The last First Friday was like Mardi Gras. Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood had so many people on the streets, Make Westing co-owner Glenn Kaplan said it reminded him of Bourbon Street. They spilled out of the bar and joined the throngs on Telegraph letting out of the Smashing Pumpkins show at the Fox Theater. Where to go next? Dogwood? The Layover? Three Fifty-Five? Flora? The Den? Van Kleef?
If you haven’t been to Uptown recently, you might not recognize it as being part of Oakland. The neighborhood has grown so fast in the last couple years it has become a destination in itself, with nightlife unlike (and perhaps unfamiliar to) the rest of the city.
Make Westing is a bar that opened in August a half a block from the Fox and appropriately references in its name a story by native son Jack London about a ship struggling to round Cape Horn during a month-long storm (“Secretly, he pledged himself anew to the Powers of Darkness, if they would let him make westing”). It is an expansive, curiously dichotomous place, at once evoking a severe black-and-white lit future, but one with small salvaged touches: globe lights, ornate black stools, a bar made from pool tables, a locked, old-timey wall safe (sold to them by Peter Van Kleef himself) that no one has the combination to. It is cleanly modern but with a subtle steampunk-gets-a-job vibe.
The creation myth, as told by Kaplan, has he and co-owner Chris Foott’s friend (veteran New York bar designer Matthew Maddy) finding an old Triumph motorcycle from the ’60s and saying, “let’s build a bar like this.” The result has lost the grease and grit, perhaps, but maintains the strong lines and a grownup feel. You’ll notice the sheer size of the place first, eyes drawn up to the high raw-concrete ceilings looking robust enough to hold up a container ship (the space, long derelict, was a church in the early ’90s and a jewelry store in the ’70s). There is nearly 4,000 square feet in the open space to wander around in and plenty to look at on the walls, behind the bar or in the ubiquitous employed-looking high-spirited assemblage. The interior was furnished from trips to Berkeley’s Urban Ore, the high bar shelf was an old planter that Kaplan and his team rescued, the handrails around the bocce court were salvaged from their demolition scaffolding.
Bocce? Pool seemed a little boring to Kaplan, who recalled the courts in a Brooklyn bar when he took down a dividing wall at Make Westing to open up a little more space. Better have a drink now — local beers on tap, select wines and a dozen house cocktails that include fresh takes on some old favorites (and I do mean fresh; the tonnage of muddled cucumber they must go through to make their garden gimlets taste like summer).
Kaplan, a native Oaklander who spent a decade in New York after college sports reporting, grad-schooling and internet start-upping, traveled around learning the bar business along the way and decided it was time to come back home. Along with Foott, they came back in June 2009 to scope out locations. At that time, they concentrated their search in Rockridge because it didn’t have a decent cocktail bar, but people kept telling them to check out Uptown. “What’s Uptown?” they asked. They found their place after looking at dozens of spaces around the city and even considered buying Beckett’s pub in Berkeley. Now he’s glad they located there. “Uptown is popping. It’s changing fast and it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
1741 Telegraph Ave., Oakland, (510) 251-1400, open 4 p.m.–2 a.m. daily (happy hour: 4 p.m.–6 p.m.),