knator 
Member since Jun 7, 2010


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Re: “Oakland's Dive Bar Aficionados Adapt to the City's Changing Bar Scene

Hey Pilar, this is Kolin, former owner of Easy Lounge / The New Easy. First of all, I wanted to commend you on what I generally think is a fair article.

That said, I'm hoping that I can give you and your readers an outsiders perspective on the changing bar scene in Oakland. I moved to Portland a few years ago, and since I have no vested interest in the "scene" in Oakland anymore, I hope this can be more objective than had I still been involved in the industry there.

Ruby Room and Radio should be given credit where credit is due. Prior to these bars arrivals, Oakland was strictly a blue collar kind of drinking town, whether in the Caucasian (McNally's) or African American (Serenader) vein. Of course, there was cross pollination, but one way or the other bars catered to an older kind of crowd. Radio & Ruby seized on the opportunity of more and more young creative people looking for breathing room across the Bay. They truly were the first wave of evolution.

The next series of bars to change things up were created by people who frequented Ruby & Radio. I include Easy in this, and there were many others... Kitty's (who, if memory serves, opened up a few months before us in the space that is now Prizefighter), Van Kleef, The Layover, 355, Somar, just to name a few. We weren't bound by location, but the thing we had in common was that we were generally bootstrapping it but trying to do a little more, whether that was fancier drinks or dj music. Most bars in this wave made a good faith effort to honor Oakland as a multicultural place. We were gentrifying, but we tried to do it the "right way" (if there is such a thing). It was not an easy process, and we got lots of push-back (Kitty's closed partially due to a large fight, and Easy came close on numerous occasions to a similar disaster, for example), but at the end of the day we were able to show folks that it is possible to have black and white, rich and poor, young and old enjoy the same establishment.

The wave that followed, unfortunately, didn't see it that way. Perhaps we didn't do a good enough job educating people about the history of Oakland, but it seems to me that many of the same people that were attracted to what was created by people like Peter Van Kleef also decided that they really wanted something a little more sanitized, a little fancier, and yes a little (now a lot) whiter than what already existed.

Simultaneously, the City of Oakland and the State of California decided to ratchet up the level of regulatory complexity in our industry, which forced most establishments caught in the middle to increase the cost of their product, and justify this by elevating the superficial parts of the bar experience. In other words, it didn't pay to be a neighborhood joint, do nice cocktails, and play by the rules. I guarantee you that there is not a single establishment in Oakland that doesn't at the very least bend the rules in order to make ends meet.

What you see today is the sad result of these two factors.

Frankly, Easy was just as much of an offender as we transitioned to the New Easy. Without boring your readers with the details, in our case we were very conscious of the change and decided in the end we had to do get rid of the DJ booth and elevate the experience, since the neighborhood we were in had changed and a business like ours was not going to be welcome very much longer.

I left Oakland partially because I grew tired of the constant struggle, trying to create a simple life in the face of crime, cost, and regulation, and I wanted my child to grow up in a more bucolic environment. But, in retrospect, while Oakland is not the place for me anymore, I realize now that the struggle is what makes Oakland different and special.

It would be a shame to extinguish the vestiges of this struggle in the name of elevating the bar/restaurant experience.

Posted by knator on 09/29/2016 at 11:43 AM

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