Au revoir, Au Coquelet: Late-night Berkeley cafe makes way for 8-story development

Any hopes that a new cafe would open in the old Au Coquelet were dashed Wednesday, when the entire building was destroyed.

Shuttered in 2020, the 2000 University Ave. building that housed 46-year-old French spot Au Coquelet Cafe was demolished Wednesday at around 1:43 p.m. Credit: Sylvia Rubin

Berkeley mainstay Au Coquelet Cafe closed for good nearly two years ago, but its high-profile sign at the corner of University Avenue and Milvia Street remained until Wednesday. That’s when a demolition crew tore through its building, part of a plan to construct an eight-floor residential building with 81 units of housing.

Au Coquelet (its name means “spring chicken”) was the kind of unpretentious and accessible cafe once ubiquitous in every U.S. college town, a spot with an acceptable burger and cup of coffee that does the trick, typically with late hours and tables packed with a mix of students and university-adjacent locals.

Finding a business model to sustain Au Coquelet has grown more and more challenging since the low-key, late-night cafe opened in 1976, a challenge aggravated by the pandemic. By the time it shuttered in October 2020, the restaurant was under the management of Cal Dining, which gave workers two days notice that it would permanently close.

“I could spend the whole afternoon working on projects,” UC Berkeley School of Law student Sarang Shah said of Au Coquelet in 2020. “I put together my entire Berkeley Law application there. I always appreciated their coffee and the really cheap refills.”

The longtime Berkeley cafe and restaurant Au Coquelet, on University Avenue, on its last day of business on Oct. 16, 2020. Photo: Eden Teller

Its shutdown might have been inevitable, pandemic or not, however, as plans were underway to tear down its building and the one next to make way for an ambitious new mixed use building from the developers behind a number of other high-profile Berkeley projects.

Au Coquelet ended its 46-year run on Oct. 16, 2020, and by Oct. 21 Berkeley’s Read Investments had filed a preliminary application to redevelop 6,258 square feet at 2000 University Ave. and 2001 Milvia St.

The plan, which has changed very little since, likely feels familiar to those who those who follow local residential development: Designed by Trachtenberg Architects, two buildings will be razed to to build an eight-story building that will contain 81 studio apartments, seven of which will be affordable to people making 80% of the area median income.

On the ground floor, there will be 1,400 square feet of commercial space. No parking will be available on site, but there will be storage for 54 bikes.

Folks who yearn for a cafe on that block still might get their wish, as Read has expressed interest in tenants including a cafe for that ground-floor retail space. If one should open, it won’t have Au Coquelet’s comfy grit, of course, but even Au Coquelet was new once, so let’s meet back here in 46 years and see how we feel about that new cafe then.

The proposed development at 2000 University Ave. and 2001 Milvia St. Credit: Trachtenberg Architects

Nico Savidge contributed additional details to this report

Eve Batey (she/her) is the editor of East Bay Nosh. Email: eve@eastbaynosh.org. Twitter: eveb.