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The 7 Best Rock and Roll Bars of Oakland

Updated: Jan 13, 2018 14:19
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This guest post is by Kit Friday, besides having a dope name Kit can fucking write…and drink…judge for yourselves:

Sometimes you just want a beer. Sometimes you just want a beer in an edgy bar with low lighting, good looking people, and loud-ass music. Perhaps you also want that inhibition-loosening experience to be in Oakland. Trust me, I understand what you want. I personally have been setting my alocholing preferences to this dial for the past 14+ years I have lived in Oakland. I have been to the good, the bad, the meh and the yuppie. In an attempt to help steer you through the wasteland, I give you this list, the very best of the bars sporting the hardest rock and roll attitude and aesthetic in the 510.

7. The Heart and Dagger

heart and dagger

Rockers and dogs, they go together like a denim vest and spikes, all of which are plentiful at the Heart & Dagger Saloon. The large shaded out door area is the perfect place to listen to the music streaming from inside and kick back with a drink or twelve with a few of your best buddies. This joint doesn’t have live music… Well, no, that’s a lie. They very occasionally have live music, such as at their 5 year anniversary party earlier this year. However it is not often enough to bet the farm on. But worry not, their packed CD-flip style jukebox, nice pool table, and the multitude of severed doll heads hanging from the ceiling are enough to keep you occupied.

6. The Avenue

the avenue
This gnarly phoenix rose from the ashes of the late, great Connelly’s, a no-joke Oakland bar of yore. But trust, unlike some sad reproductions The Avenue is all glory. While they don’t have live shows or DJs, the bar’s juke box, constantly streaming rock music videos, and bad-ass bartenders put it on the list. I love taking friends from out of town here because the second they walk in the door they stop and look around, taking in the skeleton light fixtures, the rock posters and skateboards that stud the walls, and the always-busy pool table. The verdict from my guests is always the same: “Cooooooooool.” The Avenue also gets special points for their off-the-chain Halloween and Christmas decorations.

5. The Evil Twins (Ruby Room & Radio Bar)

ruby room
Like any true dynamic duo, it’s hard to name one without mentioning the other, and thus you get Downtown Oakland’s super group Ruby Room and Radio Bar. While they don’t have live music, they both boast a full roster of DJs spinning every night. Special nights to note are Ruby Room’s Tuesday night metal night and their ever third Tuesday punk/metal karaoke party and Radio Bar’s consistently charged weekly Friday rock night. These two have it all: great music; strong drinks to make everyone look good; extra low red lighting to make everyone look even better; and they are stumbling distance from one another. Bonus! The Ruby Room is turning Sweet 16 on July 30 and is throwing a massive party, go tell her happy birthday and meet your new favorite mistake.

4. Eli’s Mile High Club

elis mile high 2

Whenever I go into Eli’s Mile High Club I get The Misfits’ “Attitude” on loop in my head. It’s not like the people who patronize Eli’s are jerks, they just know what they like; and if you are in the business of knocking back cheap drinks and listen to live or DJ’ed punk/rock/metal in on a spacious patio, then welcome home. Eli’s is a music mainstay in the Bay Area, opening its door, as legend has it, in the early 50s, and they still continue their commitment to bring live music to West Oakland on an almost nightly basis. Now under new ownership, Eli’s is in the beginning stages of a massive makeover, that will include improvements being made to the stage area and increasing the already impressive patio out back.

3. The Golden Bull

golden bull
Stepping into the Golden Bull is like stepping into the mouth of a cave – it’s a relatively narrow passage, with cavernous ceilings and that just keeps on going back until it hits the stage. The ultimate benefit of this set up is that it naturally creates a great environment to see a show – there is ample room in the back of the bar by the stage to get right up and have your face melted off, or if you are trying to work your swerve you can sit at the bar and chill on a drink and enjoy the music from a distance. There are live acts most nights of the weeks, and on the days that there aren’t shows, there is a nice pool table set up in the area where the crowd would normally stand.

2. Night Light

night light
Meet the new kid on the block, The Night Light. Unlike most new kids in town, the Night Light isn’t acting like a sorry-ass Eagles song, whining around about having no friends. Instead they made a live music area upstairs with a full bar and a massive, richly-decorated downstairs bar area that features nightly DJs, including the amazing Joe Quixx who plays every 2nd, 3rd, and 5th Saturday. With this upstairs-downstairs set up, the Night Light has made itself the perfect one stop shop. Catch a show on the second floor and when that bad-boy is done, head on down to the main bar and dance your ass off until it’s time for them to kick you the hell out.

1. Merchants Saloon

merchant saloon
The crown jewel of all the heavy bars in Oakland is unquestionably the mighty Merchants Saloon. Rapidly approaching its 100th birthday, Merchants abrasively answers the question “How much?” with a resounding “More”. Sporting a double-sided bar and a pool table this diamond in the way rough also throws heavy hitting punk and rock shows several times a month, rad karaoke parties, and DJs (of whom I am occasionally one). This is hands down my favorite bar in the Bay, and perhaps in the world. It looks like what my wet dream of adulthood was when I was just a little shredder: killer music, awesome looking people, strong ass drinks, and they have two huge fish on the wall with light-up eyes. What else do you need? Bearing that endorsement in mind, be careful, this bar will chew you up and spit you out and have you begging the bar tender to 86 you (true story, I lived this sordid tale, which is a story for another time).

 Check out more of Kit Friday’s writing

All photos taken from venue social media sites

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