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[whitespace] Lakeshore Jogger Merritt-ocracy: Lakeshore has quickly become one of Oakland's most livable--and affordable--neighborhoods.

Photograph by Farika


Knowin' the 'hoods

We're movin' on up . . . to the East Bay?

By Peter Crimmins, Cory Feldman, David Kasher, Michael Stabile

Rockridge

So it was once prophesized by my friend Jory Cunningham, a native Rockridge kid, when I told him that someday I was going to get the hell out this one-horse town and return to my birthcity--the great and powerful New York, New York. "You can try to leave," said he, "but sooner or later traveling will only make you realize that Rockridge is the greatest neighborhood in the world." Well, I left. And I'm back. And you know, he just might be right.

Rockridge is the section of North Oakland bounded by Telegraph Avenue and Broadway, stretching from the Berkeley border down to 51st Street. Its southwest corner kisses a big shopping center and the California College of Arts and Crafts, whose presence lends both an art community and a college-town feel to the south side.

The main drag is College Avenue, mainly populated by small shops and restaurants, restaurants, restaurants. There are so many eateries, it's hard to pick a winner, but my favorite is probably Nan Yang, a Burmese place on the corner of College and Claremont. If you don't know what Burmese food is like, consider that Burma is situated right between China and India. Take the best of both cuisines, mix and serve. If you like to spend a lot of money, there's also Oliveto's, supposedly the second-best restaurant in the East Bay (right after Chez Panisse). Below Oliveto's is the charming Market Hall, an open-air market where the yuppies come to fill their refrigerators with items overpriced and delicious.

I must also mention Royal Coffee. This is the place to hang out on the Ave, but be warned, they serve a toxic brew. You may come just to kick it, but once you start ingesting this stuff on a regular basis, you will want it, need it, crave it like a vampire's blood fix.

Maybe the best thing about Rockridge is that it is one of those rare places where the landscape and the city work in harmony. The oh-so-many trees in the area seem to be caressing the streets, not fighting to survive in them. Shucks, the sun just shines a little sweeter in Rockridge. I don't know if it is the best neighborhood in the world, but gosh darn it, it's our own little slice of paradise. (DK)

Downtown

When Clint Eastwood played a reporter for the Oakland Tribune in last summer's True Crime, Oakland residents saw the sad irony of the Tribune building all lit up as a hotbed of journalism. In reality the paper, like most of the neighboring businesses, has left the building.

The successful revitalization of Jack London Square, with all its Barnes & Noble capital, has not yet dominoed up Broadway, and all those boarded-up storefronts are a boon for art galleries operating on the cheap. OaklandArt.com has a space in the generously altruistic Newberry Building on Telegraph and 22nd, and a block up, Gallery 2310 shows off the talents of Oakland artists alienated by San Francisco's inhospitable economics.

But downtown's beautiful beacon of hope remains the Paramount, a 1934 art deco theater at 21st and Broadway, restored to its fullest glory, hosting ballets, symphonies, R&B, gospel, and even Tom Waits and Neil Young when they come through town. After the show you might find yourself all dressed up with no place to go; if all you're looking to eat is an olive, then change out of your fancy threads and head over to the Stork Club, where every day is Christmas. It's a country western bar with a personality disorder--on weekends they host the East Bay's scrappy pop bands and kids who put the spunk back in punk. You'll find George Jones on the jukebox and Fetish on the stage. (PC)

West Oakland

One would think that West Oakland, with its Bridge and BART proximity, would be one of the quickest neighborhoods to gentrify. Unfortunately, underclass anchorage, landfill-based turf is still less than savory territory for the timid. In the past few years, however, this former no man's land, has witnessed a steady invasion of East Bay punks and skaters who, undaunted by high diesel traffic and decrepit buildings, are drawn to cheap rents and plenty of abandoned warehouse spaces. Live/work lofts draw techies more often than artists, but prices are phenomenally cheap. (MS)

Lakeshore/Lake Merritt

The latest plan to invigorate economic traffic in the Lakeshore corridor involves courting Trader Joe's to open under the freeway overpass, inciting the usual contest between the usual merchants and homeowners about open space and commericial growth. What had been the neighborhood's magnet attraction, the palatial Grand Lake Theater, is not the ace in the hole it used to be--the long arm of the Jack London Cinema reaches across Lake Merritt to steal first-release movies from the Grand Lake.

