We recently celebrated a friend’s birthday with cocktails at Shakewell Bar and Kitchen on Lakeshore Avenue in Oakland. Shakewell is a fairly new addition to the Lakeshore district, having taken over the space a little over nine months ago. General Manger Tim Nugent and Executive Chef Jen Biesty are delighted to be in Oakland after having worked in San Francisco restaurants for years. Chatting with Nugent at the bar, we learned that they worked together at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel, where he was the executive pastry chef and Biesty was executive chef. Fans of Top Chef may recognize them from past appearances in 2010 and 2007, respectively.
We introduced ourselves to Amy and James, the bar managers, who were happy to talk about the bar menu, both present and future. They tossed out a few ideas for spring, including the possibility of adding a few tiki drinks to the menu — always a welcome addition, especially after the Rockridge neighborhood’s favorite Conga Lounge closed a couple of months ago. As with many of the places we visit, menus change at Shakewell — both on the restaurant menu and behind the bar — to reflect the bounty and character of each season. We were intrigued, and vowed to return to see what new ideas might have sprung onto the menu in spring.
A birthday celebration merits a traditional cocktail, so we sought out our old standby, the Sidecar: Pierre Ferrand 1840 Cognac, Cocchi di Torino, Benedictine, Paychaud’s Bitters, Angostura Bitters and lemon, with the all-important sugar rim. The Sidecar is a fine cocktail to enjoy with a friend on any occasion, which need not be a birthday.
After just a few months, Shakewell patrons have already zeroed in on a favorite from the cocktail menu: El Matador, made with Four Roses bourbon, Cocchi di Torino, Alvear sherry, mole bitters and chocolate. In addition to the posted list of cocktails, patrons may want to go for the Dealer’s Choice: pick a spirit and allow the bartender to create something just for you. We may have to give that a try if we are feeling daring.
We were so eager to see what the spring cocktail additions would be that we returned to Shakewell a month later, and were thrilled to see new additions, which include the Spring’s Pimm (Pimm’s No.1, lime, lemon, strawberry and basil), the Jamaican Cocktail (Smith & Cross rum, saffron turbinado, pear bitters and a lemon twist), the rum-based Zombie, and a White Sangria (white wine, cava, brandy, pineapple, lime and fruit). This time we took Nugent’s suggestion and ordered a Neighborhood Fix (Suerte Reposado, Aquavit, lemon and apricot jam, with a mezcal float). The flavor medley in this drink was a revelation. Every element had its moment: sweetness, citrus, spice and smoke.
On our second visit to Shakewell, we asked Nugent a question we hadn’t thought of before. What about the name? The story he told us was about his and Biesty’s initial concept, which was to be simply a bar— named “The Well.” (When ordering a “well” drink, one gets a drink made from whatever label of preferred spirit happens to be available in the well below the bar.) But then the concept expanded to include a restaurant, so the name had to change also. “Restaurant names sound better when there are two words,” he said. So they ended up adding a “shake” to the name: a nod to what happens behind the bar, and Nugent’s predilection for shaking hands.
When we asked Nugent to describe a typical Shakewell crowd, he responded enthusiastically about the eclectic and diverse customers he’s observed coming in so far. The neighborhood has been welcoming and supportive, he said.
Shakewell has a timeless look to it. Several of the interior elements are made from locally reclaimed stone and wood. Nugent pointed out that the bar stools on which we were perched had been handmade. The unique combination of rustic and contemporary design makes Shakewell seem as though the restaurant grew organically, popping up through the rocks and the wood, determined to establish deep roots in the neighborhood.
The vibe: Celebratory, neighborly, fun
The crowd: Oaklandish, eclectic
The drinks: Sidecar and Neighborhood Fix
The one to try next time: El Matador (contains chocolate!)
The Deets: Shakewell Bar and Kitchen, 3407 Lakeshore Ave., Oakland
Are you a cocktail lover? Read previous Ms. Barstool reviews of winter cocktails, Corso, Honor in Emeryville, Hotsy Totsy Club, East Bay Spice Company, Bourbon & Beef, Penrose, Gather, Tribune Tavern, the Paragon, Boot & Shoe Service, Picàn, Hopscotch, Five, Revival, Flora, and Prizefighter — and check Berkeleyside Nosh’s Guide to Drinking around Berkeley.
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