Food & Drink

Alone for the Holidays

ARCADE Games people play.

Hiding in plain sight

Is this holiday season finally going to allow us to gather back together with our families after nearly two years of lockdowns and disappointments?

Starting in early October, White House medical adviser and face of Covid, Dr. A. Fauci, made it clear that while Covid is not beaten yet, the conditions look good for a return to some sense of normalcy for the holiday season. Hurray!

Oh wait, is this not the time of year when decades of family tension starts to peak, our collective gut sinks when the RSVPs come in “YES” and even the good parties with people we actually like to be around add stress and overwhelming preparation timetables?

In short, are we already feeling the need to get away? Here are fun, fashionable and totally believable pretexts for finding some time for ourselves during the holidays.

Here is an idea. Rather than spending the early morning hiding in the bathroom ready to say “just a minute” when someone finally knocks, roll out to Berkeley’s Boichik Bagels (www.boichikbagels.com)—ostensibly to get everyone at home a treat, but really to take a break.

Boichik’s are considered to be among the best bagels in the country, so make sure to show up at peak times when the wait for orders can be as long as 45 minutes. Buy some quiet time. Peek up from the phone to check out fellow travelers-in-line, from fashionistas in marigold velour jumpsuits or classy pleated hot pink midi skirts to pampered babies in perfect prams.

Covid protocols are in place, and the menu and card-swiper sit on a stand 6 feet from the employee seated outside to take orders. Get some tension out by yelling the tip amount across the gap so she can enter it in the POS system. While waiting, watch through the plate window at the sandwich assembly for that perfect moment of bagel zen.

Regardless of one’s gender, everyone should know by now that a pedicure is the perfect ploy to get away. No one has the right to deny us pampered feet and pretty toes. No one understands this better than Ari Huitzilopochtli, owner of Fig & Clover (www.figandclover.com), the LGBTQIA+ friendly spot in the Temescal District. That is, except for her lucky clients. As regular Blamoh Phillips put it, the “amazingly warm, friendly & inclusive staff is magical.”

“I think many will be surprised at how good they will feel just being inside the space,” Huitzilopochtli said, when asked what makes her salon unique. “The thing that always mattered to me was that we provided a safe space for everyone. I didn’t want our space to feel like a salon, more like a friend’s house where you love to sit and visit and talk.” To back up her intention with action, Huitzilopochtli posted recently on the Fig & Clover Instagram page that she has decided not to accept tips anymore. “Sometimes it’s a strange transaction at the end, whether there is shame around it because maybe you can’t afford to give the tip that you’d like. It’s just weird sometimes. I’d just rather people leave here feeling good about themselves, from beginning to end.”

Here is another benefit: stylists are booked out four weeks in advance, so get real, plan holiday escapes now and when the time comes families will have to go with the flow because, “It’s on the calendar, Honey.”

For those feeling more footloose and fancy free, here is another getaway for the foot-oriented. There may be nothing more fashionable at this unique moment in time than roller skating. Try this: While twisting ribbons around presents on a Friday afternoon for the weekend holiday party, slam the wrapping paper tube down on the counter and holler, “That’s it! I’m going roller skating!” Then get on over to Quad Republic Skate Company (www.quadrepublicskateco.com) in El Cerrito.

This sweet boutique is full of nasty. From roller-derby battle boots to wooden platform-heeled “recreational skates,” the new take on old-school roller skates proves to be as functional as it is gorgeous. This writer is eyeing the Moxi Beach Bunny Roller Skates in Watermelon. Whatever one’s pleasure, buy it and hightail over to the Boathouse at Lake Merritt. In Covid times, the parking lot has been closed off to traffic, and on Friday nights experienced and new skaters take over while music blares and butts wiggle on wheels in circles of 21st-century flash. This is where everyone gets their groove back. Double check with Lake People Skate’s account on IG, as times may vary.

We all know the secret to throwing a good holiday party is getting takeout the night before to save on the hassle and clean-up while finishing up those decorations, rolling cheese into some shape or completing whatever other holiday tradition we are reviving late-pandemic.

Monster Pho (www.monsterpho.com), on Broadway in Oakland, is perfect for a suspiciously long takeout run, not just because of its legendary bowls of steaming broth, but for a secret delight one need not mention to the rest of the family—an arcade game machine to play during the wait. Conveniently forget to order in advance—even though it is super easy through their website—in order to spend the 15-minute wait for the must-have Vietnamese Crepe button mashing Neo-Geo video classics. The vibe of the place is guaranteed to bring anyone back to full power as sure as a reset button.

Then there are those nights when the kids are finally tucked in, the in-laws are watching This Is Us while they doze off and our partners are “finishing up some work” once again. Don’t miss this big chance! Make a break for the Kona Club (www.konaclub.net) on Piedmont Avenue to get truly lost.

Forgot to use a fail-safe alibi? It doesn’t matter, everyone can safely disappear here. Go around the bar to the casually lit open-seating areas of this incredibly beautiful tiki bar and be transported far from the winter hell of a loving and supporting family who cares. This writer has never before described a tiki bar as beautiful, but the Kona has changed this mind forever. Get sucked into the plush-leather lounges to sip a Singapore Sling while admiring the authentic Oceanic details and clear passion put into the work by renowned island-style decorator Bamboo Ben and master tiki artist Crazy Al.

Or sit closer to every patron’s new best friend, Julio the bartender, and groove along to the killer jukebox. I make sure to take a hard right from the entrance to the high-top tucked away under the party-colored pufferfish lights so that when my partner bursts in after tracking me on GPS, I’m sure to be hidden from view, sipping quietly until they get washed away in the vibe themselves.

OK, did anyone realize in the morning that they forgot to share their Scorpion Bowl? To anyone who wakes up in their car still parked on Piedmont: walk slowly over to Blue Bottle Coffee (www.bluebottlecoffee.com) further down the Avenue for some sorely needed caffeine.

Erroneously considered by many to be of San Francisco origin, Blue Bottle Coffee actually started as a roaster shop in Oakland in 2002. As the exquisite quality of the coffee brought great demand, the brand initially expanded into San Francisco. Now found throughout the Bay Area, the Piedmont location opened in 2018. Getaway advantages: the slow-pour methods pioneered by founder James Freeman are sure to match the slowest morning-after pace, and with the clever Fall Poetry Coffee Set in stock, why not read through California poet Victoria Chang’s words while sipping, to clear out the fog of holiday joy?

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