Stepping Out in Oakland
Ever had a bridge and tunnel romance? For San Franciscans whose friends or person of affection live in Oakland, it's time to return the favor and visit the other side. You owe your guy or gal-pal a visit, and there are plenty of fun venues for a date, from bars to cafes, theatres and more. And they're all easy to get to, barring the occasional BART strike, catastrophic toxic cloud incident or train derailment. Did we mention the ferrys?
Since Oakland's a big city, we decided to focus on the fun area around Lake Merritt's north side. Say your East Bay pal's a movie fan. Why endure the hordes at the Metreon when you can enjoy the stylishly retro Grand Lake Theater? The crowds are much smaller and well-behaved, even for the blockbuster flicks like The Hunger Games, and there are plenty of pre- and post-film options within walking distance.
Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave. (510) 452-3556. www.renaissancerialto.com
One of the hottest restaurants along Grand Avenue is Boot and Shoe. The simple one-page menu features homemade Italian dishes like rigatoni, pasta and fagioli (no jokes) and house-made sausage ($15). All the produce and meats used in their dishes are locally made and grown. Pressed for time? Try one their unusual cocktails (Dead Ringer, High Plains Drifter, Monks Garden; $10 each) and a margherita di bufala pizza ($16). Chose from more than two dozen white and red wines.
Boot and Shoe, 3308 Grand Ave. (510) 763-2668. www.bootandshoeservice.com
Don't go running off to catch a train the morning after. Show your willingness to make time and relax in this exotic East Bay environs by settling in for a scenic cuppa at Monkey Forest Road. The spacious coffee shop is a bit over-styled, but roomy. Yes, the artisanal baristas sport ironic facial hair, but they do care about your latté, so enjoy the queer-centric patrons. Thursdays through Saturdays, their wine and beer bar is open from 5pm to 10pm. If you're feeling really romantic, pop the question with a hand-crafted ring or other bauble from Monkey Forest Road's jewelry shop.
Monkey Forest Road, 3265 Grand Ave. (510) 327-2400. www.monkeyforestroad.com
The Sweet Life
Further north on Grand Avenue, share some sweets with your sweetie at Michael Mischer Chocolates. With delicious handmade chocolate bars encrusted with your choice of nuts, cherries and other ingredients ($10-$12), to full gift box sets ($29-$70), you and your special someone will enjoy the luscious flavors, along with the alleged aphrodisiac of cocoa.
Michael Mischer Chocolates, 3352 Grand Ave. (510) 986-1822. www.michaelmischerchocolates.com
Further north on Grand Avenue, things get more domestic; A Safeway, bridal shop, cycle shop and a host of nail salons. There's no need to stroll further, unless you're planning on moving in with your Oakland lover to buy some used furniture at Uhuru. And given that many of us in San Francisco are doomed for eviction, you might consider it.
If your East Bay romance includes gift-giving, or shopping of an intimate kind, head back south around the Grand Lake Theater to Lakeshore Avenue. First stop, Good Vibrations, where fondling a variety of sample dildos and sexual enhancement toys and devices has never felt so normal. What better way to expand your erotic boundaries?
Good Vibrations, 3219 Lakeshore Ave. (510) 788-2389. www.goodvibes.com
Sink In Your Teeth
If your date/pal isn't vegan, veggie or lactose intolerant, skip the other nearby fast food joints for The Cheesesteak Shop. The locally-owned small chain started in 1981 on Divisadero St. in San Francisco. You can debate the merits of Philadelphia classic's Bay Area version, and afterward, the two of you can compare onion breath.
The Cheesesteak Shop, 3308 Lakeshore Ave. www.cheesesteakshop.com
Sorry, you wanted classy? Just up the street, Mezze offers a full upscale menu and wine list. Entrees include Moroccan Lamb Shank Tagine ($23) and Coriander Crusted Yellow Fin Tuna ($24). Yep, it's pricey, but nothing says love like sugar daddy/mamma spending.
