GRAND AVENUE, WEST OF 580 – May 2015
Hello, Neighbors! It’s a little weird to add a sidebar to a feature about Sidebar, but here goes. In June, July and August, I will provide updates on the progress of plans previously noted in this blog, other changes on Grand Ave., west of 580, and activities at Lake Merritt Park. – LZ.
If you have lived, worked or played in the neighborhood for more than a minute, you have seen the changes unfolding on Grand Avenue. Enterprises are growing, relocating, redesigning, and sometimes replacing former favorite spots. Usually, worthy of the street’s name, the change is grand to see and to experience. But sometimes we hesitate to embrace the new.
Remember Trio’s Bistro and Café? Remember the wonderful French county-style cuisine that chef Chantal and her Scottish mother Camilla served? Maybe you even remember Chantal’s French father, Roger, before he passed away. When Chantal and Camilla retired in 2007, do you remember wondering if anything could ever replace that favorite neighborhood spot?
In 2008, first there were rumors and then a buzz throughout the neighborhood. Someone saw the previous owners of Berkeley’s Zax Tavern eyeing the vacant site! Passersby chatted with the neighborhood’s new suitors; turned on our neighborhood charm; gushed warm welcoming messages and hoped that this was not a betrayal of what we had loved about Trio’s.
In February, 2009, Mark Drazek and his wife, Barbara Mulas, opened Sidebar. The beautiful central bar was Barbara’s dream, and it reinvented the experience of drinking and dining in the neighborhood. Patrons seated at this bar have a different energy than if they were staring at a wall or at a mirror looking at themselves. Sitting here feels like a big, community table where you are likely to chat with others you have never met before. The bartenders are friendly and engaging as they explain the ingredients in classic cocktails like the Castle Harbor Special, or in original Sidebar cocktail creations, like Caged Heat or the Mezcal Gimlet.
The central bar is a comfortable place to enjoy your dinner, or you can choose a table in a cozy nook, or at the front where windows open, café style, onto the sidewalk with a view of Lake Merritt and the pergola and colonnades. What dishes should you try? Mark coyly suggests, “We think our burger is pretty good. Really, we just use good ground beef [from Niman Ranch] and keep it simple.” Or, try smoked trout salad, roasted kabocha squash soup with arugula pesto, or classic mussels in Pernod cream sauce with shoestring potatoes. The Oaktown Spice Shop – now operating next door – supplies the paprika for Sidebar’s smoked paprika fries as well as Sidebar’s other spice needs.
Mark and Barbara enjoy the eclectic mix of people enjoying Sidebar. “On any given night, look around and you’ll see Oakland,” says Mark. “Even as more restaurants open in the neighborhood, Sidebar remains popular, so there must be more people coming to the area,” he observes. When asked if he had any plans to expand, Mark said, “Only if we could maintain the same high quality service that people deserve and expect here. Our servers and bartenders stay with us for years, usually only leaving if they move away from the area. For example, one 5-year employee just left to go to school in Philadelphia. Because they stay, they recognize our frequent customers. It feels like family here.”
You can visit the Sidebar website but you will mainly see basic info and an announcement of Mussel Madness Mondays and Goat Cheese Soufflé Wednesdays. Just go! Enjoy! Mark, Barbara and their team focus on artisanal cocktails, delicious food, and very friendly service. What more do you need to know?
542 Grand Ave.
Oakland, CA 94610