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Employees Save Jack London Square’s Favorite Pub, Sláinte Oakland

Updated: May 20, 2024 08:45
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I’m sure you’d agree that the hallmarks of a great Irish pub include great drinks, a thriving community, authentic Irish food and live music. Sláinte Oakland in Jack London has all of that but its origin story and remarkable revival following the closure in 2023 is what gives this place its heart.

We often write about restaurants and favorite bars that close due to unforeseen circumstances (or sometimes totally predictable reasons) but it’s not often that we get to write about a restaurant that quite literally came back from the dead after shuttering. Sláinte’s story is a heartwarming and inspirational tale of a community who saved a very special place and how its employees have bound together to keep this bar open and thriving for years to come.

Inside the beautiful Sláinte Oakland bar – photo by Vita Hewitt

About The Resurrection of Sláinte in 2023

Let’s take a mini-trip down memory lane. Jackie Gallanagh opened Sláinte back in 2017. Gallanagh is from Ireland and set out to create an Irish pub that was as authentic as possible, reminding her of home. Originally an Indian restaurant, the bar had to be completely gutted for a complete renovation, with everything redesigned specifically for the space. She brought in charming Irish pub details throughout the bar (like copper Irish symbols and knots that decorate the walls and bar), and designed a menu that featured her family recipes.

Inside the beautiful Sláinte space – photo by Vita Hewitt

When Gallanagh announced that the bar was shutting down just 6 years after it first opened, the community was really disappointed and felt let down. Sure, there are other bars nearby like the historic Heinold’s First and Last Chance Saloon and Merchants just around the corner, but there isn’t anything like the warmth of Sláinte Oakland.

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Of course people came to bid farewell to the pub through its last weeks. Two of the original employees, Joe Lee and Edward (Eddie) Bustos stopped by the pub one evening on Bustos’ birthday and raised a glass to say goodbye to the bar and remember the good ole days. They jokingly sent a selfie to Gallenagh asking where she was during their send-off. What happened next got a ball rolling that changed everything.

Two of the three Sláinte owners (Ginny Brown not pictured), Eddie Bustos and Joe Lee – photo by Vita Hewitt

Remembering it vividly, Lee told me how it all happened, “Eddie and I were in Jack London Square area celebrating his birthday and we decided to stop by Sláinte to say farewell to Jackie and to her/our beloved pub. I was part of the opening crew and later became its GM, at that point I brought Eddie on board. We reached out to Jackie because she wasn’t there. We told her we were here and wanted to say hello and give her a squeeze. She texted back,”You want to buy a pub?” Our response was, “Maybe??”.

She texted back,”You want to buy a pub?” Our response was, “Maybe???”.

Stunned and not sure where to start, and maybe a little buzzed from a couple of goodbye pints,  Lee and Bustos said they would think about it. Long story short, after bringing in one other partner, Ginny Brown, crunching the numbers and getting all the ducks in a row, just 6-weeks after the bar had “officially closed for good”, Sláinte reopened!

Sláinte’s Fish & Chips just may be the best in California – photo by Vita Hewitt

More About The Sláinte Oakland Team

So let’s officially meet the mighty trio behind that saved this special place, shall we?

Hailing from an almost comically long number of Bay Area establishments, the new owners of Sláinte are seasoned professionals. Lee has worked in the front and back of the house over the years and this experience has translated over to an exceptionally delicious menu as well as a top-notch bar menu. All three owners worked together at Barrel House Tavern in Sausalito but that’s not the only time that their paths crossed as Brown and Lee both worked at SF’s Park Chalet in the past as well as Bustos and Lee working at multiple other establishments together.

Shante Wesley is their delightful Sláinte server and has been there since before the reopening – photo by Vita Hewitt

What Makes Sláinte Oakland Special?

Sláinte (pronounced slahn-cha) is Gaelic and simply means “Cheers”. And I swear, this is a “Cheers” type place where you can go and surely everybody will know your name. While the community that surrounds this pub is a highlight and the beer selection is great, I’ll keep coming back for the food!

When I went there a few weeks ago, my friend and I sampled a bunch of things on the menu assuming it would be your standard bar food. I was pleasantly surprised by the level of care they put into their food service and their menu is varied, delicious, and has a great mix of traditional Irish selections like chowder, shepherd’s pie, and classic fish & chips – all house made by the dynamic duo Henry Espinosa and Eduar Mejia who have worked with Lee to really take the menu up a notch!

