The Alley, one of the last remainders left from a rich history of Oakland piano bars, was founded in 1933. The Alley is a piano bar and restaurant located on Grand Avenue in Oakland, CA near the Grand Lake Theatre by the Lake Merritt estuary.
Most of the piano bars in the area closed decades ago. The Alley is part saloon, part 1920's alley. Complete with wood shingles and windows in the interior, it's a snapshot frozen in a time of constant change. Cozy booths fitted throughout the venue are similar to those found at a diner and the walls are bedecked with approximately 40,000 to 50,000 business cards stapled up by visitors from all over the world for decades. Business cards from Jerry Brown, Gregg Allman and more can be found.
The piano is located past the main bar surrounded by a lacquered wood bar. Twelve seats sit at the bar and a pianist sits on the far end. Songbooks and microphones also rest on the bar. Regulars primarily sing songs from the Great American Songbook, but more contemporary songs are also now played. Since the 1950s to the present, participating singers perch around the piano to await their turn to sing along with the resident piano player (or guitar player) for the evening. From 1959 to 2017, the Alley's resident piano player was the legendary Rod Dibble whose vast 4000+ song repertoire was built from the Great American Songbook comprising of classic jazz and Broadway standards. The tradition continues today while more contemporary songs are available upon request.
Dinner is served nightly from 6 to 9:30 and focuses on simple and classic American fare, featuring hamburgers, cornmeal crusted fried chicken, and an award-winning steak.
The Alley has been mentioned in travel and restaurant guides to Oakland and the San Francisco Bay Area. The book, GrassRoutes Travel Guide to Oakland: The Soul of the City Next Door, said of The Alley that it was "an old-time alternative to karaoke" and that it represented "Oakland at its friendliest." The bar attracted "a wacky mix of hams and crooners", said the Lonely Planet, and there were no beers on draft but the mixed drinks were "strooooong." Rough Guides listed The Alley as a bar in 2003 then as a live music venue in 2011. A guide to dive bars in the San Francisco Bay Area listed The Alley among five of Oakland's dive bars, the group including Smitty's, a local bar several doors up the street from The Alley.
Rodney Dibble - The Original Alley Pianist
Pianist and singer Rod Dibble is, and will always be, The Alley's original pianist. For 50 years, Dibble performed nightly at the bar. Dibble started playing piano in 1938 when he was six years of age and performed at The Alley starting in 1960. Knowing more than 4,000 songs by heart, he would accompany singers, through key changes and rhythm variations based on the participating singer. San Francisco Chronicle writer Peter Hartlaub describes Dibble's voice as a mix of "Louis Armstrong and Tom Waits on the raspy spectrum."
When a participating singer does exceptionally well Dibble rings a cowbell in their honor. When a participating singer makes his or her debut at singing at The Alley, Dibble rings a much smaller bell in honor of the singer being an "Alley Virgin" regardless of whether the singer does exceptionally well.
When asked if he would ever retire, Dibble stated "I'll never retire, I'll be very happy to die right behind this piano here."
Rodney Dibble passed away December 18th 2017. The Alley will always remember Rod as the pianist who kept the spirit of The Alley going for 50+ years. Thank you Rod.