Locals and visitors, from across the bay and beyond, love Oakland’s laidback but happening vibe which one can experience in the bar scene.
In Oakland you will find many newer stylish, trendy bars where hip bartenders act as pro-mixologists, but you can find even more unpretentious, straightforward locales where people in the community have been gathering for years.
Checking out the bars is one of the best ways to discover Oakland and its unique personality and flare. Here is a list of local favorites that range from classy to dive-y to queer.
1. The Trappist
The Trappist is one of Oakland’s most well-known, premier bars thanks to its excellent selection of artisan beers and refined décor. They have 25 rotating taps and a rotating bottle list that feature specialty beers from Belgium, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and the U.S. It’s also a very stylish locale to be as the bar is located in an 1870’s Victorian building in downtown Oakland and the interior is modeled after the owners’ favorite European pubs and bier cafes. The Trappist has become a staple in swanky Downtown Oakland and is a must when visiting the area.
2. Café Van Kleef
Café Van Kleef is a local favorite thanks to its laidback and retro ambience. The question everyone will ask you when talking about this place is “Have you tried their greyhounds?” The greyhounds made with fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice and hard liquor of your choice are incredibly popular in Oakland and beyond and worth making the trip downtown to Telegraph and 17th. Almost every inch of this fun, quirky bar is covered with props, baubles, artifacts and art collected by the bar’s owner, Peter Van Kleef. This place is definitely a classic Oakland establishment that’s been there since way back and continues to be there for locals, old and new, today.
3. Room 389
Room 389 is a classy cocktail lounge that’s located in the classy part of town next to Lake Merritt. It’s a dim, relaxing venue with chic, not too over-the-top décor. The bartenders are of the well-dressed dandy hipster type with hair slicked to the side, suspenders and tattoos peeking out under rolled up sleeves. They’re also skilled mixologists and use fresh fruits and garnishes for their cocktails—I had the best old-fashioned I’ve ever had at here. For those looking for a nice, classy time around beautiful Lake Merritt, Room 389 is perfect with good music, well-crafted cocktails and fashionable, friendly bartenders.
4. The Avenue
As far as casual dive bars go, it doesn’t get better than The Avenue in Temescal, North Oakland. It feels incredibly nice and welcoming for anyone who walks in and it feels like a typical dive bar without being super grungy or gross. The bar is spacious with lots of places to sit and Oaklandish locals of all ages. With lots of Warriors, A’s and other Oakland paraphernalia, it’s a place that brings the community together where everyone can easily interact in a laidback atmosphere. Go to The Avenue if you’re looking for cheap beers and drinks and chill, unpretentious vibes.
5. The White Horse Bar
The White Horse deserves recognition as the nation’s oldest gay bar that’s been around in the same spot and as a friendly neighborhood establishment where those who are gay, straight, queer and everything in between can be themselves. The appearance and vibe of the bar embody the difference between the LGBTQ scene in Oakland and that in San Francisco: the White Horse is fierce but inviting, without any of the super sassy, polished luster of today’s Castro. It’s a place where people can be themselves, mingle, hang out and have fun with fabulous events like drag shows and Queer Idol.