In Oakland, California, up the street from the Grand Lake Theater, the boring shop windows of the numismatist and the vacuum cleaner mechanic part for a dark wooden cottage at 3325 Grand Avenue. This unprepossessing joint dates from the end of Prohibition. Above the fa├žade is the silhouette of an arched alley cat. A neon sign sticks out over the sidewalk, proclaiming The Alley.

Past the narrow swinging doors, the bar is on the right, under a shingled overhang. Booths are on the left, each one separated by what looks like a worn wood fence and decorated by layer upon layer of business cards. Deep in the back there is a piano, where Rod Dribble has been tickling the ivories and helping the meek find their voice for some 42 years. When things are a bit slow, Rod himself takes a turn, singing too closely into the microphone, sounding scratchy.

Oh yes, The Alley is a piano bar. In the early week, the pretty pairs of lungs come out just before midnight. On weekends, the place lights up around 10pm, rarely does Rod have to toe the pedal switch that cuts the mic when someone is a little too enthusiastic about their "singing".

A simple and cheap bill of fare is available for dinner, before the kitchen closes at 9pm: iceberg salad or french fries run $2; a cheeseburger or steak sandwich can be had for $4; fried chicken for $9; or a porterhouse steak for $12. Drinks run $3-4 and the bartenders are good with the basics, but don't order anything new or different. (A decent selection of beer is available bottled, but why would you want to drink beer when you're at a piano bar?)

Dark Sundays and Mondays.