The talented Sláinte Cooks, Henry Espinosa & Eduar Mejia. The owners give all food kudos to this dynamic duo – photo by Vita Hewitt

Did y’all ever have any of the fish and chips back in the day at Edinburgh Castle in SF? Way back in the late 2000s, my friends and I used to grab them during a bi-weekly Wednesday soul event called 1964. Trying the Sláinte fish and chips brought me right back to those days, with the soulful sounds flooding back. I was even chatting with Bustos about it and he agreed that Sláinte’s version is probably as close as it gets to that iconic late-night meal at Edinburgh back in the day.

Lee recommends, “Guinness is no doubt the best seller here. I’m proud of our pint. I feel it may be the best in Oakland. Our Irish coffee is hard to beat as well. Our Fish & Chips are the best I’ve had in California. The Lamb Sliders are a constant crowd pleaser and people fiend for the Spiced Guinness Cake.”

My friend and I tried a good little chunk of the drink menu and my favorite by far was the Irish Coffee with thick cream top, yummy Irish whiskey and Oakland’s own Bicycle Coffee (neighbors of Sláinte, too!). You often see Irish Coffee’s with the cream mixed in and this particular one done expertly was nice because you could really taste the whiskey and coffee while still getting a taste of the cream with every sip.

Sláinte Oakland’s Irish coffee featuring Jack London’s own Bicycle Coffee photographed with the shepherd’s pie – photo by Vita Hewitt

Although the Guinness is your best bet for a more authentic Irish meal add-on, the cocktails at Sláinte are amazing.

What’s Coming Up at Your New Fav Irish Pub in Oakland?

It’s of note that the team at Sláinte is genuinely excited to keep adding more and more fun things onto their calendar and you can expect to see some great things ahead from that team. They currently have a mostly rotating calendar of traditional Irish music, other styles of live music & fun events that range from music to various other types of interesting shows (like the one they have on the 23rd of this month) hosted by The Story Edge featuring storytellers sharing captivating tales.

Their Irish music sessions are bi-weekly on Thursday evenings. I mentioned this fun fact a couple weeks ago but my Dad is a traditional Irish musician. So, when I heard that there is a bi-weekly session at Sláinte I reached out to a couple of the musicians I know and asked them about this particular session to get the full scoop.

For sessions at Sláinte you can find up to 10 musicians and usually will be a regular set of players with some traveling from as far away as Davis to join in on the fun. During a session, players will sit in a circle with various types of traditional instruments such as bodhráns (Irish drums), fiddles, flutes and even sometimes an accordion to play traditional Irish tunes informally. Usually these types of informal musical gatherings are FREE and it’s a great way to listen to some live music while enjoying the atmosphere of your favorite bar.

Inside Sláinte Oakland – photo by Vita Hewitt

If you can’t wait to listen to some amazing music at Sláinte, it’s worth mentioning that there is a really cool Scottish music show in Berkeley this weekend on Sunday the 19th at Freight & Salvage featuring over 100 musicians members of The San Francisco Scottish Fiddlers and led by master fiddle player Alasdair Fraser. If you love this type of music, it’s not to be missed. It’s an early show so you can stop by Sláinte afterward for a pint and a bite to eat.

Where to Find Sláinte Online & How to Support Them:

Living here, we see so many of our favorite places come and go so often it feels like a revolving door of disappointment. Talking with Lee, it wasn’t as if they had a million dollars at the ready to make their dream come true. They worked as a team and, with help from their community, they were able to put all the pieces together and make the big jump into bar ownership. They take so much pride in what they serve and how they show up for the neighborhood. With the solid foundation that Gallanagh built, all three owners have come together to really up-level the bar using the skills they have each obtained while working in the bar and restaurant industry for so long.

The lamb sliders are a standout on their menu at Sláinte Oakland – photo by Vita Hewitt

Supporting a restaurant or bar in The Bay is pretty simple. It’s about showing up and grabbing a pint with your friends every now and then for a game or live music – or – simply adding them on socials and sharing this awesome spot with friends you know will love it. Here’s to seeing Sláinte Oakland thrive for years to come.
IG: @slainteoakland
A full list of their events here

All images done by Vita Hewitt: @vita_hewitt_art_and_wanderings

Just a small sampling of Sláinte’s delicious menu – photo by Vita Hewitt


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Katy Atchison

Katy Atchison

Katy has lived in The Bay Area since the age of 3. While other kids were attending summer camp & soccer practice, she was raised selling wares at craft shows with her working artist parents and spent vacations in a small 1920s Montana log cabin. This has all given her a unique perspective on the ever-changing texture of San Francisco and the Greater Bay Area. Currently a blend of all that is The Bay Area - she's a web designer at a tech-company, artist and DIY teacher.