitely a Berkeley worth knowing.