Oakland Cocktail Week (Sept. 15-23) is a celebration of the city’s history, creativity and community through the lens of Oakland’s vibrant cocktail culture. Dozens of libations were created just for the event and will be served up at more than 40 locations all around the city (and in a couple of places in Alameda and Emeryville) for $10 each.
Founder of Oakland Cocktail Week, Raquel Navarro (who also runs Oakland food tour company, See Eat Love), wanted to celebrate local spirits, small businesses and industry workers. By encouraging local bars and restaurants to “tell the stories of Oakland” through creative cocktails, she has enabled the spotlight to shine on the folks who create Oakland’s unique culture and its close industry community.
“We have each other’s back,” said Vita Simone, co-owner and lead bartender at the award-winning Copper Spoon Cocktails & Kitchen, which will offer a mezcal-based drink during Cocktail Week called Summer Skirts dedicated to local spirits producers and farmers markets. She sees the event as reflective of the city’s energy, with a definite blue-collar, industry-focused vibe going on. “There will be drinks that will appeal to everybody at a price they can afford,” she said. If she had to pick where to enjoy the week’s special drinks, she’d choose the Cat House, Starline Social Club or Nido — all local favorites.
The event’s community vibe is strong. Several spots create drinks that tip a hat to institutions that came before them. The Starline Social Club’s Oddfellow cocktail is an ode to the building’s origins as an Odd Fellows Hall when it was built in 1843. The Avenue’s The Omni is dedicated to the legendary punk club that had its heyday in the ‘80s and early ‘90s. Cosecha offers a tribute to the historic Mexicali Rose, the city’s oldest Mexican restaurant that closed recently after a 91-year run. And Dyafa’s Your Friendly Neighborhood Dukkaan shows love for Salam Halal, an Arab-run bodega in Jack London Square. Not to mention that many participating venues are OGs of Oakland themselves, bars that have been around since practically forever, including Heinold’s First & Last Chance Saloon, Aloha Club, Merchant’s Saloon, The Alley and Cafe Van Kleef.
Landmarks and other local sights honored with a cocktail include The Fox Theatre (alaMar Kitchen and Bar), Preservation Park (The Ruby Room), Lake Merritt (Lake Chalet, the Terrace Room) and The Skyline (Camino), a drink inspired by the mountains off Skyline Boulevard featuring foraged huckleberries and Oakland Spirits Company Automatic Sea Gin.
A few other Cocktail Week offerings prominently feature locally distilled craft spirits and ingredients. A shoutout for Sidebar’s 0 Sum Gain, which features Oakland-made Caged Heat syrup and Absinthia Blanche, as well as flavorings sourced from the Oaktown Spice Shop. And like Camino’s The Skyline, Bar 355’s The Soft Notes also makes use of Oakland Spirit Company Automatic Sea Gin. While the Cat House’s Bitches Broth is made with Home Base bourbon produced by Homebase Spirits, a company founded by a pair of sisters from Oakland. The drink’s IPA topper is sourced from three of the bar’s favorite local breweries — Ghost Town, Line 51 and Fieldwork.
Several Cocktail Week restaurants and bars will make drinks that pay homage to what many consider an Oakland invention — the Mai Tai. Hawking Bird, the Cat House, CDP, dosa by Dosa and Fort Green will offer their twists on the original, but tiki purists may want to purchase a ticket for the Mai Tai Crawl ($65-68), which provides bus transportation to Trader Vic’s, Forbidden Island and Kon-Tiki. The crawl includes one drink at each stop, food and take-away gifts. A portion of proceeds from this and other Cocktail Week events benefit ROC the Bay and its Restore Oakland initiative.
And because Oakland is, and has always been, home to many important and unforgettable people, you’ll also be able to raise a glass to toast several of the city’s most famous natives with their namesake cocktails, including Jack London (Seawolf, Scott’s Seafood Grill and Bar and Belcampo), Kamala Harris (Plum Bar), the inimitable Rod Dibble (The Alley) and Stanley Kirk Burrell aka MC Hammer (Nido). Oakland funk band Tower of Power inspired the Bump City at the Ruby Room; the Oakland A’s and the Warriors have drinks at AlaMar Kitchen & Bar, Grand Lake Kitchen, Hawking Bird, Terrace Room Restaurant & Bar, Nido and Home of Chicken and Waffles; while the recent filmed-in-Oakland hit movie Blindspotting inspired a cocktail at Bar Cesar.
Celebrities aside, Oakland Cocktail Week wouldn’t be possible without the countless restaurant and bar owners, bartenders, spirits makers, brewers and others in the community, so whatever drinks you try at Oakland Cocktail Week, be sure to offer your heartfelt toast to them, too.
Information about other related events during the week, ROC the Bay, and the concluding cocktail competition and dance party on Sept. 23, can be found at www.oaklandcocktailweek.com/events.