Last Thursday, Oakulture attended the Grand Opening of the new Visit Oakland office. It was a lavish, celebratory Jack London Square affair, with a tasty spread by Lungomare, craft brew from the Trappist, and dessert from Pietisserie. The Raiderettes were there, as was blogger Zennie Abraham, the Chamber of Commerce folks, and several high-ranking city officials – including the Mayor and City Administrator, and lots of swells, if I may channel Herb Caen (just this once). At the ribbon-cutting, the Mayor talked up First Friday as a selling point for tourism, while several Visit Oakland staffers mentioned that Oakland was the #5 destination in the world.
That’s all well and good; as one who lives in Oakland, however, it should be pointed out there are more happenings than First Friday worth checking out throughout the month. Nightlife (and culture) happens here pretty much every day of the week, and, quiet as it’s kept, the local DJ scene features some of the best-curated genre nights in the entire bay, tended with loving care by a coterie of the usual suspects. The visual art scene, at least in the quarters Oakulture frequents, is more subtly cool than over-the-top cliquish swagger. In many neighborhoods, there’s a local, itinerant vibe which is frequently friendlier, if sometimes more “turnt up,” than people expect – perhaps one reason why people do visit Oakland, other than Lake Merritt, A’s games, and Bakesale Betty.
Oakland doesn’t have the bright lights, big city vibe of San Francisco—which is beginning to look more and more like a plus. The city resembles a blue-collar worker who’s transitioning into a somewhat more refined appearance—collared shirts and oxfords are as common as hoodies and white-Ts these days— though just how refined seems still open to interpretation. A lot of outside attention has been focused on the Uptown Area; apparently, there’s a current city council proposal to add the moniker to the 19th St. BART station, as in “19th St./Uptown,” though we couldn’t precisely tell you where the upscale restaurant/entertainment district begins and ends, since it’s technically a subset of Downtown.
Is Uptown continuous, or intermittent? Hard to say. Some parts look pretty fleshed-out, and others are still works in progress. Does Uptown continue East of Broadway? South of 14th? Is the Northward border 27th St, or does it extend like an outreached hand, nearly touching Temescal, were it not for the MacArthur BART parking lot? So many questions remain.
As it turns out, second Fridays are almost as much fun as First Fridays, if you know where to go. The evening began in the charmingly funky and terminally cute bar The Layover, its thrift store- vibe ensuring that no two chairs shall match. It’s not quite a dive, yet as unpretentious as a bar could be, making it an easy call for neighborhood residents and students—with the occasional intoxicated, boorish Eurotrash type being a potential downside.
Inside, the DJs were spinning funk, disco and R&B. A pop-off took place right in front of us, with two largish African American patrons exchanging frenetic dance moves like they were auditioning for “Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo.” A circle formed to watch, the brothers did their thing, and the vibe was so contagious, it got everybody else moving.
That was cool and all, but it was soon on to the next: Ozumo, the Uptown sushi bar, and their “Ozumo After Hours” soiree, hosted by Top Ten Social. The vibe here was much more upscale and G&S (grown and sexy) than the Layover. Not necessarily sexier, as these things go, but certainly more grown. Although the sexy part was evident too, from all the well-manicured folks who came to hear soulful DJ sets from Ge-ology and Twilite Tone, two renowned visiting East Coast beatsmiths (their respective production production credits include Blackstar and Common) who dug deep in the crates to pull out some blessings, like a killer jazz-funk version of War’s “The World is a Ghetto.” It was like dying and going to rare groove heaven.
On the way back, we stopped at the new late-night pizza joint, Hi-Life, at the corner of 15th and Franklin. The atmosphere inside was laid-back, if a bit hipsterish (which, in this case, mostly meant there are vegan menu options). Avoiding the pre-selected menu items like the “Ballsy” pizza (complete with meatballs), we ordered four slices of pesto-and-portobello thin crust, which proved to be just the ticket for a post-midnight munch.
The next night, Oakulture checked out one of our favorite Uptown galleries, Warehouse 416, which was unveiling a new show called “Town Business: State of the Art Hustle,” featuring local artists and a few artisans. The ubiquitous phrase, once reserved for ballers of a certain caliber and now trickled-down to a broader, less roguish clientele, seemed appropriate: artists bios spoke of the inspiration Oakland provides for their creative sparkplugs. The works presented ranged from fine art sketches for $30 to $6,500 canvases.
The art itself reflected Oakland’s grit and its moxie, encompassing everything from mixed-media renditions of familiar landmarks like the Paramount and Fox theaters, to Keith Haring-esque abstract designs painted on a jeans-clad female mannequin, to abstract Venus figures in colorful hues, to b-boy space aliens. The opening offered a preview of what to expect this upcoming First Friday (when there’ll be another reception, complete with food vendors), except with more time to actually view the art and decide if it’s something you’d like to take home with you.
The night, however, wasn’t done with us just yet. After that, we caught a cab to Lounge 3411, a bar/club in the Laurel district. This spot, situated deeper in the East, gets almost zero recognition, at least not on the level of a high-profile Uptown/downtown address. But the club had it going on, with a monthly night called “Golden Era.” It was a real neighborhood vibe, and DJs Malachi and Styles kept the selection rachet-free, with vintage, minted old-school hip-hop and R&B classics.
The dance floor wasn’t as crowded as the Layover’s, but in actuality that just meant more space to shake a tail feather, which made it more of a personal choice to groove (or not). Those that chose, chose wisely, as the DJs played great tunes all night. Oakulture would gladly return to Lounge 3411 again, with one caveat: hopefully, next time, we won’t have to wait so long to catch a cab, a duration which seems to increase exponentially the further East you venture.
Got a heads-up to announce this week as the first-ever Oakland Music Festival slides into town this Saturday, September 21st. Oakland has been primed for a locally-produced Big Culture Event for a minute and the lineup doesn’t disappoint: lots and lotsa Oakland locals, including The Coup, Kev Choice Ensemble, the People, Trackademics & HNRL, the 45 Sessions, Trill Team 6, Bang Data, Religious Girls, James and Evander, Funk Revival Orchestra, and more, spanning the gamut from post-punk to post-funk to post-experimental to post- hip-hop to post-indie rock.
The bill promises more than 20 acts in all, plus local food, craft beers, and live art, happening during the daytime Saturday (doors open at 11) at 16th and San Pablo – which, we’re pretty sure, is within the confines of Uptown. Unless it’s not.
This week’s picks:
LOAKal Free Wednesdays with Shotgun Wedding Quintet, Aima the Dreamer, DJ Platurn, 9/18, 8pm, free, the New Parish, 579 18th.
L’Roneous, Otayo Dubb, 2Bers, Dope City Saints, 9/19, 8pm, $5-$10, Awaken Cafe, 1429 Broadway.
Mykal Rose w/Sly + Robbie, 9/20, 10pm, $35, Yoshis San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore, SF.
Thievery Corporation, Morcheeba, Afrolicious, 9/21, 7pm, $49.50, Greek Theater, 2001 Gayley Rd., Berkeley.
DJ Quik w/ live band, 9/21, 930pm, $20-$20-$35, Grand Live, 420 14th St.