You blinked your eyes, and then, all of a sudden, there it was: Plank. Or, rather, ¡!¡ Plank. Located on the waterfront at 98 Broadway, in a space that has been, for too long, the sprawling ghost of Barnes and Noble, now there are 18 bowling lanes, a bocce ball court, video games, food and two bars. It’s a shiny, blinking bar, something neon and glittering in the otherwise staid neighborhood of Jack London Square, which up until now boasted a few upscale restaurants and a couple dive bars as the main attractions nestled among the towering condos. Given that Jack London Square has been trying to shake its reputation as a seedier part of town (various shootings in the past few years culminated in the closing of a couple staple establishments, including the notorious pool hall Kimball’s Carnival), Plank glistens like a sanitized beacon of good clean fun for both local condo dwellers and curious Oaklanders who up until now were hard-pressed to come to this part of town.

In its vastness, Plank’s appeal to various demographics gives it the potential to be a bustling hub on any night of the week. Before 9pm on most nights, children are allowed to bowl and play video games with adults. After 9pm, Plank fancies itself as a bar, serving a variety of drinks (that tend along the sweeter, pinker variety) to the remaining adults. With TVs strewn around, the flashing lights of video games, the party atmosphere of bowling games, Plank feels like less than a casino but more than just a bowling alley. With the circular bar stationed at the center of the establishment, the bar functions as the nexus where people gather to buy both bowling lane time and drinks. The restaurant portion is tucked in the back, with a menu that is crowd-pleasingly trendy — think burgers, pizza and tacos, and appetizers like crab cakes and a charcuterie-esque offering throw a nod to quality ingredients and high-end California cuisine. There are two levels of video games that lead out to a patio. An outdoor bocce ball court with an extra bar, with 48 beers on tap that come in 20-ounce pours, offers a bit of reprieve from the noisiness and the flashiness of the indoors.

On weeknights, Plank is a happening place to be. While the bar might not be completely filled up, people are still milling about, children running around playing games, large parties gathering with huge spreads of food and drink at the bowling alleys. Because Plank caters to large groups, it can get packed on weekends, with long waits for beers and games. A night out at Plank can be pricey, with prices going up on weekends, but there are deals on games available Monday through Thursday. Plank advertises DJs and local bands on its website, but the calendar currently looks empty. An adult VIP room is available for private parties as well.

The appeal of Plank is broad. When talking about Plank, most people boil it down to “kind of like a Dave & Busters,” which is true, with the corporate feel and the sense that there is nothing quintessentially Oakland about this establishment, except, of course, for the crowd that gathers there. There’s a Disneyland vibe at Plank, one that gives you the sense that you could be at a similar establishment in San Francisco or maybe even Walnut Creek.

But, as time goes by, perhaps Plank will become more Oakland and help make Jack London Square as our personal Coney Island for adults. It’s only a matter of time before Plank becomes an Oakland establishment, uniting teenagers on weekend nights, bowling fanatics, office parties, sports fans, gaming enthusiasts, pool sharks, beer drinkers and people who want more appeal in a place to drink than just a long list of liquors.

As a major attraction in Jack London Square, Plank can pull in a large crowd that can spill over to other local businesses, as well as helping to establish a go-to, fun destination for neighborhood dwellers. The presence of Plank, alongside other Jack London establishments such as the movie theater, fine dining joints, dive bars and Yoshi’s, will hopefully revitalize Jack London’s Square appeal as a destination worth venturing away from Uptown for a night. Plank is fully prepared to develop its own party scene in Jack London Square — the only question is: will you be there?

About The Author

Pilar Vree is an East Bay native who bartends at Penrose. She runs the blog Oakand Alcohol, Fuck Feast, and the Instagram account @oaklandalcohol.

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