east oakland

The Rise of the Cooler

The East Bay Express

I’m sitting on the concrete floor of a garage, my back against a pole. To my right, a girl braids auburn weave into another girl’s hair. Three teenagers sit on a couch to my left and a lone teddy bear, clutching a red velvet heart inscribed with “I Love You,” occupies a couch in the corner. The smell of weed permeates the air and a Drake song plays in the distance. Everyone in the room has a drink. Even me.

mg_news2_3708Deirdre, the woman in charge, is puffing on a blunt when her cellphone rings. It’s her fourth call in less than twelve minutes. “Hello?” she says, passing the blunt to her eldest daughter. Deirdre’s hair is styled in an asymmetrical bob with a solitary blue streak down one side. Her matching sweatsuit set — gray cotton with white detailing — is from the Victoria’s Secret Pink collection and has a rhinestoned labrador retriever emblazoned on the breast.

She gives the caller directions to her location. “The garage is open, honey,” she says. “When you’re here, just come to the garage and I’ll get them ready for you.”

She hangs up as two petite women — one carrying a baby, the other a toddler — enter the garage. Deirdre (whom the Express has agreed to not fully identify) showers them with a barrage of questions. How many do you guys want? You want regular or virgin? What flavors do you want? Y’all been here before? Or is it your first time? The women order two pink lemonades and one virgin blueberry drink. “Got it,” Deirdre says, heading into the house to retrieve the drinks. A few minutes later, she returns with three slushy-like cocktails. (Click here to read more)

A Neighborhood Reawakens

The East Bay Express

Caffe Nonna on the corner of Bancroft Avenue.

Caffe Nonna on the corner of Bancroft Avenue.

Few people, if any, refer to the crossroads of Bancroft and Fairfax Avenues in East Oakland as the Bancroft-Fairfax Business District—and yet, there’s a sign at the intersection designating it as such.  Most people know it by one of its older names, like Antique Row or Antique Alley, even though the last antique shop closed down about two decades ago.  Since then, the district has struggled to reinvent itself.  In the early 2000’s, hair salons and barbershops were the main industry and the rest of the neighborhood was pocked with empty storefronts.

Fast-forward to today, and these dark ages are but a distant memory. The Bancroft Fairfax Business District is experiencing a comeback as a shopping destination. The economy is thriving and nary a storefront is vacant. In the last year, six new businesses, among them a clothing store, a café, a coffee shop and tattoo parlor, have opened and the neighborhood’s first-ever Merchant’s Watch Association was formed. A skincare salon is slated to open this summer, and plans for a parking lot, fitness center, and multi-unit live/work space are underway. The neighborhood still has a ways to go, but the future is starting to look much brighter.

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A Cafe Oasis in Deep East Oakland

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The East Bay Express

The chances of finding a cup of coffee in deep East Oakland — not to mention a sandwich or a pastry to go with it — are relatively slim. The nearest Starbucks or Peet’s is in Alameda or by the airport. So if you’re jonesing for a cup of joe, there’s only one place to go: Caffe Nonna.

On January 25, Sandra Bradford opened Caffe Nonna on the corner of Bancroft and Fairfax avenues, in one of deep East Oakland’s oldest (and perhaps only remaining) commercial districts. Forty years ago, the area was known as “Antique Row” because of its many stores selling furniture, ceramics, and other artifacts from bygone eras, but today, hair salons and barber shops occupy most of the storefronts. There are a few eateries in the area, such as Luis’ Coffee Shop, Westbrook’s BBQ and Seafood, and Taqueria La Nueva, as well as a smattering of other businesses including a Laundromat, dollar store, botánica, auto repair shop, and a liquor store. This has not been a part of Oakland where you’d find turkey pesto panini or spinach salads — until now.

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