A newspaper watering hole from days gone by was typically a spot around the corner of a newspaper where rough-around-the-edges men would drink and smoke, blowing off steam after deadline.
At the new Tribune Tavern, there are no cranky news men and, really, there’s no newspaper. But the spirit of an old time watering hole lives, especially in the busy front bar.
Tribune Tavern is in the historic Oakland Tribune building in downtown. The newspaper still exists, but it moved from the historic spot years ago and now has smaller offices in the Uptown area. But the Tribune building, and its iconic clock tower, is symbolic of the city’s spirit. So I was excited to see this new restaurant breathe new life into the area.
Opened for about a month, the bar is already attracting a large after-work happy hour crowd. When I went to meet my friends Sandy of Foodhoe’s Foraging and Christina of East Bay Dish for our dinner reservations, I got there early and tried to get a drink at the bar.
The strong drink program by beverage director Paul Christensen and bar manager Alfie Turnshek-Goins features cocktails that play on the old-time hard-drinking days such as Front Page and Man About Town. During happy hour, a selected list of drinks are offered up for $5, and I tried the “Fruit Loops,” a refreshing drink made of Reyka vodka and lemongrass phosphate. (For some reason, though, I thought a drink named Fruit Loops would have more color, but it was still refreshing.)
When we were seated at our table, we ended up still near the bar (despite making reservations). So Christina also gave some specialty drinks a try, including the Vic’s Fix (a play on Trader Vic’s Mai Tai, $9) and her favorite Front Page ($10) made with Wild Turkey 81 Rye, crème de cacao, Elisir MP Roux liquor and amontillado sherry.
The food, however, seemed to pale in comparison to the drink program. The menu include spreads and small plates, which seem to have the most interesting items. And then a “bigger” plate section.
The potted rabbit ($8) is a rich and great start to dinner, and the kale salad with roasted cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, pickled onions and clothbound cheddar ($10) is a huge salad with a delightfully light vinaigrette that allowed the kale to shine.
But my main meal of the Tavern burger ($14) didn’t hit the spot. Despite being cooked medium rare like requested, it seemed more rare than medium so it didn’t seem to have reached the point of heat to create that great juicy burger. Plus, the bun and sides seemed pretty regular.
Christina and Sandy went the decadent route with the “guilty fries” ($15), which is exactly like what it sounds – a large plate of French fries covered with beer and cheddar fondue and pulled pork. It’s like an Oakland version of the Canadian poutine.
Desserts picked up the creativity, like the chocolate pot de crème with caramel corn ($7) and the very mint-flavored ice cream sandwich ($6). But I really feel the cocktails is the lead story at Tribune Tavern, which has definitely brought a fresh look to a historic site.
Tribune Tavern, 401 13th St. (at Franklin), Oakland. PH: 510.452.TRIB. Open for dinner Mon.-–Sat., weekday happy hour, and weekday lunch. Reservations, major credit cards accepted. tribunetavern.com.
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