A splendid adventure in Berkeley’s historic Lorin District
Posted in Culture Vulture / DIY / Good Ideas / Places / San Francisco Bay Area | No Comments |
…and a chat with Payam of Alchemy Collective
If you are driving from Oakland into Berkeley you might pass a patch of Adeline Street without knowing you are entering what used to be a separate town. The historic Lorin District is unique among its adjoining neighborhoods of Bushrod, Elmwood, Central Berkeley and Golden Gate – up until 1900 it was the town of Lorin. These days there is a regeneration of the already strong sense of community shared on the blocks between Ashby Avenue, Adeline Street, Martin Luther King Jr. Way, Sacramento Street, and 62nd Street.
I always have much more to blog about than I ever get the time, but the recent excitement about the South Berkeley Farmers Market –run by the Ecology Center– moving over to 63rd and Adeline has prompted me to give the neighborhood its due.
Here are just a few of the uniques offerings in this neighborhood, all easily accessible on foot from Ashby BART. Keep in mind that some of the neighborhood highlights are only open on weekends.
Black Repertory Group - 3201 Adeline Street
Founded by Dr. Mona Vaughn Scott in the 60’s as a church theater group, Black Repertory Theater was founded upon her belief that theater could be used “as a means to uplift an individual and in turn uplift the community.” In addition to regular theatrical performances Black Rep hosts a popular summer drama camp. You’ll spot the bright purple building easily, and even if you stop by when they are closed you’ll find information on their latest shows outside.
Flea market and weekend drumming at Ashby BART - 3100 Adeline Street
This station is “old reliable” for locals in surrounding Berkeley and Oakland. On the weekends the parking lot normally reserved for commuters becomes a checker board of vendors selling dried fruit, wool socks, and all matter of bric-a-brac. Under the shade of the BART entrance a drum circle forms. There’s ample bike parking.
Alchemy Collective Cafe – 3140 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (where MLK and Adeline become one)
From my Grandparents involvement in the early days of the Berkeley Co-op, I realize how the city’s commerce structure is intertwined with the local history, inspiring movements well beyond its borders. Collectively run Alchemy Coffee makes a marvelous cup of coffee. I am smitten with their cappuccinos, made with finesse. I got the low down from Payam, one of the owners (our interview is included at the bottom of this post). The house coffee is roasted by another owner, Eric, who is also the chef at Rogue Café. It’s a tight-knit web of tastiness. (photos of Alchemy by local photographer Joel Ramirez)
The Tarot Woman Vintage Boutique – 3140 Martin Luther King Jr. Way (next door to Alchemy Collective)
Janina Angel Bath was hoping and dreaming for a space to do her tarot readings and to display her ever growing collection of vintage garb. Firehouse Artists Collective were wishing for a creative person like her to occupy their newly renovated storefront space. Happily, the two met up, and Tarot Woman and Vintage Boutique became a reality. Janina has an eye for pattern and texture, and mends any time-worn wounds, not to reinvent the garment but to make it like new. You might call her a fashion anthropologist. When she’s not displaying turquois suede boots or hosting artists to do ceiling installations in her shop she’s reading fortunes with the tarot. What fun.
Firehouse Artists Collective and CK BBQ – 3192 Adeline Street
The fresh yellow paint adorning this address signals a hive of creative activity in the Lorin. On weekends the doors open wide to host an ever-changing array of artists selling their wares, musicians in action, and CK on the grill. Come Saturdays 12-6, and now that the farmer’s market has arrived, additional hours on Tuesday from 2-6pm have been added. If you’re an East Bay artist or vendor looking for space, they are accepting applications.
Rogue Café - Ellis Street
Follow your nose around the corner from Firehouse to Ellis Street on Saturdays and Sundays and you’ll spot a sandwich board identifying Rogue Café. This homemade operation takes places in the gorgeous backyard of a florist, but on weekends the ½ acre lot is a menagerie of idyllic seating areas, shaded by weaving wysteria and fruit trees. From the shed in the back Eric and Ciara serve up delightful brunch fare and his own roasted coffee, branded OneNinetySeven. Enjoy Panzanella salad with fresh favas and Eric’s bread made from scratch. Behaved dogs are welcome.
Hacker Moms – 3288 Adeline Street
I don’t know much about this place, but it looks very interesting. Must explore.
Nick’s Lounge – 3218 Adeline Street
Everyone seems to ask me if I’ve been to Nick’s, or if I’ve been to karaoke at Nick’s. It’s a common place for neighbors to meet after hours. Look for the teal paint job on the south side of Adeline.
Kids for the Bay – 1771 Alcatraz Avenue
One of the coolest kids environmental groups has its HQ in the Lorin. They’ve got a hopeful array of programs for different ages like Storm Drain Rangers, the Watershed Action Program, plus camps and teacher trainings. As far as I’m concerned this is one crucial place.
Youth Spirit Artworks – 1769 Alcatraz Avenue
Next door to Kids for the Bay is Youth Spirit Artworks, a place that emphasizes creativity in the face of hard times. Offering specialized job training programs for older homeless or low-income youth combined with multimedia art classes, the storefront serves as a studio, training center, and shop. You can purchase magnificent works, commission an artist for a portrait or paint the subject of your choosing. They will even repaint your tired chairs with their own unique and imaginative patterns. This program is a shining star in the community.
