Monday, July 5, 2010

Active Oakland nightlife can make the A's successful

If you were curious to find out if an A's ballpark would work at Jack London Square, the past two to three weeks of entertainment activity in downtown Oakland should have made it clear that a stadium would be very successful.

Let's start with June 17, a warm Thursday night that happened to be the same date as Game 7 of the NBA Finals. I had a lukewarm interest in the game and so a friend and I decided to watch it a bar in Old Oakland, a revitalized neighborhood nestled between City Hall and Jack London Square. There are plenty of bars and restaurants in the thriving Oakland neighborhood. Problem was, we couldn't find one that wasn’t packed with Oakland sports fans who wanted to watch the game with their community.

By walking from crowded bar to crowded bar, we almost missed the game. First stop was Arsimona, an upstairs bar near Le Cheval. Too packed. So we went to Pacific Coast Brewing Co. Same thing. How about Liege? Same. Grand Oaks Sports Bar & Grill. You guessed it. So we walked a few more blocks to Kimball’s Sports Bar at Jack London Square. Too busy. Finally, we found a couple of stools at The Fat Lady, nearly 10 blocks away from our first try, and there we watched the Lakers beat the Celtics on TV.

When the game ended, thousands of sports fans spilled into the Oakland streets doing what sports fans do best, peacefully talking, laughing, gently talking trash about the other's team. For a few minutes, it felt like a street party. And maybe that's because there was a street party going on in Old Oakland the same night. It’s a summer music series called Thursday Night Live, and on this night a salsa band called Mazacote played on a stage on 9th St., near Broadway St.

Amidst the hundreds of people there, dancers of all ages enjoyed the salsa band. There were parents with little kids, young hipsters, graybeards — basically it was a true Oakland crowd. All kinds of people of all kinds of ages getting together for a good time. I suppose the usual compliment is to say “it was like San Francisco.” But it was better than that. It felt like Europe — a warm, beautiful night filled with revelers of all kinds of ages set against a backdrop of music, food and camaraderie. That's how Thursday Night Live was the first night on June 17. It’s held every other Thursday at the same 9th St./Broadway St. location all summer. Check it out.

Later that weekend, I stopped by The New Parish nightclub on a Sunday afternoon and watched Ivory Coast play Brazil in a World Cup match. Again, the club was filled with passionate but friendly fans from all walks of life.

A few days later, I dropped by Flora — an excellent restaurant across the street from the historic Fox Theater. Flora was filled with diners, so I had to eat at the bar. The following night I took an old college buddy to B Restaurant in Old Oakland, which was equally packed.

Then, over that weekend, Oaklavia was held in downtown Oakland. Oaklavia is a kind of street party where they close the streets to automobiles and just create a walk-only-bike-only environment. It was great and, you guessed it, packed with a ton of people enjoying Oakland streets and Oakland's unique vibe.

Less than a week later, July 2nd featured the monthly First Friday Art Murmur, which drew its usual thousands of art-loving people to downtown Oakland streets. That same night friend and I headed up to the Uptown bar to watch Oakland's own Judgment Day (a "heavy metal" band that plays with a cello and a violin) and a "Lets Go Oakland" chant erupted at the end of a very rocking show.

You see where I’m going with this. Oakland's downtown is thriving. From Uptown to Lake Merritt to Old Oakland to Chinatown to Jack London Square, restaurants, bars, and coffeehouses are popping up at a record pace. A new Jack London Square A's ballpark would thrive, too. The flourishing entertainment scene and the ballpark would mutually benefit each other. Here's to hoping someone in the A’s front office and/or MLB's home office finally begins to take notice.

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