Bartender Manny Martinez at Limewood. Photo: Risa Nye
Bartender Manny Martinez makes a Grizzly Gimlet at the new Limewood Bar & Restaurant in the Claremont Hotel. Photo: Risa Nye

It had been a couple of years since we visited The Paragon, the bar located just inside the Claremont Hotel. Since our last sunset cocktail on the deck, the bar has gone through some changes and remodels. However, as of the end of August, the bar is back in business. Over Labor Day weekend, we popped in to check out the newly christened Limewood Bar & Restaurant, which had only been open for five days.

We spoke with bartender Manny Martinez, an 18-year veteran of the bar, who helped us with our drink choices and filled us in on what changed and what stayed the same after the recent re-opening of this popular location.

Limewood has taken the place of the short-lived high-end brasserie, Antoinette, and according to Martinez, “the old-time regulars are coming back.” They’re neighbors, other locals, and commuters who decide to wait out the Caldecott Tunnel traffic and study the view while enjoying a libation.

The Carousel 1/4 at Limewood. Photo: Risa Nye
The Carousel 1/4 at Limewood. Photo: Risa Nye

Martinez told us that the new drink menu is the result of a team effort by the many long-time members of the staff. “Everyone,” he says, “is happy with the new drink menu.” Some of the featured cocktails are Ry’d for the Roses (George Dickel Rye, lime, mint, ginger beer), the Boo-Rah (Buffalo Trace bourbon, lemon, Syrah), Splash Berries (Tito’s Vodka, raspberry, thyme, lime, elderflower liquor) and Viejo Caliente (Pueblo Viejo Silver Tequila, lemon, basil, jalapeño). (All specialty cocktails are $13.) From our front-row seat at the bar, we observed (and tasted) several offerings, making notes to return for future exploration.

Though each item on the cocktail menu had a certain appeal, we decided on The Carousel 1/4, a nod to the Carousel Bar & Lounge in New Orleans’s French Quarter, made with Templeton Rye, B&B, brandy, and sweet vermouth. With cocktails of this nature, the flavors take their time opening up. The individual elements — both the subtle and the strong — assert themselves with each sip, which makes for a changing perspective as the glass goes from full to empty. The Carousel 1/4 is served unembellished, poured over a single ice cube, so there is nothing to distract from the pure enjoyment of its blended flavors.

Our companion tried the Grizzly Gimlet (St. George Terroir gin, egg white, lime). Tastes were exchanged, and we agreed that both choices had their fine qualities. The gimlet and its creamy layer of froth and colorful embellishment appealed to both the eye and the taste buds. If the two drinks represented seasons, the gimlet is definitely summer and The Carousel 1/4 personifies early fall, which is exactly where we are right now, judging from the fog, the warm weather, and the changing color of the leaves in the East Bay.

The Grizzly Gimlet at Limewood. Photo: Risa Nye
The Grizzly Gimlet at Limewood. Photo: Risa Nye

The bar still opens up to a deck, which offers a breathtaking view of the Golden Gate bridge, San Francisco, Mt. Tamalpais and beyond. Inside, the tall chairs are comfortable and cushy. The restaurant half of Limewood features an open kitchen and more seating. Lunch service hadn’t begun when we visited, but is now available. For the record: The Limewood’s tile floor — with its small circular tiles in charcoal and white, laid out in a distinctive pattern — hasn’t changed since its Paragon days. Only the glasses and the plates are different.

For returning regulars, out-of-town guests staying at the hotel, or locals playing tourist at home, Limewood is the perfect spot to savor an innovative cocktail while taking in the magnificent vista from the terrace. A new name and a new concept with the familiarity of an old favorite — that’s the Limewood.

The drinks: The Carousel 1/4 and Grizzly Gimlet
The vibe: Casual, friendly, welcoming
To try next time: Splash Berries
The crowd: Returning regulars, weary commuters, guests of the hotel, view seekers
When to go: At sunset, when you’re going to be late for dinner anyway, on a special occasion, or when playing tourist at home

Limewood Bar & Restaurant is in the Claremont Club and Spa, a Fairmont Hotel, at 41 Tunnel Road, Berkeley (on the Oakland border). Connects with the restaurant on Facebook.

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Freelancer Risa Nye is a Bay Area native. She was born in San Francisco and grew up in the East Bay. She spent many happy years on the UC Berkeley campus, both as a student and as an employee. She has...