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A shot of the library, courtesy of Bourbon and Branch

A shot of the library, courtesy of Bourbon and Branch

For now, my friends-in-town season is over. Colorado Johnny got the full Oakland tour while a few weeks later, the two Js opted for the abbreviated version. (No, J-man, I do not own a bullhorn.) They all seemed surprised at the beauty of the city. Johnny really liked the air, saying that the slight humidity combined with the sun felt like “a million licks on the skin.” Too bad it rained most of his trip here. But if anyone needed more rays, it was the grayed-out Pittsburghers. I’ve never seen people more psyched to sit on a porch that wasn’t an ice-slick.

Several reps. from Pitt flocked to a composition conference in San Francisco that week. One night we met at the Bourbon and Branch for cocktail hour. The former speakeasy sits on the corner of Jones at O’Farrell, under a corner sign that reads “Anti-Saloon League.” We entered the left of two oak doors with a password (“bird”) and a petite woman led us past a bar so dimly lit that I almost walked into the bookcase at the back. Our hostess stopped me short and opened the shelves like a door with a flick of her wrist. We stepped into the library to see books and backlit bottles of bourbon lined the walls. The gold-striped bindings of familiar Funk and Wagnalls encyclopedia volumes flashed in the candelight so that on my way to the bar, I had some grade-school flashbacks of writing book reports.

I wanted to try New Orleans’ official cocktail ever since I heard a great NPR story last summer. That my waist-coated bartender made a Sazerac in a room with red velvet wallpaper made my first sip almost as awesome as it would’ve been in The Big Easy. The bartender started by coating a rocks glass with Absinthe and filling it with ice. Then he muddled a sugar cube in Peychaud’s Bitters and tossed them in a shaker with bourbon. He served it to me neat and with a lemon peel draped across the glass. First I inhaled the citrus. Then the taste of the licorice liqueur slid down the glass, and the fireside-orange flavor reached the back of my tongue. Ah, there was the rub: just one swig had me reconsidering that road trip to the south.

Also in the Tenderloin, and just a few blocks south from our perch, once stood another speakeasy. It operated around the same time but posed as a breakfast joint. My great-grandma opened it as Em’s Waffle Kitchen and in the back room served a little somethin’ with the syrup. I never heard an account of the bar; it was probably sparsely furnished and stacked with kegs. My great aunt did remember seeing sailors stumble out from the bar and onto Turk Street. For sure, Emma’s restaurant was a “come for the waffles, stay for the booze” establishment.

I hear some old Oaksterdammers talk about the early days of medicinal marijuana with a speakeasy-esque fondness. Pot clubs lit up Broadway back in 1996. Awash from the hope of Prop. 215, many patients toked skunk on site, but once the smoke drifted to a nearby youth center (and Ignacio De La Fuente got wind of it at City Hall), a regulatory era reduced the legal number of “dispensaries” in the city to four. The Bull Dog became a coffee shop and poof, the Purple Dragon vanished.

These same folks also talk about how marijuana regulation is a bad idea. They don’t want the government knowing they’re patients, restricting where or how much they purchase their herbal meds, or how much they pay for the pleasure. But there are strong arguments to the contrary, and with Oakland’s Measure Z in place, taxation could bring in some major revenue once it’s all implemented. I would’ve happily paid a tax at the Oaksterdam speakeasy A. and I visited last week. We walked a lot farther for taxable inebriates back in Pittsburgh, where the wine shop and the beer store were miles apart. Gotta love Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. (Do their laws really curb drinking habits?) I drank the same amount in PA and CA (one or two a week) and suffer less frostbite getting firewater out west.

Marijuana reform is on the verge of its next big win. You could say it’s in the air. Recently the California DMV recently changed its policy to treat medical marijuana the same as prescription drugs. And while President Obama has stated that he doesn’t support the wholesale legalization of marijuana, it looks like the days of DEA raids are numbered. Helping the cause is the taxation wave coming out of California. Oakland’s best dispensary—Harborside Medical Center—will be featured on CNN’s “D.L. Hughley Breaks the News.” Check it out the weekend of March 28.

I’m hoping that marijuana will go the way of alcohol and become legal, even become a model for regulating the alcohol industry. Taxation doesn’t have to mean prohibition. I’m thinking though that West Oakland could stand to lose some liquor stores.

RIP Parkway Speakeasy Theater!
Catherine, Kyle and Will the Thrill, you will be missed.

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Hiatus happens. I hadn’t planned on taking a blog break but things got out of hand when my friend Johnny came to town. I won’t go into the details here but a one-day trip turned into a week. Now he’s back in Colorado and I’m playing catch-up with work.

