Oakland bars are reopening outside because of the Versatile Road Initiative

Guests at Bar Shiru on Telegraph Avenue on the first weekend of the bar’s “Flex Street” reopening. Photo: Pete RososA version of this story first appeared on Berkeleyside’s sister site, The Oaklandside.

Bar Shiru, a hi-fi vinyl audible on the Telegraph in downtown Oakland, had barely been open a year when the pandemic forced it to close. It has been closed since March and can only sell spirits sealed by the manufacturer. But this weekend, owners Shirin Raza and Daniel Gahr took part in the city’s new Flex Street initiative, four expanded outdoor seating areas with enclosed streets and sidewalks for customers to sip and eat while socializing outdoors .

The initiative is a collaboration between the city, county, downtown, and Uptown Community Benefit Districts (CBDs) and small business owners. The CBDs have hand washing stations and accessible porta potties at each location, as well as signs reminding people to distance themselves socially, wear masks and wash their hands. Large orange water tanks prevent traffic from entering the “flexible roads” area, but there is still room for emergency vehicle access.

The four new locations for flexible roads are:

  • 13th Street, between Broadway and Franklin Street (13th Street Commons)
  • Washington Street, between 8th and 9th streets in Old Oakland
  • Telegraph Avenue, between 16th and 17th Streets (Van Kleef Way)
  • Webster Street, between West Grand Avenue and 22nd Street

While Alameda County’s COVID cases have declined over time, it is here that “widespread” virus transmission continues, and Oakland continues to have the highest number of new cases. In addition, a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control showed an association between the transmission of COVID and eating and drinking in restaurants, including outdoor dining. Some may wonder if this is the best time to invite more people to gather in person at Oakland restaurants.

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“People crave social interaction, and creating a safe space that can breathe life back into the community seems to be a success for everyone,” says Gahr from Bar Shiru. While the CBD Ambassador’s staff visit the sites to help with general cleaning and hygiene, individual companies are responsible for ensuring that their guests adhere to state company guidelines during the COVID. During a brief afternoon visit last weekend, dozens of guests sat at widely spaced tables in various restaurants and bars, holding masks without eating or drinking. Numerous signs reinforced the COVID safety rules.

Bar Shiru owners Shirin Raza and Daniel Gahr hope that the Flexible Roads Initiative will help offset the losses suffered from the COVID pandemic. Photo: Pete Rosos

Right now, seating is first come, first served, but if the concept catches on some businesses may require reservations. Companies design their rooms in their own way within the blocked streets. The Athletic Club on Webster and Broadway, for example, installed artificial turf and a white picket fence for its outdoor iteration Town Garden.

Can the Bar Shiru team transfer the intimate, music-oriented experience of their bar into nature? “We can’t,” says Gahr, “so we’re trying to create a space that feels cozy and inviting, not just a few folding chairs in the street. It is a challenge to meet our standards in the blink of an eye. “They also implement a party maximum of four people and a table limit of 90 minutes and plan to be open outside from 4pm to 9pm Thursday through Saturday. Masks are required at all times, whether guests are seated at their table or not interacting with staff. The bar’s indoor toilet is only available to one customer at a time.

Raza is excited to introduce a new set of international themed cocktails for Oakland Cocktail Week, which runs for a month this year through October 11th. This is in part a fundraiser for participating Oakland businesses that offer mixed drinks. The event started two years ago as a week-long event, and Daphne Wu, one of the organizers, says moving to a month during the pandemic will allow more of a “runway” to achieve the event’s goals: bringing people back to their favorite places, whether you can visit takeaway or al fresco bars and collect $ 75,000 for independent bars, especially bars that couldn’t open due to the pandemic, as well as bars owned by black, indigenous, other colored people and / or women are.

Fundraising is done by the Indie Alliance in Oakland, which supports small businesses, many of which are restaurants and bars. According to a recent survey by the organization, 47% of Oakland small businesses could only survive without an income for one to three months. “The community has an agency that helps make a difference,” said Ari Takata-Vasquez, executive director of the Indie Alliance. Earlier this summer, Allianz helped raise over $ 150,000 for small businesses whose windows were broken during protests.

A portion of the fundraiser will take place at AMP Oakland’s virtual happy hour concerts every Friday through October 9th. The series is run by local DJ and producer Champagne Hughes with Lady Bianca, Uriah Duffy and Collectivity, Briget Boyle and Mr.B & TuBeNu Cultural Collectors. Events will culminate on October 10 with the Town Throwdown Championship, where locals can vote on cocktails from their favorite takeaway tavern.

“We need every opportunity to do something else to get people’s attention,” says Wu, who shared data with another partner, Visit Oakland. This shows that some credit card sales to restaurants in Oakland declined 82% in the second quarter of 2020 compared to last year.

“Together we have a lot of power, we’re scratchy and we don’t go down without a fight,” said Wu. “And I really think we’ll get stronger when we get out on the other side.”

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