A cheap, car-free New Year’s Eve in downtown Oakland

30 Dec

New Year’s Eve has never been one of my favorite nights to go out. Clubs and events are absurdly overpriced. Everywhere is at least twice as crowded as usual. It’s close to impossible to catch a cab. So many years I stay home or do something low-key with some friends.

But this year my wife and I decided we wanted to go out and when I found out that the Free Broadway Shuttle would be running its usual Saturday night schedule of 6pm-1am, I realized we could bar hop around downtown Oakland. Getting around will be super easy (and free), and if any of the places we go to are too crowded, we can move on.

I researched free or cheap bars and clubs in downtown and put together this list, which I figured I’d share here.

Getting Around

Before diving into where to go, it’s important to review how to get around, since I’m often surprised that people aren’t frequent riders of the Broadway Shuttle. Even if you’ve ridden the Free B during the day, you should review this map, as the route is a bit different from the daytime route. On the shuttle you can travel all the way from Jack London Square to 27th and Broadway. The blue route on this map is the night-time map (click on the image for a larger map):

But maybe you don’t live in downtown Oakland or even walking distance to the shuttle (like I do). That’s fine. You can take dozens of AC Transit buses to the shuttle or take BART and get off at either the 12th Street or 19th Street stations. (BART will run until 3am on New Year’s Eve.)

The Broadway Shuttle is entirely free. Look for the bright green buses and board through any door.

Now that you know how to get around downtown without worrying about getting a DUI or miraculously catching a cab, here are some spots you can check out along the Free B route that are cheap or free. (This list is clearly not exhaustive so if you have other ideas of cheap or free things to do in downtown Oakland on New Year’s Eve, please share them in the comments.)

Vitus – 3rd Street Stop, 201 Broadway – $10 cover

Last Friday my wife celebrated her 30th birthday at Vitus and it was amazing. The space is huge (by Oakland standards), the drinks are cheap, the food is delicious, and they have four pinball machines and two skee-ball machines. The NYE party at Vitus runs from 9pm-1am and features the music of:

Lord Loves A Working Man

Winner of the 2008 SFWEEKLY best Soul/R&B/Funk act in San Francisco music award! Based out of the Mission District of San Francisco, Lord Loves A Working Man is a 10-piece band inspired by the raw and emotive sound of the Southern Soul shouters and horn-driven Rhythm & Blues of the 1960s. Mixing originals with obscure covers from the Stax Collection, LLAWM puts everything they got into respectfully invoking the spirit of old soul music while giving it their own distinct voice.

Rube Waddell

Rube Waddell is a San Francisco-based quartet performing their own breed of modern Americana music. They mix together cast-off parts, twisted scraps, and rusty hinges of Blues, Gospel, Country, American and Irish Folk, Punk,Rock, comic Vaudeville, German theater, Mexican Banda, Mid-Eastern and Asian ditties into a raw junkyard stew stirred by their varied array of traditional and homemade instruments.

The Trappist or Tamarindo Antojeria– 7th or 9th Street Stop, 468 or 460 8th Street

Maybe you want to escape from the DJs for a while to enjoy some of the best beer or tequila in Oakland. Eighth Street is the place to go. The Trappist and Tamarindo are  neighbors so you can easily stop in to either or both. The Trappist closes at 1am and Tamarindo closes at midnight.

The Layover – 14th Street Stop, 1517 Franklin Street – $5 cover

Stop by the Layover for a delicious cocktail and stay to listen and dance to DJ Fee Dog & DJ Dennis Yadroff. The party runs from 8pm-2am and there will be a champagne toast at midnight.

Spice Monkey – 16th Street Stop, 1628 Webster – $5 cover

(Somehow I hadn’t seen the DTO’s NYE recommendations until just now and saw this event there.) Here’s the info from Spice Monkey’s website:

Doors: 7:00pm | Show: 7:30pm – 12:30am
All Ages Welcome!

