By Ruth Miller
The cocktail bars in Oakland and Berkeley have divided and multiplied, experimented and specialized, and evolved new and exciting traits. One now on display is the fiery hot spicy cocktail. Whether you’re in the mood for habanero, jalapeño, chili, or chipotle, warm yourself inside and out with a heat-seeking trip to one of these Oakland/Berkeley bars for a spicy drink.
at Tamarindo Antojeria Mexicana, 468 8th Street, Oakland
Don Julio Reposado, Torres Liquor, agave, chili salt rim
The bartenders at Tamarindo observe a new holy trinity: tart, sweet, and heat (via chili pepper). The spice for all three of Tamarindo's margaritas – El Fabuloso, Margarita de la Casa, and Magarita de Tamarindo – come from a chili salt rim. Whichever one you choose, you'll find a well-balanced cocktail that plays nicely with tacos and guacamole, of which Tamarindo serves up some of the best.
Los Pepinos de Amor
at Penelope, 555 12th Street, Oakland
Tequila, cucumbers, lime, habanero, spiced rim
Penelope has two spicy drinks worth noting: Its Oaktown Heat is probably better known, with sharp ginger and habanero-infused vodka, but its refreshingly complex Los Pepinos de Amor, served straight up, eschews a spiced rim for richer color and deeper flavor. A large painted mural of Penelope Cruz looks down over the bar, possibly posed as Our Lady of Habanero-Infused Spirits.
Carter Beats the Devil
at Flora, 1900 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
Reposado tequila, lime, agave, Bird’s Eye tincture, Vida Mescal
Carter Beats the Devil is named for a mystery novel set in 1920s Oakland, which weaves Houdini-era magic, a presidential assassination, and a duel with the devil. Like its namesake, Carter Beats the Devil is a story in three acts – an elegant and unassuming presentation; a smooth flood of citrus; and then a burst of boozy habanero in the back of your throat. The McCarthy (gin, grapefruit, maple syrup, sprinkle of cayenne) and Last Tango (gin, muddled cherries, lime, chili tincture) are also pleasantly hot, but Carter steals the show.
at Luka's, 2221 Broadway, Oakland
Gran Centenario Plata Tequila, cilantro-mint sugar, lime, ginger beer, sugar/salt/jalapeño rim
The sweetest of the seven cocktails in this story, the Green Hornet is bright, refreshing, and deceptively boozy. Jalapeños produce an earthier, friendlier heat than habaneros. The Green Hornet pairs well with Luka’s famous frites.
at Make Westing, 1741 Telegraph Avenue, Oakland
Tequila, mezcal, Velvet Falernum, serrano, grapefruit, lime
The Conquistaor is surprisingly light and refreshing, with a mild heat, but still able to markedly impair your bocce skills. It goes well with a patio seat. If you’ve already scorched off your taste buds, you might as well treat yourself to Make Westing's habanero and cilantro-infused popcorn, made with lime butter, aleppo pepper, and cotija.
at Comal, 2020 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
Partida Reposado, hibiscus syrup, infierno tincture, lime, salt
The Jack Satan, at Comal in Downtown Berkeley, looks the part its name suggests: the hibiscus lends a deep red as if to announce a fiery flavor, but its the housemade infierno tincture of spices and chiles that brings the heat. Snuggle up to the fire pit out back and try to have fewer than three.
at Revival Bar + Kitchen, 2102 Shattuck Avenue, Berkeley
Vida Mezcal, chipotle syrup, Amaro Montenegro, lime, mole bitters, Cyprus black salt
While you’re in Berzerkeley, stroll down the block to Revival. Just as its kitchen explores and celebrates the whole hog (“snout to tail”), Revival bartenders pull from a range of ingredients (like mole!) that make them more magicians than mixologists. The Inflatable Raft, with a black salt rim, is easily the smokiest drink on the list.