2020 Shattuck Ave. Berkeley CA, 94704 (510) 926.6300
Hours
Sunday thru Thursday 5:30-10pm
Friday & Saturday 5:30-11pm
Front bar opens at 5pm nightly
Hours
Sunday thru Thursday 5:30-10pm
Friday & Saturday 5:30-11pm
Front bar opens at 5pm nightly

Bisbee Nails It!

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

It was my father who first introduced me to John Bisbee.  He and John are both artists working in Brunswick Maine.  John is also a professor at Bowdoin College, where my father taught back in the 1970’s.  We were gearing up for IT, the last of three Phish summer festivals at Loring Air Force Base way up north in Maine.  It was spring of 2003.  We were in the practice of commissioning artists to populate the grounds with all manner of expression, and my dad suggested that we bring John up to do his thing.

I called John on the phone and without hesitation he said that he was in, and that he would need 10,000 rolls of masking tape.  “Anything else?” I asked.  “No,” he responded.  I’d learned somewhere along the line that it’s better to not ask lots of questions in these moments, so I told him we’d have the tape waiting for him and to let me know if he needed anything else.

He arrived on site and immediately gravitated toward a grove of trees on the edge of the central gathering area.  Throughout the weekend, he played the role of dictator/court jester/instructor/conductor, simultaneously imposing strict order and encouraging mayhem.  In the end, all 10,000 rolls were gone and the grove of trees had been transformed into a sinewy labyrinth that defies description. Here’s an image of a tape sculpture made on campus with students using only 600 rolls of tape:

That was my first brush with the singular artistic genius of John Bisbee.  What I like most about John is that he is an artist in the purest sense of the word.  Give him the most mundane materials and he will spin them into elegant, organic forms.  For most of his career as a sculptor, John’s material of choice has been the nail, often of the 12” variety.  Cold, hard, sharp, mechanical.  These are the words that come to mind when I think of nails.  But in John’s hands, nails gather together in surprising ways.  Have a look at the dizzying array of images that come up when you query “John Bisbee” in Google Images (John would appreciate the sprinkling of other “John Bisbees” that dot the page): Bisbee Google Images

As we began designing Comal, the original steel windows were an important element that led to the new front façade’s custom steel windows and doors and the matching steel door system at the back façade.  All this steel made me think of John, so I called him up to explore how he might contribute to Comal.  As luck would have it, John had just struck a new vein in his ongoing dialogue with nails: creating a variety of custom glyph-like “brands” from large nails that were used to burn patterns into wood.  Check out this time lapse video of his first large scale piece that takes the form of a mandala.

Using the mandala piece as a reference point, we began plotting a similar piece for Comal.  At that point Comal’s interior design was strong on clean lines and symmetry, so I asked John to imagine a piece that resembled vines – as if the mandala piece was “unwound” into something wilder and more irregular.  John flew out last March and spent a week with his old friend Kyle, who owns Ferrous Studios (more on Kyle later – his fingerprints are all over Comal, from the facades to the exit gate to the stools, table bases, and wood rack).  Kyle generously offered John use of his warehouse shop in Richmond to create the panels that would be assembled into a larger whole at Comal.

While John was working on his piece, Kyle was cooking up a stool design for us that utilized plywood for the seat.  John saw the opportunity to extend the gesture on these stool seats.  So he branded several sheets of plywood that were then cut into stool seats – if you arranged all of our stools in the right way, you could recreate these larger pieces.

It was a memorable week.  Highlights include John improvising “Change Order Blues” with the Ferrous house band, a hilarious margarita-tasting session (John’s first brush with tequila since a summer camp caper gone wrong in 1978) and a late night bocce match at Pizzaiolo using a blood orange for a jack (I won, much to John’s continued dismay).  And at the end of the week John left us his stunning panels to assemble at Comal in his absence, so he has yet to experience the visceral energy of the panels in situ. 

C’mon back to California and visit us John!

Links:

Bowdoin Magazine Feature

Boston Globe Feature

Funny NBC TV Video Profile


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Dolly Dagger, Molotes, Garnachas and more…

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

BUY TICKETS

New Year’s Eve is fast approaching, and we’re gearing up for a memorable night at Comal.  Instead of a regular dinner service that night, we’ll be transforming into a dancehall, with DJ Jose Ruiz (KPFA, KPOO) spinning his infectious mix of Latin and Funk into the wee hours.

Bartender Matt Campbell has twisted up a special NYE cocktail, Dolly Dagger, featuring buddha’s hand-infused tequila, blood orange, meyer lemon and cinnamon with a float of cava.

Chef Matt Gandin and his kitchen crew will keep a steady stream of antojitos (little snacks) flowing out of the kitchen throughout the night – some special items on the menu for NYE include:

Lettuce-wrapped Molotes w/ chorizo and potato

Quesadillas de Albondigas (meatball quesadillas)

Quesadillas w/ shrimp and wild nettles

Garnachas w/ Sanger duck and cascabel salsa

Tickets are $25 in advance ($30 cash at the door) and include all food offerings.  Capacity is limited and tickets are selling fast, so advance purchase is strongly recommended – tickets can be purchased online by clicking here or in person at Comal any night after 5pm.

