Peregrinations: Oakland

July 11, 2015 • 10:30 am

Today Professor Ceiling Cat is visiting a friend who owns a mansion in the Berkeley Hills, and I’m living in high style. Tomorrow I’m off for Mesa, Arizona to meet Kelly Houle (I’ll arrive on Monday a.m.), admire her artwork, and then pick up Ben Goren and drive to Kelly’s parents’ cabin in the mountains, where we’ll chill for a couple of days.

Yesterday, though, I was in nearby Oakland, the guest of biologist Sarah Crews (who studies spiders) and her partner Mark, who’s a photographer at Mother Jones magazine.  Since my drive from Davis was short (1.5 hours), I wasn’t tired at the end and we went for a walk by Lake Merritt. There were plenty of birds by the water, including pelicans, gulls, cormorants, egrets, and black-crowned night herons (Nycticorax nycticorax), one of which is here:

Night heron

After our constitutional, we stopped by what is reputed to be the oldest bar in California, Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon, in business since 1883. The name comes from the fact that the bar was the last stop before the ferry to Alameda, a dry county, and also right at the port of Oakland, where sailors could get their first drink after a voyage, and the last before embarking.  Author Jack London hung out there and studied there during his one year at The University of California at Berkeley. In the bar, he heard tales of sailors and adventurers that he later worked into his fiction. Here’s a picture of London studying at the bar:


A bit more information about the place from Wikipedia:

Heinold’s is the last commercial establishment in California with its original gas lighting. The tables, which reportedly came from a whaling ship, and other furnishings date back to the days when Johnny Heinold ran the pub. The walls and ceilings are covered with business cards, hats of past patrons and money, often signed by sailors about to deploy so they would have money for a drink waiting for them upon their return.

The bar still holds the original potbellied stove used to warm the room, their only source of heat since 1889. Bob Fitzsimmon’s and Jimy Jeffries’ boxing gloves, John Heinold’s hat remain where they were hung; and the original bar glassware, and mahogany bar are still in use today.

One of the most notable characteristics of the pub is the very slanted floor. The uneven ground formed in 1906 during the great San Francisco earthquake when a portion of the piles the pub is built on in swampy ground sank. In the corner of Heinold’s is a clock that has been stopped since the moment of the 1906 quake, at 5:18.

Sadly, I didn’t read this before I visited the place, for I surely would have photographed the uneven floor, the stove, and the clock, but you can see photos at the Wikipedia article.  And outside the bar stands Jack London’s cabin, originally in the Yukon, and the place where he wrote “To Build a Fire” in the winter of 1897-1898. Half of the logs are original (the other half are in a duplicate in Dawson City, Canada; you can read how the cabin was identified, removed and relocated here. 


Two ducks frequent Heinold’s, and the bartender kindly provided them with water dishes and potato chips. The female mallard scarfed up an entire bag and then, thirsty, guzzled most of the dish of water. The male stood guard:

Ducks, Heinhold's First and Last Chance

We then went to a local craft-cocktail bar, Fauna, to sample one of Sarah’s favorite cocktails (and one I never had) the Aviation, so called because of its sky-blue color. Made from gin, crème de violette liqueur, and maraschino liqueur, it packed a punch but went down easy. It’s an old cocktail, mostly forgotten, but I recommend it very highly when it’s made well.

Isn’t it lovely?

Aviation, Fauna

Sarah with an Aviation:


Mark, headed off to work with his trusty rangefinder Leica (he uses real film: Kodak Tri-X: ASA 400):


A nearby theater, the Fox Oakland, where they show movies and have concerts. Built in 1928, it retains the original Moorish design:

And now–the cats! These are part of the nine “core cats”, all ferals that adopted Sarah and Mark after they (the cats) were trapped, neutered, and released (their ears are cut when to indicate that the cats have been so treated). But Sarah and Mark feed other cats as well:

Buster (the largest cat and a sweetheart):


Professeur Chippeur (“Chippi”):


The lovely Lisette, who lost her rhinestone-studded collar:


Professor Swatty (below: so called because he swats everyone and every other cat) and two students:

Prof. Swatty



Sauron (foreground) and Surprise, Cat!, so called because he always looks surprised:

Sauron and Surprise CAt

SPU (Special Patrol Unit):


Surprise, Cat! Notice the permanent look of surprise on his face. He also has the longest whiskers I’ve seen on any cat:

Surprise, Cat!

