Our Pint Runneth Over: Oakland's Beer Garden Rennaissance

Photo: Patrick Fore

With beer gardens and gastropubs overflowing, and a potential endless summer on the horizen, the East Bay’s beer gardens are at an all time high.

From new locations you’d never imagine to food parings by Michelin-starred chefs, a voracious public and wellspring of creativity are fueling a full-blown renaissance.

Better grab another glass–this summer our concept of the beer garden as we know it runneth over.

If you tell a local where 2-year-old gastropub Portal is, they might not believe you.

The first of undoubtedly many new establishments to stake its claim on the historically marginal East side of Lake Merritt, Warren Rector launched his maiden restaurant on the shores Eastlake with an eye to the future.

“They sold crack across the street when we opened,” Rector says. Thanks to a little community policing with neighbors Rocking Crawfish and 5 & Dime Tattoo, Rector says the his neck of the woods have come a long way.

Marginal or up-and-coming, the neighborhood crime rate appears to have little impact–it’s a jumping Friday night. “The young crowd now doesn’t care,” Rector admits.

The outdoor community tables overlooking the lake, fashioned from pallets lit with soft Edison lighting and standing heaters, sit loaded with the usual (twenty-something) suspects. There’s a waiting list in the front and a 3’ custom Jenga tower in the back, “but you should have seen Wednesday,” General Manager Betty Smith said, “we were packed.”

What happened Wednesday to fill up the joint in the middle of the week? Not a Twitter blast or Instagram campaign–“the sun came out…People come in right off the lake with strollers.” And it’s not just the 15 rotating taps and housemade pickles—even brunch is popping off.

Other long-stunted neighborhoods are getting in on the act as well. Alameda’s new-kid-on-the-block Faction Brewing, located at the West end of the Island City on the edge of the former naval base, tapped its first keg last September 25th.

Recruited by the City of Alameda onto waterfront digs that sport a sensational 180 degree San Francisco skyline vista and a salty bay breeze that pairs nicely with their hop heavy offerings, Faction has already tripled its production in 4 short months due to demand. “From 1,300 barrels at launch to 4,000,” Assistant Brewer Chris Villamediana said.

They’ve already outgrown the 65,000 square foot waterfront warehouse they split with Hanger One Vodka. “We already feel stunted in terms of space,” Villamediana said.

Locations aren’t the only thing being innovated. A veritable posse of new ventures, from some of the Bay’s most established breweries to the wildly experimental, wait in the wings with plans as diverse as their drafts on tap.

Oakland hometown hero Linden Street Brewery will redefine the beer garden’s epicurean limits by paring Brewmaster Adam Lamoureux’s custom beers with unprecedented provender from Michelin-starred Chef James Syhabout of Commis and Hawker Fare fame.

Located directly next to Linden Street’s brewing facility in West Oakland and sporting a sunset exposure, the 2 seasonal cask, 15 tap, aptly named ‘The Dock’ should open its roll-up doors this May.

Not every new spot is going big—some are going home.

Luke Janson, the wunderkind woodworker behind some of the Oakland Temescal Alley’s most popular spots like Temescal Barber Shop and Crimson, and Duende manager Hillary Hussard are slated to take the wrappings off their new unnamed microbrewery next to the brick and herb garden back courtyard of Pizzaialo round year’s end.

A heavy rotation of seasonal hyper-micro batches like spicy saisons, schwartzbeers and gruets (herbal beers using other flavorings than hops) from collaborations with its innovative soon-to-be-neighbor Homestead Apothecary will all be made on site.

But that’s not all folks.

Upcoming downtown Oakland’s Lock & Key will cut the ribbon at 21st and Telegraph on a lush 7000 square foot family-friendly garden behind the Paramount Theater this spring. Diving Dog Brewery, also to be located in Downtown Oakland, plans on offering in-house brewing facilities so people can make their own beers.

A runaway train of a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, these sunshine specialists are barreling through the intersection of Known Quantity and Manifest Destiny into uncharted territory.

Trailblazing aside, is oversaturation a concern for these new owners? “I would open another [gastropub],” Rector of Portal said. Whereabouts? “International [blvd]. Start on the [West] end and go down.”

The frontier beckons.