Mezze, 3407 Lakeshore Ave. (510) 663-2500. www.mezze.com
Walking... and Talking Gelato!
Take a stroll along the southwestern part of Lake Merritt if you like, but be warned; navigating the lake's circumference all the way to FairyLand (the kids' park) isn't a quick stroll. Either way, if you've got room for dessert, stop by Gelato Firenze for a scoop. The authentic ice cream shop is the best gelato this side of North Beach.
Gelato Firenze, 478 Lake Park Avenue, (510) 414-9997.
You've wined, you've dined, and now you want to kick it up. Before we get to the gay bars, which are a car's drive away, consider the local gay-friendly taverns with their own eccentric style.
For a dark, murky cluttered environment (Hey, did we scare you off?) along with cheap drinks and walls covered in thousands of business cards, The Alley offers enough to test your date's Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. Cluttered and cozy, the food menu's bearable when served with several beers, which are cheap.
The Alley, 3325 Grand Ave. (510) 444-8505.
Slightly more spacious, with retro sofas for hanging out, Kingman's Lucky Lounge wasn't too hopping upon our last visit, but it was early in the evening. First Fridays are allegedly LGBT nights, but we noticed a mixed/queer clientele on each of several visits. Hang out, relax and enjoy the groovy music mix.
Lucky Lounge, 3332 Grand Ave. (510) 465-5464. www.kingmanscocktails.com
Also laid back, and with a spacious patio, the Heart and Dagger Saloon attracts a mixed younger clientele that isn't too hipstery, and is definitely queer-friendly, oh and pet-friendly, so long as your pet is, too. Cheap drinks, a pool table and retro pinball and video games add up to a fun hang-out, kind of like your aunt's basement, if she were a tattooed Sapphic sister biker chick who moved to the suburbs.
Heart & Dagger Saloon, 504 Lake Park Ave. (510) 444-7300. www.heartanddaggersaloon.com
Continuing our blurred lines bar tour, The New Easy lives up to its name with a gay-straight-whatever ambiance, combined with a creative menu of holiday-themed hot and cool drinks that will please the discerning booze palate. Named drinks have run the gamut, from "And She Was" (after the Talking Heads song) to Playa Dust. Try the Flaming Bloody Mary on Sundays. This amusing gastropub and lounge also offers a small patio and more than the usual bar food, including their delish Taco Tuesdays.
The New Easy, 3255 Lakeshore Ave. (510) 338-4911 www.facebook.com/easy510
Getting back to traditions, the oldest gay bar in the country sure doesn't act like it. The White Horse Bar's nearly four miles north of our Grand Lake chosen ground zero, and closest to the BART Ashby stop. But it's worth a visit. Rock or disco music will be played, and there's a small cover on some nights, but the old-school bar's got cheap drinks, a hardy clientele and decades of tradition.
White Horse Bar, 6551 Telegraph Ave. www.whitehorsebar.com
Back near lakeside and in the heart of downtown Oakland (near the 19th Street BART stop), the city's two Latin bars will inspire dancing until the late hours. Bench and Bar and Club 21 bring live acts, elegant drag shows, and some of the hottest gogo guys in the entire Bay Area. Covers range from $5-$20, depending on the time and if there's a live act, like the recent Cazwell concert.Bench and Bar, 510 17th St. (510) 444-2266. www.bench-and-bar.com
Club 21, 2111 Franklin St. (510) 268-9425. www.club21oakland.com
Pump It Up
For some rock or pop in a beautiful environment, two architectural landmarks, the Fox Theatre and the Paramount, are host to touring bands like Scissor Sisters and Pet Shop Boys, plus classical music concerts and screenings of classic films. Each theatre serves adult beverages, too.
Fox Theatre, 1807 Broadway. (5100 302-2250. www.thefoxoakland.com
Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway. (510) 465-6400. www.paramounttheatre.com