Terraria – 1757 Alcatraz Avenue
New to the neighborhood, Terraria is the visual gift from owner Olivia Wright. Her shop is in its first incarnation, featuring an elaborate group show of insect-inspired artworks upstairs, and a make-your-own terrarium set up downstairs. There are handcrafted gifts and plenty of succulents. In the coming weeks she’ll have carnivorous plants and in the early fall host a fermentation party in Terraria’s backyard. Look forward to an ever-unfolding vessel for beautiful objects and gifts from the natural kingdom. There may be classes in the future, too.
Paper Mache Classes – Ellis Street (across from Rogue Cafe)
Across the street from Rogue Café on Ellis Street lives a man who loves paper mache. Find the hand painted sign outside his gate, knock on his door, and he’ll teach you a private class, all materials included, for $15. If you don’t have the funds, he won’t turn you away. Seriously. Live it up.
South Berkeley Farmers Market - 63rd and Adeline
Yes, the South Berkeley Market is now on the south side of Adeline at 63rd. Come Tuesday afternoons, 2pm to 6:30pm.
Crop Swap – Adeline and Alcatraz
Every Sunday, from 1-2pm in the native plant garden at the north-east corner of Adeline and Alcatraz is the neighborhood crop swap. It is small and friendly and not grabby or too organized. It’s run by a woman named Victory, who lives up to her name every bit. Another regular brings worm tea (good for compost piles) and plays Celtic tunes on her bodhran and sings while we swap lemons and shizo. Be generous. Take what you’ll use and enjoy. See you there!
Grow Healthy Mosaic – 3198 Adeline (at Fairview Street)
Thanks to a few visits to the Sunday Crop Swap I’ve learned the story behind the new mosaic in town. It was made by kids from nearby Malcolm X Elementary, who, after learning about gardening and health, painted their promises to take good care of themselves on tiles and collaged the side of a Lorin District Building with them. It is a lovely homage to the future wellbeing of the neighborhood.
Sweet Adeline Bakeshop – 3350 Adeline St.
Now a fixture of the neighborhood, Sweet Adeline is a lively hub of decadence. The light and whimsical atmosphere of the shop makes it dangerously easy to forget about all the butter and sugar. Daily sandwiches, coffee drinks, and house-made doggie biscuits are also available. My favorites? The seasonal pumpkin cake, fruit buckle, peanut butter cookies, and chocolate cream pie. Owner Jennifer Millar is not only a magical baker but a supporter of the community.
Believe it or not, there are more spots in this area that I am not mentioning or have yet to discover – let me know if you’ve got favorites to share!
A chat with Payam, one of the member-owners of Alchemy Collective Café:
Serena: Tell me about the coffee at Alchemy Collective and your coffee philosophy…
Payam: Our coffee Philosophy is foremost about serving our favorite coffees at the highest quality level that we can.
Our standard House coffee is our Hessian Crucible, which was named by a customer as the result of our naming contest. It is roasted down the street by one of our Members, Eric, who owns a roasting company named OneNinetySeven, which has gained local popularity for its popup cafe, Rogue. We’ve worked with Eric to develop something we really like and it’s proven to be our hands-down top seller at $2 a cup.
S: What about espresso, and your single origin coffees I keep seeing?
P: Our espresso is from Verve, which is based in Santa Cruz. We also have a rotating menu of single origin coffees from Verve. Each month or so, after tasting Verve’s selection, we select a new single origin roast to highlight and sell in the cafe. The variety that Verve offers allows us to constantly taste a wide range of coffees from around the world and select something new for our customers.
S: What does it take for a good cup of coffee?
P: Primarily we believe in local, specialty roasters who work in small batches and can ensure the highest quality standards. On our end, we are all constantly evolving ourselves to become better baristas through constant learning, tasting and experience.
I’ve always thought of the cafe as something that is in constant evolution. From the beginning when it was an idea, we constantly have been improving upon what little we have in order to be a little bit better.
I’m reminded of a Abraham Lincoln Quote: “I do not think much of a man who is not wiser today than he was yesterday.” This is what Alchemy is all about. Even the concept of Alchemy throughout the centuries has been understood as a process of transmutation through evolution. We all adhere to this ethos at Alchemy whether we realize it or not, because by our very nature we are all tinkerers, who are always perfecting our shop and ourselves day by day.
The fact that we are a collective only reinforces this for us. We all are invested in it, we all own it, and we all agree as a team on how we operate and how we grow. Being in a collective truly allows us the flexibility to constantly make changes and evolve. A few of us have had experience with collectives before, one member even worked for a collective cafe in Boston. However, this has been a unique experience for all of us and we’ve formulated our own way of doing things.
S: How long have you been open?
P: While we’ve only been open in this location for about 7 months now (as of the beginning of August 2012), we’ve been working together as a collective team for over 2 years to bring this to fruition. So, we’ve got a bit of a handle on working like this. For the most part business runs pretty smoothly.
S: What about your yummy baked goods?
P: Our pastries are from Starter Bakery. They are local and prepare small batches with excellent quality, which reflects our ethos.