Two and a half years ago, right after the Fox Theater had finally opened and on an Art Murmur night, I experienced a magical night in downtown Oakland. Here’s what I wrote about it in February, 2009:
…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….
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.
Since then, I’ve seen downtown crowded and just as vibrant many times at night, particularly on special occasions, like Uptown Unveiled. But I’ve yet to have those same feelings again. I’ve yet to recreate that distinct realization that downtown has reached another night-time milestone or cleared another hurdle to reaching its full potential.
That changed on Friday night.
I was totally exhausted on Friday afternoon, so exhausted that I got an iced coffee (I’m not a regular coffee drinker). I drank the coffee and thought I probably could drag myself out to a social media/blogger event at Era that I had RSVP’d to. Then I would stop by a gallery on 26th Street on my way home to check out a friend’s jewelry show. And that would be it.
But the combination of the energy on the streets and at the gallery, with the knowledge that I could get around on the free Broadway Shuttle all night quickly changed my plans. I stayed at Classic Cars West Gallery for quite some time after purchasing jewelry from Rosemary Dudley Designs, taking in the art, chatting with several friends I ran into, and snapping a bunch of photos.
If it wasn’t for the B, my night would have ended after this. I was only a few blocks from my home, and there was no way I was going to walk back to downtown (where I had initially walked from) and then walk back home. It simply wasn’t going to happen.
But when I was ready to go, I looked at NextBus and saw that the B would be stopping at 25th and Broadway in 4 minutes so I quickly walked to the bus stop and jumped on the bus. I was the only one on it at the time (25th is nearly at the beginning of the line), but according to the bus driver, many people had ridden that evening and she thought the later hours were a great idea. She also commented that she had never seen so many people downtown at night. The gorgeous weather helped – nearly all along the route the sidewalks were packed with people.
The bus dropped me off at 9th and Broadway, and I popped into Liege briefly for a friend’s birthday party that was winding down. I told my friends about Oaklandish’s grand opening party. They were all excited about that, though I think what they really were excited about was the fivetenburger truck parked in front of Oaklandish. We started walking there, but the B pulled up. I was inclined to just walk since it was so close, until I found out that none of my friends with me that night had ever ridden the B! So we jumped on and my friend quickly realized that his cousin (who couldn’t make it to his party because she was working) was driving the bus. My friends were all very excited about riding the B and thought it was so cool that it would now run until 1am on Friday and Saturday. “That’s later than BART,” they exclaimed.
The new Oaklandish store was so packed when we arrived that it was hard to maneuver inside. So we got in line for fivetenburger. My wife (who had just joined me after getting off of work) and I got a grilled cheese and french fries. They were greasy, but clearly made with quality ingredients, and were totally delicious. Somehow this was my first time eating at fivetenburger, but I’m sure I’ll be back. After eating, Oaklandish was slightly less crowded so we made our way inside, enjoyed the music and the people, and some of our crowd bought shirts.
I was beaming on the way home, going on and on to my wife about how sometimes I am reminded of just how awesome Oakland is.
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.
Besides the sidewalks, which are still in desperate need of repair, all the other improvements have been made. There are now tons of restaurants downtown that are open for dinner, and even a few that are open past 10pm – Disco Volante, Plum, and the recently opened Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. There are also plenty of food trucks, particularly on crowded nights like Art Murmur nights. Gone are the nights roaming the streets of downtown with a rumbling belly.
The Broadway Shuttle has been a huge improvement to downtown transit, and I’m hopeful that the night route will catch on fast. It now makes so much more sense to leave your car at home, and even if you don’t live on the B route, take a bus, BART, or bike downtown and know you’ll have an easy way to get around all night.
The conclusion of my post more than two years ago sums up exactly how I feel after Friday, but even more so:
… 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.
If downtown stays on this track, I can only imagine how amazing the nightlife (and day life) will be in two more years.