Oakland Cocktail Week is a Bay Area favorite event, promoting patrons to travel through the lively bar scene of Oakland, California.
This year the week was filled with special events with proceeds benefitting ROC the Bay, a non-profit organization that strives to empower local restauranteurs and their workers. Along with featured drinks from the local bars within the area, the events are set up to take the public through distilleries and learn about the nature of local businesses. Of the events, one highlight of the week was the screening for Town Spirit: A Tribute to Oakland’s Enduring Bar Culture; a beautifully put together documentary detailing a piece of the story of Oakland’s bar scene and its roots within community culture. A preview of the documentary can be found on YouTube, providing a taste of the rich story presented within the 25-minute video directed by Sean Wells. Daphne Wu, one of the producers of the documentary shined some light on the birth of the project. As Raquel Navarro came forward with the concept of reigniting Oakland’s history for cocktail week, Daphne jumped on board. As a history major and buff, she wanted to bring to life Oakland in a visual way to begin and tie together with the true message of Oakland with some delicious drinks spread out. The creation of the project was a collaborative effort and one that Daphne will not forget.
“We wanted to, shine a light on Oakland’s bar history but more than that we wanted to be inclusive. We wanted the bars to participate and be a part of the project”
Daphne details the process of reaching out to each of the bars featured in the film, and the enthusiasm they were greeted with. Forming partnerships and blocking out time, the project itself brought together their own small community as the creative team worked to bring to video the personality, characters, and souls behind some of Oakland’s pillars.
The bar scene goes further than a good drink in the hand when community roots run deep. The double entendre title provides insight into the deeper message Oakland Cocktail Week and ROC (Restaurants Opportunities Center United) work hard to spread, which is that the spirits in Oakland aren’t just for a good drink in our hand, but for the community. A panel discussion after the screening further embodied this message through the riveting and telling conversation of Eric Arnold, Nelson German, Jessica Moncada, and Vita Simone. Eric Arnold is a cultural historian, pouring his causes into multiple facets as a journalist, photographer, activist, and many other venues of education & arts. Nelson German is the owner and chef of alaMar bringing to food his African American & Latino flavors along with his knowledge of Asian culinary styles. Jessica Moncada-Konte is running your Red Bay Coffee magic and soon break more boundaries and open Proof Bottle Shop. Vita Simone is the owner of Copper Spoon serving up Oakland innovative food and drinks. This dedicated panel was moderated by Oakland’s very own mayoral candidate Cat Brooks, bringing in her activist history to voice the questions of the community for the professional voices of Oakland. As the conversation began with the nuances of the film and directing style, it soon exploded with the main point of the film – the future of Oakland’s community. Vocal activists and supporters of the foundation of Oakland broke down the true roots of race, culture, and community interwoven into the rapidly changing bar & restaurant scene of Oakland.
“What do you think the driving factor of gentrification is?” Cat questioned.
“Greed,” Eric Arnold quickly answered.
The film brought forward personal interviews of Oakland natives openly talking about the change within neighborhoods, locals, and the rapid change of historical locations due to the rapid influx of people into the Bay Area. As the population continues to grow and Oakland begins to welcome more outsiders, the film & panel questioned the status of the future of Oakland’s community. The beauty of Oakland lies in its diversity and culture rich people, but the effects of gentrification statistically harm the native people of color communities, specifically the African American community. As the original community of Oakland continues to get wrongfully pushed out, what becomes of the diverse culture of Oakland? What happens to its history, and historical landmarks including the bars of Oakland. The discussion spanned across the housing crisis, the Me Too movement, police brutality, and the wages and acceptance of a diverse crew within the restaurant world. Emotional and poignant points resonated within the open space within the Starline Social Club, another historical bar of Oakland. Taking the powerful points discussed, the host for the night, Alex Maynard owner of Starline reminded the community to come together for the after party of ROC the Town Throwdown, a cocktail competition and fundraiser. Truly bringing to light the town spirit through just that, the bar opened its door for a friendly competition between other Oakland local bars with all proceeds going to ROC to continue to help the restaurant & bar workers. The night progressed with conversation, drinks, competition, but more than that friendship. Everyone that walked in for the night may have come in as strangers, but left as friends.
Oakland’s community doesn’t just end with the party, but they stand and fight together. As the area continues to have its arms open to welcome others, let’s continue to spread the word of the panel. Learn the history of Oakland, practice it, and join the culture because that’s what makes Oakland as magical and as Oakland as it is.