Although the Ace Hardware Garden Center draws the errand-runners from the surrounding middle-income apartments and houses, it can't compare to a theater in attracting leisurely bookstore browsers, consignment store looky-loos and sushi diners that are the bread and butter of Grand Avenue's mom-and-pop storefronts. While the merchants of Lakeshore are clashing their swords over a new commercial direction, there is one man who can provide the greater hope: Rod Diddle. He plays at an old-school piano bar, a funky dive called The Alley where you can get a steak dinner for under 10 bucks and sing at the piano with Rod. Rod's been a Lakeshore staple for a lot of years, and he continues to play standards six nights a week, encouraging shy crooners to bust out a little "Melancholy Rose," but will discreetly take the microphone away if you prove yourself to be Mr. Pitiful. (PC)

Adam's Point

There are no gay neighborhoods, per se, in Oakland--San Francisco often serves as the gay downtown to the extended Bay Area--but this small land jut into Lake Merritt has seen a recent surge in gay-owned businesses and (predominantly male) gay residents who are tired of the commercial Castro and have decided to start nesting. (MS)

Piedmont Avenue Area

The nearby California College of Arts and Crafts deluges Piedmont with arts students, but that doesn't mean the paintings on the walls of the cafes are better than in any other part of town. The sometimes tiresome and sometimes inspirational pretense of creating art on Piedmont Avenue, caffeinated at Gaylord's, Kafka and Peet's Coffee and Tea, is offset by the disproportionate number of beauty salons, mostly catering to senior citizens. Lot of old people in Piedmont. The fogies take the apartment complexes and the whippersnappers are in the funkier converted Victorians on the hill, and they all trickle down to the Avenue for groceries and Thai food. Traffic in the aisles of organic produce and imported cheeses at Piedmont Grocery is often clogged with slow-moving older folks itemizing their shopping lists, while a few doors down at Monte Vista Produce you can breeze through on a student's budget by purchasing a five-pound grab-bag of overripe veggies for a dollar. The cycle of life bookends the Avenue, with Kaiser Hospital to the south and to the north the Chapel of the Chimes cemetery, providing eternal inspiration for the morbid artists at CCAC. And here's a rundown of the Piedmont Avenue bar crawl: W.C. Fields-themed Egbert Souse's offers pickled eggs in a jar to its patron souses, Cato's brews its own poison and stocks dice games, Kerry House opens at 6am for an early morning heart-starter and King's X is nestled between the florist and the cemetery--if you need a bracer on a bad day. But here's the hot tip: at nearby George Kaye's on Broadway and 42nd, you can smoke at the bar. No foolin', it's legal. (PC)

Oakland Hills

If Marina-based San Franciscans are often mocked for their devil-may-care attitude while living on terra-Jello seconds from the fault line, Oakland's toniest have become just as chided for living in a tinderbox of dry grass and fire-fueling breezes. This decade's Oakland Hills fire left permanent scars on the pristine hillside, but it hasn't stopped residents from reconsidering, rebuilding and remodeling. An address in the hills is as close to Northern California comes to the Malibu colony in the South, with secluded roads, acres of untamed land and gorgeous views of the bay. Unfortunately, renting in the Oakland Hills is almost always through networking and connections. Those who afford houses in the hills are much more often in need of someone to housesit for a few months while they whisk away to Bali than they are of someone to help make rent. (MS)

The Laurel District

At the foot of the Oakland Hills between Coolidge Avenue and High Street, Laurel is an old community in the process of being "renewed." The economically and ethnically diverse population enjoys a close proximity to the East Bay Park district, which boasts great hiking trails. Because of its convenient location (exits off of Highway 580 and Highway 13), many new businesses are cropping up. Chains like Hollywood Video and cafés like Full House, World Grounds are setting up shop in this affordable and friendly neighborhood. Although still in a transitional phase, Laurel shows potential for further growth. Where many small communities are overwhelmed by redevelopment, Laurel has strong visible ties to the past: small shops, turn-of-the-century cottages and families going back three generations. The nearby colleges of Mills and Merritt supply the area with cheap, young housing and most of the recent younger émigrés from San Francisco. (CF)


For more information about Oakland, visit oakland.com.

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From the November 8, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.




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