A Grand Avenue Revival
A gallery-coffee shop, gastropub, pizza palace, wine bar, and Hallowell offshoot follow Camino’s bold lead into the Grand Lake district.
Grand Avenue seems to have always been overshadowed by its more happening neighboring thoroughfare Lakeshore Avenue. While cool coffee shops, pizzerias, and bars dotted Lakeshore Avenue, Grand seemed to be stuck in time, filled with quaint, but hardly destination-worthy, mom-and-pop businesses.
Well, don’t look now, but the Grand Avenue section of the Grand Lake district has been experiencing a revival as impressive as any neighborhood in Oakland.
“It’s a complete renaissance; there are virtually no vacancies,” says Ken Katz, a 40-year Grand Lake resident and author of popular neighborhood newsletter “The Splash Pad.” “When I first moved here, there were maybe three food choices, and you look at things now: It’s been an amazing transformation.”
And not surprisingly in this food-obsessed city, it’s restaurants that have led the resurgence. Katz points to Camino, the perennial critics’ darling from husband-and-wife team Russell Moore and Allison Hopelain, as the pioneering restaurant when it opened in 2008. Since then, several high-profile eating spots have followed suit including the run-away-popular Boot and Shoe Service from Pizzaiolo’s Charlie Hallowell, the striking gallery-coffee shop hybrid Monkey Forest Road, and gourmet gastropub Grand Tavern.
And two new spots have opened just in the last few months. Jon Guhl, co-founder of the beloved Little Star deep-dish pizza restaurants, brought a similar concept, The Star, to the former Milano’s space. And UC Berkeley Ph.D. student Bradford Taylor opened Ordinaire, a wine bar and shop offering eclectic, small-production wines to both taste and take home.
“I live in the neighborhood, and I love Camino, and I’m good friends with the guys from Boot and Shoe Service,” says Taylor, who appropriately is writing his dissertation on the subject of taste. “It seemed like there was a need for a good wine bar, and I wanted to put down roots here.”
Meanwhile Hallowell, who after the success of his two other restaurants could have opened a third spot anywhere in Oakland (or the East Bay for that matter), has doubled down on Grand Ave. He’s set to debut his anticipated new bar and grill, Penrose, across the street from Boot and Shoe this fall.
“It’s actually a very vibrant area of Oakland that maybe has been a little underutilized in the past,” Hallowell says. “I love the neighborhood and see a ton of potential; that’s why I’m here.”
Look out, Lakeshore.
Monkey Forest Road Mixes Retail With Restaurant
When Grand Lake resident Chris Cooper opened Monkey Forest Road in 2011, the idea was to serve top-notch coffee and pastries to help draw customers in to check out the store’s collection of Balinese furniture and art. As it’s turned out, the imported décor has functioned more as a beautiful draw to lure people in for the food, which has expanded to include wine and small plates on weekend evenings. Either way, the combination of a unique design and surrounding combined with quality food and drink has proved a popular one. “While the gallery side has not done quite as well as the coffee side, it contributes immensely to atmosphere,” says Cooper. “It gives people some beautiful things to look at and sit down on and interact with.”