Looking to get a taste of Oakland’s music scene? You’ve got quite a few options. The city really gets going after sunset, and the local bands come out to play.
An eclectic experience is guaranteed at Café Van Kleef, right smack in the middle of downtown Oakland. There are tons of kitschy knick-knacks covering the walls, making it impossible to be bored with so much to look at. The drinks are also good, with the “Greyhound”, a vodka-grapefruit mix with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice, being the signature drink. And the music’s not bad either. Several nights a week a band plays, most frequently jazz or blues but occasionally a rock band comes through, too.
A more mainstream venue is the Fox Theater. Originally built in the 1920s and only recently reopened after being closed for decades, the theater has been fully restored to its former glory. It now plays host to a wide range of music and performances, and is part of a larger move to revitalize Oakland. Both current and classical artists come through, but it’s also worth the visit just to see the venue alone – the ornate architecture and Eastern-inspired décor are quite impressive.
For an experience of the underground Oakland music scene, the Ghost Town Gallery is in a neighborhood where you definitely want to exercise caution after dark and is a sort of homage to O-town’s grittier past (and present). A former recording studio for the fathers of soul that turned into a Black Panther headquarters, the space has been graffitied and decked out with a stage, sound system, and beer machine. Yes, beer machine. Now it serves as the home for a number of punk and other local bands, many of which are quite good. The cover is always cheap, as is the beer. Just make sure this is the kind of music experience you’re in the mood for – and park close by.
A completely different experience can be found at Historic Sweet’s Ballroom, which is exactly what the name implies: a ballroom. As a historic concert venue that played host to the big bands of the ‘30s and ‘40s, there’s no graffiti here, that’s for sure. Different nights feature different styles: Bay Area DJs come through to spin, live salsa bands get the beats going for a floor full of dancers, and they just have some great rock and jazz bands come through as well – and even metal from time to time.
[photo courtesy of vsmoothe]