Hayward Is Chic But Not Too Chic
The next big low-key thing is Hayward, thanks to a burgeoning downtown with healthy nightlife and other crowd magnets.
Friends share a beer in lively Hayward
Photo by Pat Mazzera
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There was a time in Oakland—say, one year ago—when one could meet some friends for a beer downtown and 1) find parking, 2) hear one another, and 3) not spend $100. But as Oakland’s hipster and real estate stocks continue to soar, frugal and fun-loving Oaklanders can rest assured: There is still a place we can go for a casual, low-cost and fun night out: Hayward.
Downtown Hayward, once an amalgam of smoke shops and boarded-up storefronts, is enjoying a nightlife renaissance, fueled by refugees from Silicon Valley’s soaring rents and Oaklanders seeking a low-key night out. The blocks around B Street, Foothill Boulevard, and Main Street boast more than a dozen bars and restaurants, ranging from upscale to funky and everything in between. Parking is plentiful and free, the crowds are diverse and friendly, and a shot of Jameson’s will set you back $4.
“When I went to the Hayward City Council in 2012 to open my business, they didn’t know what a wine shop was. They thought I was opening a liquor store to sell malt liquor to the homeless,” said Darren Guillaume, owner of Doc’s Wine Shop on Foothill. “I told them, ‘I want to bring new people to downtown Hayward.’ They said, ‘You mean, from Castro Valley?’ I said, ‘No, France.’ ”
Guillaume, a certified sommelier, chose Hayward because, by his estimation, there were no other wine shops within a 17-mile radius. With Hayward’s proximity to Oakland and the San Mateo Bridge (and therefore Silicon Valley), it was a prime target for urban renewal.
He stocks more than 200 kinds of French, Italian, and Spanish wine, and has free tastings daily. His business saw 4 percent growth annually its first three years. But more recently, it has jumped 15 percent, he said.
“There’s just been a dramatic change,” he said. “I think more people are moving here from Silicon Valley and San Francisco, because of the rents, and they’re used to good wine and good food.
“I don’t regret my decision to move here at all. It’s great to be part of this renaissance,” Guillaume.
The city of Hayward has done its part, as well. Its $105 million re-configuration of downtown streets has routed thousands of motorists daily off Foothill Boulevard and through the side streets, past the small businesses and restaurants. The result is that the 65,000 commuters a day who pass through Hayward en route to Interstates 580 and 880 now get a glimpse of the charms of downtown, and maybe even stop for a libation.
The city also installed “Welcome to Hayward” gateway arches and signs, artwork, hundreds of trees and shrubs, bike paths, crosswalks, and other features to make the downtown seem more inviting.
Bismarck Blanco, 35, a human resources analyst who’s lived in Hayward since high school, said he has noticed the change.
“When I was growing up, Hayward was not the spot,” he said. “We’d go to the city or Oakland. But now, it’s chic. Hayward is chic. Now, when we go out, we stay right here.”
Within a block or two downtown, fun-seekers can visit Buffalo Bill’s, one of the state’s first microbreweries, and home to what some call the Bay Area’s best nachos; Bijou restaurant, known for its basil gimlets and a bartender, Dave, who expertly juggles cocktail shakers; the Bistro, with live music almost every night; the Stein Lounge, whose ceiling is hung with hundreds of German beer steins and where one can buy peach Jello shots topped with fresh homemade whipped cream; the Turf Club, one of the Bay Area’s oldest gay bars that’s now popular with all orientations, thanks in part to a fabulous tiki patio; and the Funky Monkey, which can only be described—in the most affectionate possible way—as a classic East Bay dive bar. A new cineplex opened at B and Foothill, the Hayward Area Historical Society has opened a vast museum and cultural center, and a free shuttle from Cal State East Bay brings in a steady stream of students.
Larry Gray, who has owned the Turf Club for 30 years, said the new crowds are “a Noah’s Ark of people. We see all walks of life these days.”
“A lot of young people have moved in, and they’re great,” he said. “They’re more respectful of each other; they’re not into labels. They just want to have a good time. And they do—there’s lot to do downtown now.”