Tib Tabs:

Tib Tabs

Gray Cat (photo by Sarah):

Gray cat

Finally, a reader challenged me to get all nine cats in one picture. I couldn’t do that (most of them were scared of me), but Sarah provided a photo of eight of them on the bed. Imagine trying to sleep among this menagerie!


Thanks to Sarah and Mark for hosting me, introducing them to the moggies, and providing a tour and a homemade Key lime pie!

28 thoughts on “Peregrinations: Oakland

  1. Really great place and lots of memories for me. First time to Alameda was 1980 and we lived on Broadway. My job was at the port of Oakland. Was back in 2000 but only in Alameda for a year before moving out into the desert 50 miles east of Oakland. Sorry but you don’t want to be there. Thousands a people move out there to towns like Lathrop and commute into Oakland and San Francisco to work everyday. It is insane but they go out there where housing is more affordable…if there is such a thing in California.

  2. Surprise Cat is perfectly (purrfectly?) named. I live the permanent look of surprise, like someone who went overboard with the Botox!

    I find the feet of that bird fascinating; such a strang colour!

    1. I hypothesize that Surprise Cat looks like that b/c of its great white whiskers projected over its dark face. That plus the angles on the broad blaze on the nose.

      1. Surprise, Cat! looks a lot like our Booker T. Always the deer-in-the-headlights eyes ( except when he liquifies into a purring puddle on your lap. Similar markings to S,C!, though a little less white. Extra long white whiskers and eyebrows, too. Booker-the-not-so-Brave.

  3. > Half of the logs are original (the other half are in a duplicate in Dawson City, Canada

    Sooo … which one of the huts is the real one, then?

  4. Beautiful cats, and interesting tales of travel.
    I would like to learn more about what Sarah studies amongst the spiders.. * <– that is supposed to be a spider emoji.

    1. I study mostly systematics and some pop gen of selenopid spiders and Saltonia, a spider that lives under salt crusts on dry lake beds in the desert SW. Currently, I’m working on some biomechanics of the former that will hopefully be out this year.

      1. Thank you! Saltonia seems like an extremophile spider, living along the shores of the Salton Sea. I have never been there, but if its anything like other such bodies of water that I have visited, there might be swarms of shore flies for it to eat.
        And just b/c you might find this amusing:

        1. Ha! Strange. Yes, they are extremeophiles for sure…they live around the shore but mostly in the layer between the salt crust and the ground. I have seen them eating flies and each other. There are only a handful of critters that can live out there. Sometimes the salt isn’t just NaOH, but KOH and some other toxic stuff…peels the skin off the hands, so now I wear gloves when I collect them.

  5. Heinold’s is the last commercial establishment in California with its original gas lighting.

    One wonders how they could possibly know this.

    1. My guess is that nowadays it would require a special permit, the existence of which could be obtained through public records.

      1. Perhaps. Although I imagine such permitting is done at the local level, so that would be a lot of jurisdictions to check.

        Another possibility is that there’s only one surviving supplier of gaslight replacement parts, and only one customer in California they ship to.

        But my guess is that this is simply an item of local folklore that “everybody knows” but nobody has bothered to verify.

  6. Not far from where Mom grew up, in Albany…yet another part of your trip I envy you for. You’re going to keep this up all the way across the country, aren’t you?

    <sigh />


  7. Wow–am I understanding correctly that you visited Oakland but didn’t make a stop at the Cat Town cat cafe?

  8. Mark: How do you develop your Tri-X?

    I used to used Microdol-X, 1:3, 75°F (forget the total development time), 30-second agitation, with the stop and hypo held at 75°F too. I got great results.

    All digital now …

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