Time – 9pm – 1:30am

Cost – $25 advance, $30 cash at door (includes food – drinks purchased separately)

Special Note – BART is open until 3am on NYE.   Comal is less than a block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

Abajo Now Open

Abajo, our new private dining room, is now up and running. It’s a great place for a holiday party, business dinner, birthday party or any other large group gathering. We can accommodate 12-22 people. Please click here for more information.

Stay tuned to our website (comalberkeley.com) and our regularly updated Facebook page and Twitter feed for more updates in the coming days and weeks.

We hope to see you soon at Comal!


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Beats and Birds

Friday, December 14th, 2012

In the seven months that we’ve been open, we’ve received no shortage of queries about the art on our walls: the Oaxacan street scene photo by Deborah O’Grady (many think it’s a painting), the branded wood panels by John Bisbee (more about Mr Bisbee in the coming weeks), the three quiet paintings in the rear of the restaurant which were painted by my father Duane and the “Birds” triptych by musician/painter/friend Billy Martin of the group Medeski, Martin & Wood, aka Illy B.

I’ve known Billy for many years, dating back to the early years with Phish.  I still remember getting a call from Trey about “this amazing trio we just saw last night”.  I quickly became friends with Billy, Chris and John and have kept in touch with them over the years despite geographical distance.

What many people don’t know is that, in addition to being an extraordinarily talented drummer, Billy is also a gifted visual artist.  He designed MMW’s logo, has done cover art for many of their albums and has had a number of gallery shows over the years. As we developed the acoustic plan for Comal with Meyer Sound, we envisioned a series of panels over the front bar shelving that would provide both acoustic damping and visual interest.

I immediately thought of Billy and specifically of one of his favorite motifs: birds.  He has done many paintings of birds over the years, and they have a primitive depth that belies their simplicity.  I was also very inspired by a painting he did in 2004 while visiting the French Antilles called Phantoms.  I called Billy and explained what I was picturing – essentially a big triptych that echoed “Phantoms” and possibly incorporated elements of his birds as well.  He had a very tight time frame to complete the work, and that wasn’t the only challenge.  He also hadn’t seen the space in person or worked with the poplin fabric that Meyer uses for their Libra panels.  A few experiments later, he was confident it could work.  The day before he headed off for a European tour with MMW he cranked out the art for all three panels.  Sometimes inspiration strikes, and it certainly did in this case!

Billy also finds his way onto our playlist on a regular basis – not only do we feature MMW regularly, but we also have been spinning tracks from Shimmy, a recent release that Billy recorded with Wil Blades, who resides in Berkeley and plays a mean Hammond B3.  Here’s a recent review from KQED’s California Report. Billy also currently appears on the cover of the latest issue of Jazz Times.

So the next time you’re saddled up to the front bar, tapping your toe to some soulful beats and staring up at the ethereal birds hovering above you, you may have Billy to thank for both…

Thanks Billy!

JP

http://www.billymartin.net/

http://www.mmw.net/


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New Year’s Eve Dance Party at Comal

Friday, December 7th, 2012

BUY TICKETS

For one night only this New Year’s Eve, Comal will clear out the tables, turn up the volume on our Meyer sound system and transform from a traditional sit-down restaurant into a dancehall.  Doors will open at 9pm and longtime Bay Area DJ Jose Ruiz (KPFA, KPOO), who is becoming a fixture at Comal these days, will spin his infectious mix of Latin and Funk into the wee hours.

Chef Matt Gandin and his team will keep a steady stream of antojitos (little snacks) flowing out of the kitchen throughout the night – expect some familiar items from Comal’s menu along with a few wild cards, with an emphasis on Oaxacan-style street snacks like quesadillas, de eses, tlayudas and more.

Tickets are $25 in advance ($30 cash at the door) and include all food offerings.  Advance tickets are strongly recommended, and can be purchased at http://comalnye.brownpapertickets.com/ or in person at Comal any night after 5pm starting on December 11th.

Bartender Matt Campbell will be twisting up a special NYE cocktail, which will be available for purchase along with Comal’s current list of craft cocktails, draft beer and wine and deep selection of tequila and mezcal.

Time – 9pm – 1:30am
Cost – $25 advance, $30 cash at door (includes food – drinks purchased separately)

Special Note – BART is open until 3am on NYE.   Comal is less than a block from the Downtown Berkeley BART station.

Abajo Now Open
Also, a reminder that Abajo, our new private dining room, is now up and running. It’s a great place for a holiday party, business dinner, birthday party or any other large group gathering. We can accommodate 12-22 people. Please click here for more information.

Stay tuned to our website (comalberkeley.com) and our regularly updated Facebook page and Twitter feed for more updates in the coming days and weeks.

We hope to see you soon at Comal!




Comal's innovative acoustic solution from Meyer Sound featured on the Today Show

Thursday, December 6th, 2012


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