downtown oakland
Downtown Oakland circa 1910

Posts from — March 2009

Uptown aspirations, uptown openings

March 27, 2009

On Tuesday, at a Council Committee meeting, I joined three other pedestrian advocates in calling for the city to scrap a Redevelopment Agency plan to build a temporary surface parking lot on Telegraph Avenue, next to the Fox Theater. To argue for a pedestrian-friendly streetscape, fellow blogger Becks and I pointed to Uptown’s recent resurgence, with restaurants and clubs beginning to line the streets just like a real urban destination. Only the remaining parking lots and empty storefronts mar an Uptown stroll, but it seems that every month several establishments are springing up to fill in the void. This month has seen three openings, taking a big step toward the promise of a continuous, active pedestrian connection throughout Uptown. Thanks to Somar, Pican, and especially AVE, an Uptown bar crawl now appears to more than a flight of tipsy urbanist fantasy.

Somar and AVE, each filling big holes along Telegraph, are hip watering holes with unique amenities. Somar lies behind a Modernist facade at 1727 Telegraph, its 1970s entrance disguising high brick walls and hand-welded iron sconces, lending a surprisingly warm and sophisticated vibe. The drinks list is well-priced, or even downright cheap by the standards of downtown’s newest establishments. Somar’s unique addition to Uptown is its large dance-floor, with DJs spinning House and Pop several nights a week.

AVE (2022 Telegraph), from the team behind Air Lounge, breathes new life into a neglected block. The makeover of a long-abandoned watering hole into a sleek gathering space for Oakland’s hippest is nothing short of stunning, and was the brainchild of Old Oakland architect Alfonso Dominguez, of Fiveten Studio. Already the home of networking events for young professionals, AVE offers appetizers and some larger plates, finally giving Oakland a taste of food along with our libations.

Pican (2295 Broadway), the star of the show, complements its next-door neighbor Ozumo with another destination dining experience. Its pre-opening party a week ago was a wonderful showcase for this unique establishment. The decor was elegant, yet understated, though thankfully not quite as understated as some Oakland establishments (like Oliveto). In addition to California-inflected Southern cuisine (like fried oysters topped with microgreens), owner Michael LeBlanc, a New Orleans native, boasted “the greatest selection of bourbon in the Bay Area,” a welcome amenity for Oakland’s underserved whiskey connoisseurs. At the opening, representatives from three distilleries provided samples and information about their traditional craft, which is seeing a resurgence of interest. Pican boasts not only a unique approach to regional food and drink, but its bourbon tasting room, appointed with cabinetry apparently straight from the French Quarter, promises to be an educational excursion for the elite tippler. Between Southern comfort food, Southern craft liquor, and the caring staff’s genuine Southern hospitality, Pican is well on the way to establishing itself as one of Oakland’s restaurants of renown.

At Tuesday’s hearing, members of the Council Committee seemed fairly persuaded that the up-and-coming neighborhood around the Fox Theater deserves better than a surface parking lot, though no final decision was made. Uptown’s aspirations are now quite visible: from Pican to Van Kleef, with Somar and AVE in the middle, there is a pleasant pedestrian experience to go along with Uptown’s entertainment. This evening boasts another addition to Uptown’s potential pub-crawl: the Den at the Fox (1807 Telegraph) opens its doors, allowing Oaklanders a glimpse into the beauty and glamour of the Fox Theater even if one has not yet found an appealing performance. See you there!