Fraggle, you were one of my first regulars when I started bartending around the corner at The Night Light. You always came to my dull happy hour shifts to keep me company and help me shoo away the Nation’s weirdos. I’ll miss getting you drunk and the “Thank you, dear!” you’d always say when I passed you a drink. You were so supportive of me, such a fixture in the neighborhood. You’ll be missed, but at least you’ll be back with Sheeva! Good bye, dear friend.
I wandered into Drexl with a few friends last night, having heard that this was a week of soft opening for them. Situated directly across the street from 355, this stretch of 19th, two blocks down from Broadway, feels very familiar. But going to a new bar is always exciting, probably even the main thrill in my life right now. With a well manicured, unsullied interior that could be plucked from the pages of a GQ magazine - upholstered booths, wooden, darkly stained bar stools, a back bar with sliding, caged doors, a skee ball machine upstairs - and drinks concocted on a whim by a charming and seasoned bartender, Drexl is clearly the kind of bar that will do very well in Downtown Oakland.
However, as I was sitting there with a bunch of other industry insiders, I noticed the bartender from 355 skulking across the street. Clearly spying, and it did occur to me: this stretch of 19th Street, a bit off the beaten path, was 355’s monopoly. Clearly, 355 is staple of the Oakland bar scene and helped pave the way for the Downtown Oakland bar renaissance. A first wave bar that I stumble in and out of at least once a week. So, of course, after polishing off a few rounds at Drexl, we went over to 355.
The thing about new bars is: they always start out clean. The day that Merchant’s open, it was probably very clean and undusty and bright inside. However, much like whiskey in a barrel, as a bar ages, the true character starts to shine out from beneath the grit and the wear and tear. The true flavor of a bar starts to ripen and brighten, and it’s only with then that you can discern what a bar is truly like. Therefore, reviewing a new bar can be a hard thing to do. Often times, the crowd hasn’t fully congealed, the DJs tend to come and go, and the bartenders haven’t proven their loyalty. And the cleanliness? Well, only time will tell if the decor on the walls stays clean or gets dusty, much like the decor at Van Kleef’s.
The New Golden Bull is in a space that was occupied by a bar called the Golden Bull, which closed about seven years ago. The Old Golden Bull was divey and hosted musical acts, and now it has been revamped with Oakland paraphernalia and a nice, new bright sign. The New Golden Bull is around the corner from Radio and a short walk from Uptown, and the crowd straddles those two scenes with a typical dash of all the characters that can be seen floating around 14th and Broadway late at night. It’s spacious, with a pool table, and a decent selection of booze.
Take the poll. Here’s who I’m voting for:
Best Artist This is kinda a toss up: GATS? Monica Canilao? Zach Houston? Everyone in 640? CNN Tribe?
Best Band Fuck it. Religious Girls. I vote for them every fucking year.
Best DJ at a Night Club DJ Miggy Stardust duuuhh
Best Writer Pilar Reyes duuuhh
Best Night Club The Night Light, cuz I rep my alma mater
Best New Art Venue/Best Art Gallery Moco
Category We Didn’t Think of (Arts) Tarot Card Reader: Alese Osborn
Best Bookstore Book Zoo
Best Boutique Mercy Vintage
Best New Business Facebook
Best Record Store EconoJam
Best Vintage Clothing Pretty Penny (because Mercy Vintage is best boutique, and they’re both great shops, so let’s split the difference)
Best Neighborhood All - did you really just ask what the best gang is?
Best Pick Up Spot Ruby Room on Friday Nights
Best Bar Geo Kayes
Best Bartender Rafael from 355
Best Cocktails Plum Bar
Best New Bar Legionnaire
Best Music Festival Oakland Music Festival
Out here in Oakland, it’s beginning to feel a bit like summer, which means: summertime day drinking! As the sun starts to beat down on our brows, the craving for something long, cold and cooling hits the front of the palate. Today, I visited Bar Cesar (4039 Piedmont Avenue) to try the Garden Party. With cucumber infused vodka, celery syrup, lime juice (how indulgent!) and topped with soda water, the earthy and slightly herbacious flavors, a bit tart, not too sweet and splashed with soda hit the perfect spot that the summer sun had burned on my palate.
