By Londre Holmes
As a student at Cal State East Bay, it can be easy to default to crossing the bridge to San Francisco when searching for a pulse in the night life.
However, a new bar in Oakland has started to change that notion, one bridge toll at a time.
Era Art Bar and Lounge, located in the Uptown neighborhood of Oakland, is the only bar of its kind in the area. It not only brings hand-crafted drinks to patrons, but also showcases finely crafted art from many local artists.
Era opened its doors in February, combining the relaxed environment of a bar with the fine-art ambience of a gallery (minus the uptight atmosphere). Although the lounge is fairly new, the architecture is inspired by styles over a century old.
When you cross over into the bar from the street, a toasty feeling takes over, partly due to the warm tones of the brown furniture and reclaimed wood panels that adorn the space. With hand-blown glass from Berkeley, classic Venetian-plastered walls and curved ceilings, walking into Era achieves the feeling of stepping into pre-Prohibition history, all without feeling like a novelty.
Alfonso Dominguez, one of Era’s three owners, said of Era’s aesthetic and architectural choices:
“When we were designing the space, we wanted to create a style that was timeless and paid tribute to older generations, without being cheesy. Most bars design based on what’s trendy at the time, and so in the next year, most of their stuff looks dated and out of style.”
Creating a venue inspired by the past while still finding a way to be innovative was no easy feat. The owners of Era used a local network of friends and associates to recreate their vision, all at a fraction of the expected cost.
“We couldn’t get a lot of people to work with us [in constructing the space], so we turned to people and artists that we already knew, and used resources we already had,” said Dominguez.
What really separates Era from other bars is that, after you turn away from the display of small-batch domestic and imported spirits behind the bar, artworks line the walls. The different works are quick to catch any eye, from an art enthusiast to someone enjoying a drink after work. Another crucial aspect that puts the bar at a higher echelon, is it’s emphasis on Happy Hour, which spans from 4:30 until 7:30, Tuesday through Sunday.
“During Happy Hour, the beers on tap are less than five dollars, and all of our signature drinks are available daily,” said Tina Aiyer, manager of Marketing and Press for Era. “Some of the names of the signature drinks are also little inside jokes. ‘Two Weeks’ is named after what we would tell everybody when they asked how long until the bar opened.”
If your stomach starts to feel a little eager, fret not; Era provides a happy hour menu with food prepared by Farley’s East, a café just down the street from the bar.
Like fellow owners, Gairy Jaques and Kevin Best (a CSU Hayward graduate), Dominguez owns several businesses in the Old Oakland and Uptown Oakland areas. The trio met in 2008 and decided to go into business together when they realized that as a diverse group of owners, they all had something different to contribute to Era.
With different themes, no two days at Era are alike. From Latin-inspired Thursday to different artist exhibits (Wednesday brought SketchUp, a collective gallery of local artists that included live paintings and works for less than a hundred dollars), Era strives to keep their patrons’ interest.
“Era is more about the overall experience than any one facet in particular,” said Dominguez.
“Some bars are heralded for having good drinks or a decent DJ, but maybe everything else is superb. We want to make sure we are giving people not only good drinks, but also great architecture and atmosphere, as well as top notch contemporary local art.”
In less than a year, Era and its owners have helped work with other local restaurants and businesses to breath new life, as well as libations, into Oakland art culture.