Even though the Tribune Tavern has only been open since April 10, the marble sign over the entrance reads “Established in 1874.” The date refers to the Oakland Tribune, not the restaurant—but the building that houses the Tavern claims a fair bit of history itself: it was built in 1906, the year the big earthquake and fire drove many San Francisco residents to seek shelter in Oakland. Many of them probably sought a place to get a drink, too. Understandable.
The Tavern, its U-shaped bar lit up in Oakland A’s green on a recent game night, may be on its way to becoming as much an Oakland fixture as the historic Tribune tower itself. The tower, a well-known landmark atop the building at Franklin and 13th, was added to the building in 1923, right in the middle of Prohibition. Alfie, the bar manager, says the history of the building is part of the philosophy behind the bar menu, which harkens back to the “whiskey and gin” era.
Located approximately between Uptown and Jack London Square, the Tribune Tavern seems to have cornered the sweet spot in this part of Oakland. On several visits here, we noticed work colleagues gathered around the larger front tables, a few families with young children enjoying the outdoor seating, diners filling the tables in the room behind the bar, and a solid crowd watching the game or engaged in conversation at the bar. Our bartender said the Tavern draws a lot of foot traffic, as well as folks who love a local place with a non-pretentious atmosphere. A’s fans are a sizable presence.
We always appreciate a menu that demonstrates a sense of humor. We also like clever names for cocktails. It’s the drink that counts, of course, but a drink called “Tipsy Turvy” proves to be irresistible.
Taking its inspiration from the mint julep, the Tipsy Turvy (Woodford Bourbon sous vide with D’Anjou pear, mint, and Angelica root) is presented in a silvery cup brimming with crushed ice and topped with a mint garnish. (We have since learned that juleps served in these metal cups with their metal straws nestled in the ice should be held only by the top or bottom edges, to allow frost to form on the outside and to prevent the heat of one’s hand from warming the cup. It’s a hot weather drink, certainly. One must keep it cool.) This well-named cocktail has been the summer favorite so far, according to Alfie. With our traditional warm late-summer weather approaching, we predict the Tipsy Turvy’s popularity will have a long run. The drink is cool, fragrant and refreshing.
(We wonder if the Tipsy Turvy has something to do with the fact that in 1923, magician Harry Houdini escaped from a straightjacket while dangling upside down from the ninth floor of the Tribune building. He was topsy-turvy, but we hope he wasn’t also tipsy. In any case, it only took him five seconds to accomplish the feat.)
For coming up with newspaper-related names, we award points for the Front Page (Wild Turkey 81 Rye, Crème de Cacao, Elisir MP Roux [an herbal liqueur], and Amontillado sherry), and the Travel Section (Cielo Rojo Bacanora, pineapple gum, lime, coconut milk, and egg white) — with a nod to the literary-referenced play on words in the Rickey-Tikki-Tavi (Black Bottle Scotch Whisky, Cinchona liqueur, lime, and seltzer water). Non-alcoholic drinks are listed under the heading of “The Volstead Act.” Another tip of the fedora for that one.
Overall, the bar menu includes some twists on the classics, but many of the drinks lean toward the traditional. The bar menu reflects the Tavern’s desire to showcase technique without stepping too far from the original inspirations.
The Tavern’s website explains that a century ago, the space the restaurant occupies used to be the Oakland Tribune’s local room, “where reporters from different departments worked side by side and shared tips on the news of the day. It was a gathering spot for the great minds of Oakland, and a place where headlines were made.”
We don’t plan to make headlines for ourselves, á la Houdini, but enjoying the company of today’s great minds over a cocktail or two in an environment rich with local history is a highly recommended way to spend an evening.
The Crowd: Locals, great minds, sports fans, folks from Uptown, Downtown, and all around
The Drink: Tipsy Turvy, served in a proper metal cup. Resembles a snow cone, but make no mistake: there’s bourbon in it
One to Try Next Time: Fancypants, or perhaps Opposable Thumb, both for names and for tempting ingredients
When to go: Happy Hour, after work, during a good game, on a warm late-summer evening
The Deets: Tribune Tavern, 401 13th St. Oakland
Risa Nye, aka Ms. Barstool, is a freelance writer based in Oakland. She writes the blog Zero to Sixty and Beyond.
Are you a cocktail aficionado? Read previous Ms. Barstool reviews of the Paragon, Boot & Shoe Service, Picàn, Hopscotch, Five, Revival, Flora, and Prizefighter — and check Berkeleyside Nosh’s Guide to Drinking around Berkeley.