As we go into hotter weather, the palate favors cool, uncomplicated long drinks, with fruity effects. Simple ingredients, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, are what make or break a drink. Rather than piling flavors onto a palate that is muddied with too much distraction, use ingredients that shine brightly through a drink. It’s daiquiri weather in Oakland. It’s mojito weather. It’s martini weather. (Well, it’s always martini weather.) Rieslings and Pilsners are excellent options for sunny daytime drinking, along with simple aperitif drinks. Using dry vermouth and lillet as predominant ingredients in cocktails with five or fewer ingredients will help deliver a lower alcohol content for daytime drinking as well as light, wine-like flavor in your cocktails.
An article recently published in Time Magazine has revealed that a natural sugar found in tequila can help lower blood sugar and aid in weight loss. So, in case you were wondering what to order at the bar, and you’re counting calories, try ordering tequila. It also tastes really good, and, if I may make a recommendation, a nice shot of Siete Leguas Reposado or perhaps a fresh lime juice margarita (I know, even these days) can be a refreshing way to tell yourself that you’re losing weight while drinking tequila.
In the Oakland vein of Ruby Room, Radio and Merchants, The Avenue offers up yet another option for dive bar aficionados in Downtown Oakland. Further away from Downtown than other typical dive bar options, The Avenue stands alone on a stretch of Telegraph dotted with cafes and restaurants. Perhaps a nice respite from the Temescal neighorhood that is quickly beginning to feel a bit too bougie, The Avenue is an unfrilly, skate themed bar where newfangled Oakland pretension is not at home.
With a digital juke box, a pool table and plenty of seating options, The Avenue lends itself more to the regulars who make The Avenue their all day and all night drinking home. There’s the slightly yet endearingly tattered decor, chandeliers adorned in skulls like forgotten Halloween decorations, and more than one nod to the awesomeness of Slayer. The Avenue has a reputation for being home to scummy skater dudes who read Thrasher and appreciate the collection of skateboards on the wall, as well as being home to the women who appreciate those kinds of dudes.
Geo Kaye’s is an unfussy bar tucked on Broadway and 40th, far enough away from the quickly gentrifying Uptown but still close enough to be a destination worth going to when you want to get away from the glitz of Telegraph Avenue. Located across the street from an all night laundromat, Geo Kaye’s steers away from the overdone ambiance of other local bars, opting, instead, for neon beer signs and a digital juke box. Geo Kaye’s feels like an untouched gem, often times with a few people hanging at the bar, drinking alone. With an unpretentious selection of liquors and beers that can cost you $5.25 (and, yes, they will give you quarters with your change), Geo Kayes is a good place to get away from a typical night of drinking in Oakland.
Geo Kayes is the type of bar where you wouldn’t expect to run into the same people that you see at all the other bars in Oakland. With a taciturn, older bar tender slowly pouring shots, and that hard to capture neighborhood bar feel, Geo Kayes is the type of bar where you can hang out. It’s not a party bar or a place to pick up chicks. It’s a place to hunker down while playing Frank Sinatra on the digital juke box, a place to sip your beer and meander in and out of conversation with your fellow bar mates, a place to spend an evening drinking before stumbling down the block back home with quarters in your pocket and plenty of bang for your buck.
I guess I should start out by saying that I worked at The Night Light for a year and a half, and, therefore, my fondness and inner knowledge of the bar far surpasses that of an average bar fly, which is what I aspire to be with this blog. However, seeing as it’s been six months since I worked there, I thought I might show them some Oakland Alcohol love. So, here goes with feigned objectivity:
The Night Light is a split level venue-slash-bar located in Jack London Square. The Night Light is an obvious post-Beer Rev day drinking, moving onto hard liquor for all hours of the night option. With a wide selection of whiskies and a cocktail menu that draws on classic cocktails, it’s a good place to cozy into the leather upholstered furniture and drink away. The velvet flocked wallpaper, darkly stained bar and other subtle nautical elements give it a speakeasy-cum-ship captains quarters drinking vibe, which is perfect for an evening of dressing up and pretending to get drunk in a different decade.