02 Apr East Bay Express: Uptown
Oakland’s Arts District Is on Its Way Up, Again
by Rachel Swan
Most Oakland boosters now live by the credo that Uptown is the new downtown, and each year it carries more weight. “Uptown Unveiled” allowed the city to applaud itself last June, with a street fair big enough to rival the enduringly popular Art & Soul. For one day, a large swath of Telegraph Avenue shut down to make way for skateboarding contests, poetry slams, Prescott Circus Clowns, burlesque performers, and several stages of bands. It was apropos for a district now basking in the reflected light of a newly renovated Fox Theatre and some swank high-rise condos. And it could easily become an annual event.
But we need not fixate on swank housing developments or art-deco facades to be impressed by the Uptown. Once the nucleus of First Friday Art Murmur, it’s become a bona fide entertainment district, with high-concept nightclubs and concert halls. Most bars have art on the walls, and most eateries source their ingredients. And never mind the Fox; its adjunct bar, the Den (1912 Telegraph Ave., TheDenOakland.com), has become a go-to spot in its own right. Besides its two-tiered dance floor and lounge area, the Den offers a selection of hoity-toity appetizers (smoked-salmon rillettes, artichoke-bacon dip, and cheese plates with stuffed apricots) and original cocktails — the “Encore” is essentially a liquid chocolate cake with Stoli. Not to mention the wall-to-wall windows, which provide a first-rate view of Telegraph Avenue.
And, weirdly enough, it sits in the same building as the Marion E. Greene Theatre (531 19th St., 510-436-5085 TheatreFirst.com), a small black box that abuts Oakland School of the Arts (530 18th St., 510-873-8800, OakArts.org). Its new resident company, TheatreFIRST, painted a proscenium stage on the floor and mounted two compelling productions — an Irish two-hander called Stones in His Pockets and a rather creative rendering of Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Newbie artistic director Michael Storm found the space and began the long process of refurbishing it. Now, all his work appears to be paying dividends.
Travel just a couple blocks north and you’ll hit Club Paradiso (2272 Telegraph Ave., 510-735-9095, DisoLounge.com), located in the much-contested building that once contained the Vibe Lounge and its predecessor, Cabel’s Reef. Paradiso is the uptown analogue to Air Lounge, both in terms of its decor (exposed brick, chic lounge chairs, paintings with an “urban” slant) and its music (hip-hop, reggae, and R&B). It’s surrounded by a cluster of similarly themed boutique bars, including the Era Art Bar and Lounge (19 Grand Ave., 510-832-4400, OaklandEra.com), which combines industrial elements with nouveau Goth — the chairs could have been poached from a 19th-century English parlor. Right down the block lies Mimosa Champagne Lounge (2355 Broadway Ave., 510-891-1005, MimosaChampagneLounge.com) with its slender cocktail glasses and sparkling wines (nineteen total, along with twenty-three champagnes and five mimosas). It’s not a dance club, but the vibe is so light and frothy, it’s like a bottle of champagne being uncorked. Walk a couple of blocks south and you’ll hit Somar Bar and LoungeSomarBar.wordpress.com), an art bar that distinguishes itself by having quarter-pump candy machines and a sushi vendor in the front window. In Uptown, it’s a perennial favorite. (1727 Telegraph Ave.,
Yet the crowning jewel is the New Parish (579 18th St., TheNewParish.com), which opened just a few months ago in what used to be Sweet Jimmie’s Blues Club. It’s the type of club that will get people to cross the bridge, with its combination of hip dance parties (including a house music monthly called “The People”) and A-list headliners (Mos Def, J Electronica, Common, and Dave Chappelle among them). Owners Namane Mohlabane (of the DJ crew Local 1200) and Michael O’Connor (of San Francisco’s Independent club) are industry insiders, and their programming rivals that of any club in San Francisco — or, for that matter, the Fox Theatre. Flanked by the Caribbean-Creole restaurant Hibiscus HibiscusOakland.com), it brings juice to a saying that’s become cliché: “Uptown is on its way up, again.” (1745 San Pablo Ave., Oakland, 510-444-2626,
Don’t miss: No description of Uptown could be complete without mention of its eponymous Uptown Nightclub; (1928 Telegraph Ave., 510-451-8100), which features a mix of high- and low-profile acts, monthly free jazz nights, and the ever-popular Hella Gay dance party. … For cocktail connoisseurs, there’s always Luka’s Taproom; (2221 Broadway, 510-451-4677, LukasOakland) and Ozumo; (2251 Broadway, 510-286-9866), with its copious sake menu. … Nobody does warehouse-chic better than Mua; (2442a Webster St., 510-238-1100, ) … And for eats, try the Southern-fried fare at Picán; (2295 Broadway at 23rd St., 510-834-1000), California cuisine at Flora (1900 Telegraph Ave., 510-286-0100), or fusion dishes at 2022 (2022 Telegraph Ave., 510-836-0842), which serves everything from burgers to plantains to grilled Thai chicken.