Once a footnote to San Francisco, Oakland has emerged as California’s new epicenter of artisan cool packed with ultrahip restaurants and a burgeoning craft brew scene.
by Brendan Spiegel
For a town that supported 40-plus breweries back in the Gold Rush days, Oakland fell far off the drinking map for much of the 20th century. Things began to turn around with the 1988 opening of Pacific Coast Brewing (Old Oakland, pacificcoastbrewing.com), where house beers like Ultra Yellow—a double maibock brewed with clover
honey—pour from behind an antique mahogany bar salvaged from a saloon that stood nearby a century ago. PCB was the only game in town until Linden Street Brewery (West Oakland, lindenbeer.com) opened inside an 1890s brick warehouse two years ago. Linden Street mimics the steam method 19th-century gold-seekers used to brew Euro-style
lagers in the mild California climate, fermenting lager yeast at warmer ale temperatures to create golden, hoppy beers like Urban Peoples’ Common Lager. The brewery plans to add an adjacent taproom showcasing its beers along with a selection of locally made draft wines this spring. Another upstart, Oakland Brewing (East Oakland, oaklandbrewing.com), is scheduled to join the party this summer with a full-scale facility including a tasting room and tours. Just outside town, Drake’s Brewing (San Leandro, drinkdrakes.com) has transformed a Caterpillar plant into a brewery turning out nine regular beers, plus seasonals. Sample them all at on-site tasting parties held the first Friday of every month.
Oakland’s new breed of nightspots takes its craft brews seriously,
starting at the year-old Beer Revolution (Jack London Square, beer-revolution.com), a hole-in-the-wall with a rotating roster of 47 tap microbrews, plus 500 more to drink there or take home in the on-site bottle shop. The Trappist (Old Oakland, thetrappist.com) staffs a Cicerone to help guests select from a l00-plus brew list focused on hard-to-find Belgians like De Struise Black Damnation IV Coffee Club. The Scottish-owned CommonWealth Cafe & Pub (Pill Hill, cmonoakland.com) is a coffee shop by day/bar by night with Linden Street brews on tap, English breakfasts all day and European soccer always on TV. Local drafts like Racer 5 IPA and Lagunitas Brown Shugga’ help get the dance party started at late-night hangout Luka’s Taproom and Lounge (Uptown, lukasoakland.com). But it’s not just about beer here; the new Oakland is chock-full of handcrafted cocktail spots such as Flora (Uptown, floraoakland.com), a former flower depot now lacing bourbon and rye with inventive mixers like coffee-cinnamon-chipotle syrup.
Oakland’s cadre of creative young chefs aces everything from down-home to upscale. The lunchtime lines outside Bakesale Betty (Temescal, bakesalebetty.com) are there for a reason: The extra-crispy buttermilk fried chicken sandwiches coated in jalapeño-olive oil slaw are worth the wait. Fowl gets fancier at Commis (North Oakland, commisrestaurant.com), which earned Oakland’s first-ever Michelin star for high-concept dishes like squab roasted on the bone with French sugarplums, braised radicchio and ginger. Local seafood and summer breezes are on tap at Lake Chalet (Lake Merritt, thelakechalet.com), a 100-year-old boathouse recently transformed into a scenic fine dining destination. On the other side of the lake, Oakland’s diverse Asian immigrant community has spawned a myriad of ethnic eateries; one of the best is Champa Garden (East Oakland, champagarden.com), serving Laotian specialties like fried rice ball salad with preserved pork. Any evening of imbibing should include a liquor-soaking stop at Italian eatery Adesso (North Oakland, dopoadesso.com), where the late-night happy hour includes a highly indulgent, completely free spread of locally sourced cheeses, house-made charcuterie and fresh pasta.
Stumbling distance from Beer Revolution, Waterfront Hotel (Jack London Square, jdvhotels.com) is a former Best Western recently reconceived as a chic boutique with Bay-view balconies and in-room fireplaces. It’s also steps from the ferry terminal, where you can take a scenic ride across to San Francisco. All 47 rooms are outfitted with sleek Italian furniture at The Washington Inn (Old Oakland, thewashingtoninn.com), a 1913 bank building near Old Oakland’s eating and drinking attractions. A sprawling retreat set high in the hills lining the Oakland/Berkeley border, The Claremont Hotel (Oakland Hills, claremontresort.com) is the choice for travelers who like rounding out a long day of drinking with a hot stone massage followed by martinis with a skyline view.
Oakland’s once downtrodden Uptown district is home to an artsy revitalization centered on The Fox Theater (Uptown, thefoxoakland.com), a lavish 1920s movie palace reconceived as an indie music venue. On the first Friday of each month, the Art Murmur (Uptown, oaklandartmurmur.com) event features dozens of art galleries hosting open houses, along with music from local bands and dinner from food trucks. On any other day, print a map from the Web site to make your own gallery crawl. The recently reopened Oakland Museum of California (Lake Merritt, museumca.org) is an engaging trip through the state’s history, from the gold rush to Google. Learning is even more fun at the Pacific Pinball Museum (Alameda, pacificpinball.org), where exhibits explain the science of the arcade game and 90 classic machines are available for play. Trade breweries for a distillery tour at St. George Spirits (Alameda, stgeorgespirits.com), where you can sample artisan vodkas, plus the first absinthe made in America in nearly a century. When you tire of urban hipsterdom, head for the hills and wander through California’s iconic 150-foot-tall trees at Redwood Regional Park (Oakland Hills, ebparks.org). •
MUCH MORE BEER: There aren’t statistics on such things, but D.I.Y-happy Oakland must have one of the highest percentages of homebrewers in the nation. On any given weekend you’ll find hordes of them at Beer, Beer & More Beer!, a Valhalla for homebrewers about 20 miles from downtown. The store sells online and ships across the country, but serious brewing geeks will want to visit the oversize warehouse, where you can easily spend hours browsing aisles packed with everything from simple starter kits to dozens of beer yeast varieties and heavy hardware like conical fermenters and kegerators.