The Fruitvale District can be described as Oakland's answer -- and then some -- to San Francisco's Mission. The predominantly Latino neighborhood always bursts with bustle and liveliness, and while East Oakland in general gets a bad rap, the Fruitvale is home to one of the most vibrant communities in all of the O. Its increasingly diverse inhabitants, coming from all sorts of ethnicities and cultures, give credence to East 14th Street's newfound identity as International Boulevard, and the ongoing redevelopment efforts have revitalized the neighborhood through such projects as Fruitvale Transit Village, the plaza adjoining the BART station.
One of the most welcome additions in the past year is the Deep Roots Urban Teahouse (1418 34th Ave., 510-436-0121), which offers not only a healthy nutritional alternative to high-carb taco trucks and taquerias, but also a grassroots-oriented, community-friendly alternative to the average McLatte joint. This hipster cafe version of Baba Yaga's hut is bigger on the inside than it appears from the street, with brightly colored art from a different artist every month standing out in contrast from the yam-colored walls that give it a peaceful, serene feel. The vibe is, well, cafe-ish. A chalkboard menu advises you of food and drink choices, which include thirty varieties of organic tea, grilled panini in various configurations -- chicken, turkey, and pear with gorgonzola -- and such staples as coffee and carrot cake.
Deep Roots founder Francis Aviani, who recently celebrated the teahouse's first anniversary, explains that the venue filled a needed void in the Fruitvale -- a safe environment where folks can chill out, network, or heal themselves from the stress of urban life. She relates that as customers walk through the door, they are greeted with agua de florida -- a hand-washing ceremony. "It's a really simple thing that we do, just to let folks connect with water for a minute."
Another simple yet crucial thing Deep Roots does is to provide a space for young people. Aviani is proud that the teahouse has emerged as an alcohol-free "youth-positive spot," something noticeably lacking from Oakland's sociocultural makeup. "We hear it all the time," she says. "There's not that many places youth in Oakland can go and chill and just be." She notes that one of Deep Roots' ongoing events, a monthly hip-hop cipher called Word Life, allows kids to express themselves with rhymes. The venue has also hosted graffiti art exhibitions and record release parties for local indie labels.
Other ongoing happenings at Deep Roots include the Teachers' Lounge, a Sunday afternoon DJ session intended as a place for educators to relax and grade papers, but open to everyone; the Salon, which takes place the first Friday of every month, usually featuring live music and/or live painting; and Bones Night, featuring dominoes and live blues. The space is available for rental, Aviani says, for events that are "neighborhood friendly and socially and culturally relevant." She's just as hyped on the Deep Roots bulletin board, which has become a nexus for information about community goings-on. "Creating that community vibe," she says, a subtle, easily overlooked thing, can be as easy as "just connecting with your neighbors."
Ultimately, Aviani says, a sense of belonging, of being a part of a larger whole, is what Deep Roots is all about. "We're in the neighborhood, we're a part of the neighborhood, we are the neighborhood." DeepRootsUrbanTeahouse.com
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