Le Bateau Ivre is a City of Berkeley institution. Situated at the corner of Telegraph Avenue and Carleton Street since 1972, its owner Arlene Giordana has had a front row seat to 42 years of changing Berkeley tides. Housed in a renovated 1898 French abode, the beloved restaurant has served (and continues to serve) poets, Nobel laureates, professors, artists and assorted personalities and characters as only Berkeley can produce.
In a society that favors anything new and improved, Le Bateau Ivre is an anomaly. Its charm is based on its history and its architecture, but also on its diners’ desire for quiet and homey as opposed to the current trend of action-packed and ear-splitting. ‘Diners can actually carry-on a conversation here,’ says Giordano.
The place is large, with three distinct dining areas, each more charming than the other. Giordano welcomes guests to stay as long as they wish, and the offer of free wi-fi ensures that her hospitality is frequently accepted. Students can often be found reading, writing and studying for hours. ‘This is a second home for many people,’ says Giordano, for whom Le Bateau Ivre is home.
She opened the restaurant in ’72 with her then boyfriend, and later husband, Thomas Cooper. The two renovated and managed the place together until Cooper’s death in 2008. Since that time, Giordano has struggled to keep up with capital improvements, and recently initiated a crowd funding campaign to raise $60,000 to install a new walk-in freezer, a new cook range and to make the main dining room wheelchair accessible.
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner (9:00am – 10:00pm, Tuesday -Thursday and Sunday, and until 11:00pm Friday and Saturday), the menu features French and American favorites made with fresh, healthy ingredients. Daily menu specials take advantage of seasonal offerings. On one particular visit, the chef offered to make any desired dish not featured on the menu.
Most desserts are made in-house and Giordano herself makes the cookies and biscotti. Prices are incredibly reasonable; nearly all dinner entrees are under $20, and the food is tasty and plentiful. The restaurant is favored for bridal and baby showers, rehearsal dinners and Mother’s Day brunch. Live music is featured on Wednesday nights. Giordano has many regulars; it is new customers she seeks, and she would like to welcome back those who dined long ago. This writer, for instance, had no recollection of a dinner enjoyed there 20 plus years earlier until a tour of the south facing dining room jogged a long forgotten and pleasant memory.
Old photographs and mementos housed in a hallway display case convey the restaurant’s history and meaning to its community. Giordano’s current fundraising campaign, if successful, may necessitate a display case expansion to house many more years of memories.
For more information on Le Bateau Ivre and its fundraising campaign, visit www.lebateauivre.net.