A magical night in downtown Oakland

9 Feb

Friday night in downtown Oakland was a bit magical for me.

For several years now, I’ve been in love with downtown Oakland. I love the varied historic and modern architecture. I love that though there are tons of people around, it feels like a small town because I can’t help but run into people I know and even the restaurant and store employees say hello to me on the street. I love the restaurants and I love the nightlife.

Yet there was always something that bothered me about downtown Oakland – most people just didn’t seem to get how great the DTO is. I’d practically have to beg friends to meet me downtown for a drink after work. And forget dinner downtown – even many of my friends who work in the DTO never stuck around past dark.

Slowly, I’ve noticed a change in attitudes towards downtown, but on Friday night, the DTO finally felt like it was reaching its potential.

There were people everywhere! From 14th Street all the way down past the Art Murmur on 23rd, there were thousands of people on the street and inside art galleries, music venues, bars, and restaurants. People on foot, people on bike, and people in cars. At many points, I witnessed gridlock on the streets, something I’ve never seen downtown at night.

And they were there for good reason. The Fox, though I’ve yet to go inside, is radiant, and the detailed restoration I could see from outside just made me want to see more. The dueling marquees of the Fox and the Paramount lit up Uptown, and the spotlights on top of the Fox could be seen from anywhere downtown and beyond. Even for those without a lot of money to burn, there was plenty to do for free.

There were dozens of people inside and outside of Awaken Cafe, enjoying music and paintings that celebrate downtown Oakland. The center of the Art Murmur, at 23rd and Telegraph, was jam packed. At one point, it was nearly impossible to move inside Johansson Projects because there was an a cappella group singing. No problem for me – that just cut down on the taco truck line so I could grab a bite to eat.

As the Art Murmur dwindled down, many headed to the Uptown to catch a free night of music. Though it wasn’t overly crowded, there was always a wait to get a drink, and the energy was high. I sat for a while near the front door and watched the rain fall, illuminated by a lamppost on the sidewalk outside. I sat back and smiled and I think a few tears welled up in my eyes. This was downtown as I always saw it – vibrant, fun, and sometimes unpredictable – but now this was the downtown so many others were experiencing, and I knew they would return.

Fatefully, I left the Uptown just as the show at the Fox was getting out. There were so many people on the sidewalks that it was difficult to walk for a couple of blocks. People were wandering about, many of them looking for something to eat, though there was no food to be had at that hour. So most of us ended up in the bars nearby. I tried to go to Radio, but it was packed like I’ve never seen it before. Forget finding a seat – you would have been lucky to find a wall to lean on.

There’s still more to be done to improve downtown Oakland. As dto510 mentioned last week, the City needs to complete its sidewalk improvements in Uptown. We need more restaurants, especially some that stay open past 10pm. And we need to encourage public transit usage, biking, and walking so that there isn’t so much congestion on the streets on busy nights.

But even without these improvements, downtown Oakland is finally the place to be. And that makes me so happy that at least for one night, I was able to forget about Oakland’s troubles and enjoy what this incredible city has to offer.

6 Responses to “A magical night in downtown Oakland”

  1. Chris Kidd February 9, 2009 at 12:39 pm #


    Nice writeup. What was the name of the a cappella group performing?

  2. Becks February 9, 2009 at 12:43 pm #

    Thanks Chris. Unfortunately, I have no idea. I could barely squeeze myself in the door to enjoy a couple of songs so I never got the chance to inquire.

  3. Eric February 9, 2009 at 2:24 pm #

    Sounds great, and it’s so encouraging to hear! Now you’re making me wish I went to art murmur instead of being lazy 🙂

  4. theo February 9, 2009 at 2:46 pm #

    The group that perfromed at Johannson Projects was A Conspiracy Of Beards…a (mostly) beard chorus of dudes singing Leonard Cohen songs like Tower of Song and Everybody Knows.

  5. Coolhand Luke February 9, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    Thanks so much Becks. Love the write up- I got tingly just reading it. Oh the potential that always abounds, but is seldom realized. Here’s to Oakland, cheers!

  6. Navigator February 9, 2009 at 4:47 pm #

    Becks, I really enjoyed reading your post. Downtown Oakland is finally coming into its own. I can’t wait until the buildings under renovation on Telegraph are finished and filled with more restaurants and more clubs.

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