Oakland's Historic Bars Illustrated
By Jessica Lipsky and Ruth Miller
Temescal’s Kingfish Pub and Cafe, a watering hole inside a squat green building near the intersection of Claremont and Telegraph Avenues, opened in 1922 as a bait shop for fishermen heading to the delta, and was one of the few bars outside a dry zone near UC Berkeley. Not much has changed at the Fish since, beyond the price of drinks (and those remain very reasonable). Try to snag a table or a bench – which were reclaimed from Memorial Stadium during renovations in 1923 – and spend the afternoon watching the A’s or Warriors. If sports aren’t your thing, there’s plenty of free popcorn, shuffleboard, a dangerous fish punch, and enough beer to make you rally for the home team. A battle to demolish the Fish has gone on for years, but its owners are now attempting to move the historic building a few blocks away to make room for condominiums.
Walk past the chichi bars and restaurants on Grand Avenue and take a step back in time at the Alley, one of Oakland’s few remaining piano bars (don’t you wish you lived in a time where there were a plethora of piano bars?). Established in 1933, the bar looks like a Disney shantytown with exposed wooden beams, clotheslines, and business cards strewn all over. While all bars have regulars, no one comes as often as Rod Dibble – the octogenarian who has been tickling the ivories and singing at the Alley for more than 50 years.
The Fat Lady
Folks are unsure whether this bar’s eponymous woman was a madam or the plump subject of a portrait, but the Fat Lady has been piquing patron curiosity since 1970. This family-run joint is adorned with enough Tiffany lamps and impressionist paintings to make your classy grandmother feel good about knocking back a stiff drink. The Jack London Square bar is housed in a building that dates back to 1884 and rumor has it that Jack London spent the night here – though whether the building was an inn or a henhouse remains a mystery.
The White Horse Bar
An otherwise unassuming bar on the corner of Telegraph and 66th Street in Oakland, the White Horse holds the honor of being the oldest gay bar in the nation with 81 years of continuous operation. Unlike other Bay Area LGBT bars that were regularly shut down through 1971, the White Horse was never raided. To this day the bar has a good mix of men and women with a low-key vibe that isn’t raunchy or heavy on the cruising (though babes abound). There’s usually dancing or a performance in the back room, which boasts its own bar, and a couple nights of karaoke.
Heinold's First and Last Chance
Step down into Heinold's First and Last Chance, a ramshackle, crooked saloon from 1883, where many sailors had their first and last chances to drink after being at sea. Stinking of something between musk and kitsch, the bar seems almost out of place among the newer buildings in Jack London Square. Still, Johnny M. Heinold’s watering hole fits right in with local lore. The building was constructed from an old whaling ship, was used as a bunk, and was frequented by many nearby oyster workers. Chief among them was a young Jack London, who came to the bar as a teen with plans to go to college. “Will I ever ferget the first time he come in here? Eighteen-ninety-one, I think it was – he was about fifteen, and he come in here one morning with French Frank,” Heinold said in 1934. “Frank was middle-aged then, and the toughest and most famous of the oyster pirates, and he was fixin' to sell his sloop, the Razzle Dazzle, to Jack. The kid had borrowed $300 from Mammy Jenny, his old negro nurse, so's he could buy the boat."
Ye Olde Hut
Ye Olde Hut, the Tudor-looking bar on College Avenue in Rockridge exudes charm – assuming you’d count cheap beer, ping-pong tables, and poorly placed restrooms among your preferred items list. Not much is known about the Hut’s history beyond its previous incarnation as a meeting hall around the turn of the century. Built around 1912 by Morris & Muller Company, the building was originally the Vernon Rock-Ridge Hall and was renovated to include another room. Nothing of the original façade is visible, but patrons can see the initial building’s framing inside.