New cocktail bars and pool hall bring more nightlife to Downtown Berkeley

Two new bars, Tip-Sea and Tap In, were opened by the owner of the East Bay Spice Company, while The BreakRoom is an incarnation of the former Draw Billiards Club.

Deepak Aggarwal, shown here with East Bay Spice Company General Manager Robbie Conroy, right, has opened a string of successful restaurants and bars in Berkeley, the latest being Tip-Sea and Tap In, downtown. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

June 6, 2024

BERKELEYSIDE — With the opening of a pair of creative cocktail bars and the revival of a beloved pool hall, two local entrepreneurs are bringing diverse new nightlife options to Downtown Berkeley.

A captain of ‘Hindustry’

Deepak Aggarwal, owner of Berkeley-based Hindustry Bar Group, has worked in restaurants since the moment he arrived in Berkeley in 1993. Aggarwal recalled how his father, Ashok, an immigrant from Punjab in Northern India, brought him straight from the airport to the family’s restaurant, Mother India, on University Avenue — before even introducing Aggarwal to his new home. 

By the age of 27, Aggarwal had opened his own restaurant, Khana Peena, on Solano Avenue. In 2012, he made a splash with the opening of East Bay Spice Company, a craft cocktail bar and restaurant on Oxford Street adjacent to UC Berkeley.

Hindustry Bar Group general manager Robbie Conroy, who joined Spice Co. as a bartender a few months into the bar’s run, recalls the skepticism they faced in the early days. 

“Everyone kind of thought we were crazy,” Conroy said. “They were like, ‘Why aren’t you opening a college bar? You’re literally across the street from the campus.’ But we really wanted to do something more upscale, something that people hadn’t really experienced yet in Berkeley.”

Spice Co. is temporarily closed while Hindustry puts the finishing touches on the bar’s new space at 2142 Oxford St., less than a block from its previous location. In the meantime, Hindustry’s Tap In, on Shattuck Avenue near University, is currently hosting the East Bay Spice Co. pop-up, where the bar’s devotees can find their favorite drinks, snacks and bartenders. 

Their bet paid off. The bar’s novel recipes fusing Indian flavors with craft cocktail ingredients and techniques drew in Berkeley locals and visitors alike. Its creative food and drinks and intimate atmosphere have earned the bar a reputation as a good place for a first date.

“We see couples all the time who tell us they had their first date there,” Aggarwal said. “It’s definitely a ‘Top 3’ date spot in Berkeley.”

Nuria Rivera, pours a drink at Tip-Sea on Shattuck Avenue in the space where the restaurant Venus used to be. Courtesy of Hindustry

Never one to sit still, Aggarwal continued to build off the success of establishments like Khana Peena and Spice Co. He purchased Venus on Shattuck Avenue in 2018, leaving the downtown restaurant’s brunch-focused California cuisine in place for several years until pandemic-related closures presented the opportunity to bring something new to the market.

In late 2022, Tip-Sea quietly debuted in the former Venus space. Like Spice Co., the menu is centered around creative cocktails and bar bites. However, Tip-Sea offers a nautical theme and seafood-focused menu. Adding to the bar’s bona fides, one of its bartenders, Shiloh, recently won first place in a regional bartender competition, where her final cocktail of the evening successfully infused surprise ingredients including mustard and top ramen.

That very same year, Aggarwal unveiled Tap In, a fast-casual restaurant, cocktail bar and Berkeley’s only “speakeasy” lounge in the former KP Deli convenience store. The venue features a full kitchen serving up Indian curries and pizza until 2 a.m., as well as a cocktail bar and “secret” taproom hidden behind bookshelves, where patrons can help themselves to more than 30 self-service beers on tap, priced by the ounce — another Berkeley first.

