The Oakland Cocktail Week: All Good In the Neighborhoods series spotlights five Oakland bartenders, their bars, and the neighborhoods they’ve rooted in.
Starline Social Club, the always buzzing bar and performance venue, opened in 2015 within an historic Odd Fellow community building which over a century has moonlighted as an underground music venue to a cleaning supply store which gives it its current namesake. We caught up with bar manager, Tayler Sampson, to learn how Starline takes inspiration from its historic roots in connecting with the community.
Can you tell us what neighborhood we're in?
Yeah, so this, everyone likes to call this area Uptown. But we're definitely West Oakland. I think people want to connect it to like a trending and more up and coming part of town. People who aren't from here or are just new to the area can all relate to Uptown. But we consider ourselves West Oakland to be true to our roots.
So this building has a lot of history, do you know much about the story behind it?
I know that it's a historic building. I know that it used to be an Odd Fellows meeting hall. And that's why we kind of like to stick to that theme, like as far as a community [of activists] and awareness of what's going on around us but being truly like a social gathering, like a formal meeting hall for people.
So what impact do you think Starline has made on the neighborhood?
A very positive one for sure. We like to give back we like to take care of our neighbors. If you've ever been to Starline you know that you can look across the street and you'll see a whole camp of people and they've been there for years. And it's funny, because most of the bartenders who have been here, we can relate and we know a lot of people out there, you know, so we like to help them out. Usually, once a year, we do a really big homeless drive. Every month we look for a new nonprofit to fundraise for. This month is called Rhythm, Beats and Rhymes. And it's like hip hop inspired, giving back to the community helping kids out through like poetry and rap. So we like to participate in things like that.
What's your favorite cocktail?
Let's see before it was definitely like, kind of just a crowd pleaser like a spicy mezcal Margarita. But lately, I've really been into more like low ABV cocktails. A lot of sherry drinks. A little like vermouth-y drink stirred. Yeah, that's what my go to lately, and my guilty pleasure or like those canned cocktails, you know, they're trending. Not the white closet. weekend one. It's like a high. They're called high moons. And they're actually a really, really good,.
What's your favorite drink to make?
That's a tough one. My favorite drink to make here. Are sometimes just like martinis, like a nice little stir cocktail. Because even though those seem the simplest, there's only two to three ingredients. There's like nowhere to hide. So it has to be a perfect balance, and I feel like that that's a lot of feedback that I get from customers. Like they'll keep coming to me, because they like the consistency and the balance of my cocktails.
What is Starline’s approach behind the bar?
I say that we definitely just go for individuality. Just being yourselves, we stand behind that. Like, yeah, it's important to be up to date with trends, but it's most important to just be yourself. And we really highlight that in our staff and encourage that amongst our bartenders like, you don't, you shouldn't feel like you have to fit into a box. As far as I can making drinks. You can do whatever you want to do. You can be as creative as you want, you know, there's like no right or wrong way, which is really, really fun. And it's nice to see everyone's process, like how different we're able to kind of come up with the same thing. So yeah, the most important is just to be yourself.
How has Starline impacted Oakland?
We're all about community. Building community, helping community, sustaining community. And for the four and a half years that we've been open, a lot of our customers definitely see that in us. That's why they like to support our business and support the staff here. So yeah, I'd say the most important thing is just being aware of where we are, and being true to Oakland and keeping it Oakland.
You know, no matter how popular we get, no matter how big we hit, like, yeah, I'm gonna stay Oakland.
What does it mean to stay Oakland?
It means being able to come into the bar by yourself, looking at the person on your right and on your left, and just being able to start conversation. You know, no matter how different you are, you could be drinking a beer, I could be drinking an Aperol Spritz. But there's a strong chance that, you know, we live in the same neighborhood that we frequent the same bars. So just being able to kind of build relations with people in your neighborhood, you know? Like fairly too often when I'm in San Francisco, you know, I can be house sitting for friends saying there for two weeks, and you walk down the street, you see the same people, they don't say hi to you, they don't acknowledge you, you know? That's not how we consider Oakland. Like, it's so important to know your neighbors, go outside, speak to "strangers," We just want to help each other out.
Check out Starline Social Club and West Oakland during Oakland Cocktail Week September 20-29, 2019.