Headlining Band:

San Francisco’s own, “The Feral Cats”

with Special Guests:

The Alegre Sisters
The Lost Library

$5 Cover (includes a free glass of champagne for 21 & Over at midnight!)

Somar – 16th or 19th Street Stop, 1727 Telegraph – $5 before 11pm, $10 after 11

Somar may be small, but they know how to pack a lot of music and a big party into their space. Here are the details from the Facebook event:

From the front to the back, Somar will be representing the diversity and spirit of Oakland as One. Ring in 2012 with us!

7pm to 9pm – The Final Happy Hour of 2011
****Enjoy complimentary appetizers at Happy Hour

9pm to 2am – SoulProfess and Williemaze

Make Westing – 19th Street Stop, 1741 Telegraph – Cover Unknown

If you’re looking to do something besides drink and dance, stop by Make Westing to play some bocce ball (though you might have to wait a while as it’s quite popular there). They haven’t announced the cover charge yet, but since there’s usually no cover, I’m guessing it will be reasonable. Here’s the small amount of info they’ve devulged about the party on Facebook: “‎2012 New Years Eve Party at Make Westing: DJ Cousin Frankie, Champagne toast at midnight, Cocktails, Noise Makers, Bocce, Good Eats and Laughs!”

The Punchdown – 22nd Street or Grand Stop, 2212 Broadway

The Punchdown wine bar is having a New Year’s Eve champagne celebration. Entry is free, but you’ll of course have to pay for wine or champagne (which is not so cheap). Here’s some info from the Facebook event:

Please join us from 5PM-12:01AM on New Year’s Eve for a champagne celebration. We will be pouring a special champagne flight that comes with a special offer of one free “corkage” on any bottle of BYO sparkling (you have to share!)!

The cost of the flight is $30 – and consists of three two ounce tastes. All wines are available by the glass at special pricing for the evening.
-NV Champagne Benoît Lahaye “Rosé de Macération” a Bouzy $15 per glass
-NV Champagne Cédric Bouchard “Inflorescence” a Celles-sur-Ource $20 per glass
-NV Champagne De Sousa & Fils “Grand Cru Cuvée des Caudalies”, a Avize (solera started in 1986!) $22 per glass

Mua – 25th Street Stop, 2442a Webster Street

I don’t think Mua has a special event planned for NYE, but they generally have a DJ on the weekend and there’s no cover charge. But the best part might be that they serve food (and not just bar snacks) all the way up until they close at 2am. So if after a night of drinking you need something to eat, Mua is a great place to end up.

3 Responses to “A cheap, car-free New Year’s Eve in downtown Oakland”

  1. David C. December 30, 2011 at 1:42 pm #

    Okay, I’m sold. I’m going to spend my NYE entirely on the Broadway shuttle. A mobile party–woohoo!

  2. Jennifer January 1, 2012 at 6:09 pm #

    So how’d the plan turn out?

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) January 1, 2012 at 8:00 pm #

      We had an awesome New Year’s Eve, one of my favorite in many years.

      We started out with a quiet dinner at our neighborhood sushi spot, the Drunken Fish. Then we walked to Mua for a cocktail and dessert – an incredible pineapple upside down cake with coconut gelato.

      We hopped on the Free B (it was totally empty) to the Layover and danced for a while there. Both DJs we saw were great. It started getting crowded and hot so we hopped on the shuttle again – this time it was packed with a couple dozen very intoxicated people.

      We went to Vitus and danced some more, ringing in the new year on the dance floor. We then walked out to Jack London Square and watched the San Francisco fireworks for a while – from a bench that my wife and I had escaped to on the night before our wedding – until they ended and we were freezing. We headed back to Vitus where we ran into some friends and hung out for a while.

      We were exhausted at the end of the night and hopped a cab back home.

      The night made my wife and I wonder why we don’t do something similar more often on a Friday or Saturday night. Now that we know how easy and fun it is, I’m sure we will.

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