The hidden tap room at Tap In features several dozen beers, sold by the ounce. Courtesy of Hindustry

Hindustry’s expansion over the past two years has been aggressive — the group now manages seven food and beverage establishments in the Bay Area — but Aggarwal says he never doubted that Berkeley was the right market to support his ambitions to provide high-quality nightlife experiences. 

“There’s a robust audience here that’s interested in this stuff,” Aggarwal said. “It’s consistent, because the students are always going to be here.”

Right on cue

The BreakRoom, located a block from Downtown Berkeley BART, offers pool for the casual player and tournaments for the serious ones. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

Within walking distance of Hindustry’s trio of bars is another welcome entry to Berkeley’s nightlife scene, The BreakRoom. Owner August Wagele, a fourth-generation Berkeleyan and a Berkeley High School grad, opened the sprawling cocktail bar and billiards club — two floors with 12 tables, two bars and a patio — in February in the former Draw Billiards Club space. 

August Wagele reopened the pool hall now called The BreakRoom. Credit: Kelly Sullivan

A realtor by trade, Wagele has always loved projects. So when the opportunity presented itself to reopen a billiards club in Downtown Berkeley, formerly run by another Berkeley High School grad, he jumped at the chance. Former Draw patrons will recognize the iconic art deco carpet and blue felt pool tables. To this canvas, August has added games such as darts and corn-hole, a set of big-screen TVs and an Instagram feature wall replete with royal throne.

Wagele said he envisioned “a place for all types of people to come have fun or those that are serious about pool to have some good competition. It’s a place for the community to come together and enjoy themselves and relax, blow off steam in a safe environment.”

On a recent Tuesday evening, the tables were seeing plenty of action from a troupe of 9-ball devotees, for whom the club hosts a weekly tournament. Monday evenings are reserved for 8-ball tournaments, and The BreakRoom has recently started a Billiard Clubs of America pool league on Thursday nights. 

The BreakRoom, 2021 Shattuck Ave., open Sun.-Thur. until midnight; Fri. and Sat. until 2 a.m.

“There is a really tight-knit Bay Area pool community,” Wagele said of the tournament players. “I didn’t even know about it until a couple months ago. But it’s really fun getting to know them all.”

A new dawn for Berkeley nightlife

Downtown Berkeley has long been noted for its numerous live entertainment options, courtesy of music venues such as Freight & Salvage, the UC Theatre and the California Jazz Conservatory, as well as the internationally acclaimed Berkeley Rep and Aurora Theatre Company. That’s not to mention the dozens of dining options, and well-established bars like Spats and Tupper & Reed

Now Tip-Sea, Tap In Lounge and The BreakRoom allow patrons to sip craft cocktails, taste beers by the ounce, and shoot pool into the wee hours of the morning. Another new Downtown gathering spot, Elaichi Co. chai house on Allston Way near Oxford Street, is a cafe with night hours, offering the flavors of South Asia. The family-run business is open until midnight Fri & Sat, and 10 p.m. weekdays. 

With a slate of changes to city ordinances shortening permitting timelines and easing restrictions on Berkeley restaurants, bars and entertainment venues, this may be the beginning of a renaissance for Berkeley nightlife. And, for now, Downtown Berkeley’s wide mix of watering holes offer a memorable night on the town.

WHAT NEXT

  • Check out these venues after enjoying other summer entertainment in Downtown Berkeley, including Taste of Downtown Berkeley (this Sunday, June 9, 2-5:30 p.m.), Pride on the Plaza (June 28, 4-7 p.m.), Yappy Hour (July 9, 5-7 p.m.), and Front Row Festival (Aug. 24).
  • Enjoy weekly drink specials  at The BreakRoom Berkeley or ask for the “Berkeley Sidecar” cocktail at one of the Hindustry Bar Group locales ($10, available only upon request through the last day of August).
  • Visit the Discovered in Berkeley Stories page to find more articles about innovative local businesses.
Share this article
Shareable URL
Prev Post

Sconehenge offers the traditional tea scone — and a range of twists

Read next