Grand Avenue Merchant News – February 2024

by Ken Katz

I went knocking on Grand Avenue shop doors on January 21, accompanied by Susi Vogler, a new member of the Splash Pad News team, not knowing that we were in for far more surprises than we could have ever anticipated.

Atop that list was Smitty’s Cocktails which closed at the start of the pandemic. As the Splash Pad News reported in May 2023:

The new owners are JJ Jenkins and Shari Murphy, who partnered in purchasing Baggys By the Lake in 2021. JJs stellar career also includes 17 years as owner of Merchants Saloon on 2nd Street near Jack London Square. From what he shared during a long phone conversation, the new version of Smittys will be cleaner and sport a new mural inside but, other than that, they want to keep Smittys authentic and honor its roots of being a friendly neighborhood bar.” 

As we reported just last month, we already knew that restoration of the original neon sign was about to commence but what we didn’t know was that JJ and Shari are pretty confident that they’ll be able to open sometime this month — even though the murals haven’t yet been painted  — but the walls have with a distinctly different color palette. Shari also pointed out that the shelving on the back bar used to be wood (as shown in a photo by Andrew C. published last year on SF Gate) and the conversion to glass has clearly made a huge difference in terms of aesthetics but will also be easier to keep clean. BTW: Alex Hoyt to Shari’s left has been hired as the bar manager after working for the past nine years at Acme Bar as well as other East Bay establishments.

The next surprise was just two doors up (next to Miss Saigon) where we learned that a new Bubble Tea shop called Suptea Lab was just about to have a soft opening. In addition to bubble teas, they will also offer a selection of snack foods.

On Thursday, February 1 from 6pm – 8pm, Panorama Framing will host an artists’ reception for a show featuring two local artists. Karen Stanton will display her multimedia collages and some sculptural mosaics, and Charlene Will will show her very sweet oil landscapes, along with her more abstracted digitally painted landscapes. Music will be provided by the Lowell High School Small Jazz Combo, and light refreshments will be served. 

The Grand Avenue Art Walk is scheduled for Thursday, February 8 from 5pm – 7pm. All the businesses that participated last year will be back with one addition: The Sanctuary. Although they’re not on the list, please be sure to check out the art show at Panorama Framing which is right next door if you missed the Grand Opening the week before. Lots of great art, local DJs, snacks and more.

Eddie Muller on the left; and on the right is Jeff Nelson and Christine Kuchler from North Dakota.

On the 21st, we also managed to “crash” the Grand Lake Theatre on the third day of the 10-day Noir City Film Festival. The Festival was launched in 2003 and last year, it moved here from the Castro Theater in San Francisco. On the upper floor, we were introduced to Eddie Muller, an Alameda resident who is the founder and president of the Foundation and co-programmer of the Oakland Noir City Film Festival and its satellite festivals — a long list of which is available on this nine-minute YouTube video, which is an existential experience in itself. Eddie advised that the Grand Lake Theatre festival is the largest and very best of the lot. He also confided that on Opening Night, which sold out, he gave San Franciscans a hard time for their unwillingness to travel “all the way” across the bridge to Oakland — noting that Film Noir fans came from all over specifically to attend this festival.

While having such a prestigious event here in Oakland is a major triumph in itself — especially considering the horrible publicity we’ve been getting of late — hats off to the management for simultaneously inviting Walden Pond Books to sell film noir books; and pairing up with Ikaros Greek restaurant, which offered special discounts to “passport” holders. The theater also promoted a petition to preserve the Regal United Arts Theater in Berkeley, which is an issue dear to the heart of Grand Lake Theater owner Allen Michaan, as evidenced by this article he wrote for the Berkeleyside.

From left: Freida, Chris, Christopher and Steve Chan.

One additional surprise on our Sunday walk was having the pleasure of meeting the Chan family, which owns all the properties from 3332 Grand (The Barbary) to 3344 Grand (The Sanctuary). As we walked up, they were out cleaning the sidewalk and adjacent parklet and also raking up leaves from the gutter. Steve, who lives in Tracy, said he drives up regularly to help his parents with maintenance and repairs in their commercial spaces as well as in their small apartment building. Their goal he said, in both cases, is to be good stewards and keep good tenants — minimizing turnover.