But what a great Oakland sojourn it was. I got a chance to give my third tour of the city since last summer, when friends I had just left in Pittsburgh, PA started dropping by. Usually I start with my neighborhood of the Glenview:

here's a view looking down park blvd. toward wellington st. note that parking is a bit tight; be sure to share the curb when you visit.

here's a view looking down park blvd. toward wellington st.

here's a shot at the corner of park blvd. and hollywood ave. some of the best sunsets in town are visible from here.

here's a shot at the corner of park blvd. and hollywood ave. some of the best sunsets in town are visible from here. this is also near where the key system streetcar turned around and head back to town.

there are some great walks in dimond park. i love exploring the trails in the canyon and taking a dip in the pool, preferably avoiding the marco polo sessions in the summer.

there are some great walks in dimond park. i love exploring the trails in the canyon and taking a dip in the pool, preferably avoiding the marco polo sessions in the summer.

this is the church where bishop cummins absolved me of sin. that was right before they painted it dark orange. we called it "jesus and the giant peach" until it faded to a warm adobe beige.

this is the church where bishop cummins absolved me of my sins. that was right before the parish painted it dark orange. we called it "jesus and the giant peach" until it faded to a warm adobe beige.

here's a cool apartment building on park blvd. during the prop. 8 fiasco, there were reports of stolen anti-8 signs. luckily the g'view is also known as the "lesbian castro," so much of the signage remains.

here's a cool apartment building on park blvd. during the prop. 8 fiasco, there were reports of stolen anti-8 signs. luckily the g'view is also known as the "lesbian castro," so much of the signage remains.

look for this banner on the gna website one of these days. change is percolating.

look for this banner on the gna website one of these days. change is percolating.

One of the walks Johnny and I took will appear in an article coming out in the OakBook this spring. I wrote up three of my fave stairway strolls for the magazine. It could’ve been a book-length guide as there are many great walks in Oakland. Some are more urban than others; all are little voyeuristic pockets that make you feel like a neighbor.

For the car tour, I like to highlight the sights with a story. A running soundtrack of Bay Area funk is optimal but not necessary. When my buddy A. flies in for a week this Saturday, I’ll be sure to check these items off the must-see list:

• The tasty new restaurants Marzano and Bellanico in the G’view, and the empty space where À Côté will move very soon.
• The new cathedral by the lake that looks like a female body part (the inside, as you can imagine, is pretty awesome).
• The best Oakland taco truck on 22nd and International (press play on Roger Collins’ “Foxy Girls in Oakland” tune here).
• Mexican cookies and the transit village of the Fruitvale (my gramma B. lives in this ‘hood).
• My high school’s parking lot in East Oakland, where some dude stole my friend’s Suburban and then drove it off a cliff, magazine clips and all. (I first found out about this when I saw M.’s car on KTVU news, crashed into a house. Thank goodness no one was hurt.)
• The Coliseum (ruined by those supporting the Raiders’ return and where I love to see my A’s) and the strip by 880 (where the Matrix car chase was filmed), close to where the Oakland Tribune and Oakland Magazine reside.
• The sinewy road up Golf Links, past the Oakland Zoo, through the eucalyptus-lined drive and the entrance into Joaquin Miller Park.
• Just past the Chabot Space and Science Center, there’s a kick-ass view of the Bay. Lots of hiking opportunities around here.
• Swing back into Montclair, where I grew up before it got yuppie, and the field where my soccer team used to practice (go Maniacs). Drive by the old firehouse that closed down after the Hills Fire in 1991. I still remember what I took with me when my family evacuated.
• Take the Highway 13–24 on-ramp (love this) to West O. Cruise down 7th Street, past The Crucible, past my favorite papuseria, by Esther’s Orbit Room and the project formerly known as Slim Jenkins’ Club. Check out the sagging but beautiful Victorians.
• Head up the Mandela Parkway to North Oakland, past the annoying “Here…There” metal sculpture and down MLK. Show folks where the first Black Panther Party office opened, where my great-grandparents lived (under the BART tracks before the house was demolished), and the still standing home on 52nd where my gramma P. grew up.
• Hit up Bake Sale Betty’s before riding up 51st and into the Piedmont Ave. strip. We’ll drive through Fenton’s if we haven’t over-stuffed ourselves. Never can pass up their Black & Tan.
• Make it down past Mosswood Park (where my mom used to play as a girl) and toward Uptown, with all its newfound finery. Special visits to Oakland Fox and Oaksterdam landmarks.
• Roll by Lakeshore area, my fave commercial strip in town: Arizmendi, Lamyx, Peets, Urban Indigo, Spettro, Colonial Donuts, Maribel and my friends’ bar, The Easy. Always nice to get their sustainable cocktails on Saturday morning, when Kolin gathers fresh ingredients at the farmers market.
• And of course there’s my breakfast place of choice, Full House (Laurel district). I usually include this on a trip to Mills College, where I studied as a preschooler.
• If my visitor isn’t maxed out on historical references and foodstuffs, I’ll get us (more) ice cream at Loard’s on MacArthur before returning to my place in the G’view.

Since I’ve two other friends staying in San Francisco for the weekend, I may head to the “west side,” hopefully to the Mission or to see a new flick I’m interested in. Tomorrow, I’m checking out a new restaurant in Jack London Square area. More details on that very soon.