The Oakland Cocktail Week: All Good In the Neighborhoods series spotlights five Oakland bartenders, their bars, and the neighborhoods they’ve rooted in. Brigid Stanley, bar manager at the funky, punk disco-esque Radio Bar, gives us an on the ground report of Downtown Oakland and the developing changes.
If you had to describe Radio to someone who didn't know about it, how would you describe it?
I would describe it as a place, you would want to bring your best friend to have a real conversation. And then when you're ready for that to end you can pay attention to the world around you. Yeah, there's always something interesting happening in here. And then we have such great music.
What neighborhood is Radio in?
To me, this is truly downtown Oakland. We're lucky enough to share a side with Chinatown too. So we have that cultural influence. I have amazing regulars bringing me snacks. And yeah, I feel like I've been very welcomed here. It's been a lot of fun.
So what do you know about this neighborhood?
Well, even in the past couple of months, I've noticed just so much change. Unfortunately, we had a fatal shooting or not long ago across the street.
And the neighborhood had really struggled in terms of safety. And just getting a bad reputation for a lot of drug deals going on. Just general public concern. Well they shut down a few major chains. We noticed that it was most likely the epicenter a lot of those issues. So since then, and this again, happened very recently. There's just a sort of lightness. People are starting to feel like they can relax a little bit and just enjoy their drink. The regulars are actually really excited about the changes that are happening, which I don't know if you can say that about a lot of places that are developing. So it's a lot to take in. Things have really calmed down. So we had a lot of surveillance. And that made it I think, this block here, which is turning into the 13th Street Commons.
They're basically developing the whole block here, to kind of revitalize this neighborhood and bringing all of the cool new places in with the old together. And Radio is flexible as a bar. I mean, everyone wants to go to a dive bar, you know, at some point in our day. But they're adding planters and a mural. It's actually going to be quite an endeavor. So yeah, it's set to be finalized in a few weeks. Let's see.
Has the clientele been changing?
I see more women coming in. I see more women comfortable hanging out here alone.
Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because of the reputation for sure. And you know I’ve definitely made an effort to be very vocal about how much I love this neighborhood.
So what do you think Radio means to Oakland?
Yeah, well, one thing I've been very serious about is listening to the regulars, my last spot, that was always a big priority for me.
And while it is important to develop variety for our new clientele, that will inevitably be coming in the doors. It's important to keep things accessible and comfortable for the regulars. And so we've always been known as downtown Oakland's living room. And that'd be a pretty cool living room to have the variety of people we have here. I'm very proud of that.
What do you guys do to keep it accessible?
We keep very affordable pricing? First of all, there are certain things that maybe as an owner, I would have changed. But after listening to feedback of the community, I have not. We have an insanely long happy hour, which is always encouraging.
How long? Four to nine. Every day.
Yeah. Yeah. And then the DJ start around 10. So we basically are always offering either free entertainment, because we never charge a cover—so that's also an important credo of ours—or we offer very reduced drink specials.So either or, but also, it's just about all my bartenders as well are on the same page with me. We listen, you know, we listen to our patrons, and we care about them. You know, like I said, I have regulars already bringing me in snacks. It's a very considerate group of people. And they're also welcoming to new folks as well. So they like to talk. I've talked more in this bar than I ever have, which is great.
Can you describe the regulars?
Oh, yeah, it's cool. You know, it's such a mixed bag. We have our group that always hangs out by the pinball machine. We call them the pinball wizards. Of course. I have a pretty established, I'd say, closer to middle age group of musicians that hang out here. There's an opera singer that comes in who's pretty fabulous, of course. And then we have industry too, you know, they come in because they know, on a Wednesday afternoon, they can relax. They'll always hear good music. So we're all a bunch of music dorks. And that's why we're working in such a music centric bar. So they know they have that.
So what do you feel like is your role as a bar manager and bartender?
Yeah, it's interesting, I kind of take my manager hat off when I'm bartending. I'm actually the type of manager that keeps a low profile about being the manager, I found that really works to my success for a few reasons, I can get a lot more information out of people. And I can also observe them without them feeling observed.
But essentially, my role is listening. I feel. Yeah, I have a lot of enactment that I have to do is the general manager here. There's a lot of thoughtful maintenance that does go into keeping a dive bar as it should be! And it's important for me to maintain the established aesthetic as well. I love the minimalism of it. And to welcome new people while respecting the old.
So where do you see Radio in the next few years?
I think we're going to be a lot busier in the daytime. First of all, the apartment buildings. We already have a lot of day time lawyers coming. That's why we keep such a nice top shelf. I see us getting quite busy.
Check out Radio Bar during Oakland Cocktail Week September 20-29, 2019. Learn more about Oakland Cocktail Week.