Michael’s Chocolates will be offering a boxed assortment specially-chosen for Valentine’s Day and during the Art Walk on Thursday, February 8, they will be providing free samples of chocolates and hot chocolate and also offering a 15% discount on purchases. 

Bake Sum, owner Joyce Tang said they will be celebrating the Lunar New Year with a special menu that will be listed on their website at where you can preorder. Joyce also revealed another, especially nice surprise: Bake Sum will be featured on KQED’s Check Please Bay Area on February 8 beginning at 7:30pm. Joyce Tang, the owner, also mentioned that their hours have been slightly adjusted and they’re now open Thursdays through Mondays from 8am – 2pm.

On Sunday, February 4, in honor of Lunar New Year, TwoTwo will host a show of artwork by Jocelyn Tsaih — one example of which is pictured above. As for the vintage typewriter, it’s not for sale, as CC Dolan and her staff use it to make price tags.

In addition to all the weekly special events at MeloMelo Kava Bar held on Mondays through Fridays, look for Cat’s Filipino Food Pop-Up on the 9th and Jade DeFrancia’s Ambitions Songwriting Showcase on the 10th. 

Ordinaire: Ordinaire’s owner Bradford Taylor is taking his entire staff on a wine-tasting adventure where they’ll be visiting their favorite vintners in Spain and France. During their absence, the shop will be open evenings only and staffed temporarily by friends. A Reggae Sunday is on tap for either February 10 or 17.

Alkali Rye: On Saturday, February 3, in honor of Lunar New Year, you can celebrate the Year of the Dragon at Alkali Rye with Laughing Gems wines. Tickets are available on Eventbrite. Also, check their event calendar periodically for tastings that have not yet been scheduled.

Flower Shops on Grand: Don’t forget that on Valentine’s Day, you have three flower shops on Grand to choose from — all of which are happy to take preorders

Grand Lake Theater: Coming to the Grand Lake Theatre in February: Argylle, Turning Red, Bob Marley: One Love, Madame Web, Drive-Away Dolls,Tenet, and Dune Pt2.


Ken Katz founded the Splash Pad Neighborhood Forum in late 1999 and, in his role as Chair, coordinated the community efforts to lobby for a new park and subsequently served as a liaison to the City of Oakland and to Walter Hood’s office during the planning process. The first Splash Pad Newsletters were emailed beginning circa 2006. He currently contributes to the monthly Splashpad News.




6 responses to “Grand Avenue Merchant News – February 2024”

  1. Susi Raub Vogler Avatar
    Susi Raub Vogler

    Ken, it was a super fun experience shadowing you on the Grand Avenue merchants check-in! Seeing how responsive the merchants were to you felt so connected! I feel honored to be a part of the Splash Pad News team and community that you have created and grateful that we can learn from your continued contributions!

  2. Tara Sumanaseni Avatar
    Tara Sumanaseni

    Ken, thank you for doing this newsletter for so many years. I always enjoyed getting the inside scoop on my neighborhood. I moved away from Oakland a few years ago, but I still enjoy getting to hear how it’s doing, and what I have to look forward to on my next visit. Thanks to the new editor for stepping up!

  3. Patty Coe Avatar

    Just mentioning that Susi’s name is spelled Raub Vogler (not Raab). Thanks for the news!

    1. Susi Raub Vogler Avatar
      Susi Raub Vogler

      Thanks Patty! Great to see neighbors reading and responding to the news letter! I’d be glad to interview any of you since everyone has a story!

  4. Joan Dark Avatar

    This is a great newsletter! Wish we had one for Piedmont Ave. Joan

  5. Keila Diehl Avatar
    Keila Diehl

    Great to see you’re still on the beat, Ken! Exciting new chapter for the newsletter. 🙂 – Keila