Posts Tagged ‘Westlake’


Dine About Oakland: CommonWealth

February 14, 2011

Yeah, yeah, yeah, still here. And our kitchen is still not done, so still no time for writing. But one of my new year’s resolutions was to try to shake the dust off this blog and get it up and running again…though given that it’s already February, I’m not doing so well on that front! I’m going to try starting with some bite-sized tidbits in the interim, though.

So for now, here’s a happy Valentine’s post on CommonWealth, one of Oakland’s newer restaurant pubs, which is rapidly becoming one of my favorite neighborhood haunts (and that’s not just because we still have no working stove and they have shepherd’s pie!) CommonWealth opened last summer not long before our wedding, so although we sent some of our wedding guests there to watch World Cup games, we didn’t actually go ourselves until many weeks later. For most of 2010, they had pretty limited hours, and were often closed when we wanted to go. (This is, incidentally, one of the biggest frustrations of living in an up-and-coming gourmet hot spot in the shadows of downtown; lots of restaurants debut with weekday lunchtime hours, which I understand but which we can never make, so I get all excited and then have to wait for weeks for nighttime or weekend hours…augh!) But happily, with the arrival of 2011 came expanded hours so that CommonWealth is now open every day of the week, and every night except Sunday! In recent weeks, with no easy way to cook, we’ve headed there for all sorts of tasty goodness. (They also now have a gorgeous new façade, so if you haven’t been to go check it out, go take a look!)

The little storefront CommonWealth is in used to be a coffee shop, and it’s very tiny for a bar. But they’ve packed it with tables and lined the windows with stools, so we’ve never had a problem finding a place to sit (though I will say that they are more and more crowded with each passing week…) On the drinks front they just serve beer and wine, but they always have a great and largely local selection of those (plus interesting sodas, coffee, breakfast, and lunch, too). They also offer wifi, so there’s usually a small laptop contingent.

There’s a basic menu of sandwiches, salads, and soups, but the real treats are usually the specials. Shepherd’s pie pops up regularly, and a few weeks ago they even had a veggie haggis version. We’ve tried mac and cheese, pasties, sandwiches, and my favorite, their excellent beet salad. Dessert was also delicious: a chocolate stout float with cookie ‘n’ caramel sauce on the side! Really, how can you beat that? Beer on tap is often local and always interesting and varied; it’s never been the same selection twice, even when we’ve been there two nights running. There’s also a bottle list that is pretty consistent, plus an assortment of wines, sodas, and other drinks if alcohol isn’t your thing.

My favorite thing about CommonWealth, though, is that they are also an exceptional coffee shop, something that our immediate neighborhood is sorely lacking. (Yeah, I know we can walk to Piedmont or Grand Lake or Telegraph, but the nearest coffee shops on each are a mile away, and even Farley’s East is a ten-minute walk. Need an indication of just how much our ‘hood needs some good local coffee shops? Just go take a peek at how packed Whole Foods Café is from opening to closing every day! ) So it’s good to have coffee a bit closer to home. We’ve taken the dog over a couple of times, and you can either sit outside when the outdoor table and chairs are there as long as you don’t take the alcohol out, or have one person sit inside at the window, since the window sill is a perfect little counter. They have excellent currant scones, and they actually know how to make scones, which is not to be taken lightly. (Okay, I admit it, I’m a scone snob! My mom made us wonderful traditional cream scones growing up, and now I really can’t stomach what many coffee shops, particularly certain national chains, try to pass off as “scones.” But these are terrific!) They also have great coffee—they use Oakland/Emeryville-based Roast and also sell beans. And they make perfect Gibraltars—also not to be taken lightly! (Random factoid: I only recently learned that Blue Bottle invented the Gibraltar, which is named after the Libbey Duratuff rocks glass it’s served in. Granted, a Gibraltar is really just a true short cappuccino—that is to say, not the “short” cappuccino you can order at Starbucks, which is actually what the rest of the world would consider a normal cappuccino—or a tall cortado, which no one but the one barista who briefly worked at the Peet’s by my office two years ago seems to know how to make. But still, both D. and I have happily embraced this new coffee development—it’s a much easier way of ordering a not-too-milky espresso drink without having to specify “a cappuccino with an inch less milk than you were planning to put in.”) There’s also a brunch menu on weekends and a lunch menu on weekdays, though we haven’t ventured into that territory yet.

So, in a nutshell: local beer, local coffee, shepherd’s pie, scones, no wait, and six blocks from my house. What’s not to love?? If they had outdoor seating where you could have a beer too, it would be practically perfect!

Grade: A
Price: $-$$


Won’t you be our neighbor?

June 23, 2010

We’ve always wanted to have a neighbor just like YOU! We’ve always wanted to live in a neighborhood with YOU!

But really—while we’re sad that our neighbors are heading off, this means their 3BR/2BA Arts & Crafts house (which is actually two houses on one lot, with a newly built 2BR/1BA cottage in back) is for sale. And just down the street, another neighbor’s 2BR/1BA TIC unit is for sale (sorry, this one seems to be in escrow or otherwise off the market!) in an Arts & Crafts fourplex, which means we get more fun new neighbors. It’s been nearly three years since any homes on our block have turned over, so I’m excited to see who’ll be moving in.

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know that I think we have a pretty awesome little block and ‘hood. But I figured this was as good a time as any to spell it all out.


1. Walk everywhere! We can walk to:

  • Upper Broadway/Auto Row shops and restaurants (3-5 minutes)
  • Lake Merritt (5 minutes)
  • Bus stops for the 11, 51, and 1R, which will get you to Downtown Oakland and Berkeley, Temescal, Rockridge, San Leandro, and beyond (3-10 minutes)
  • Bus stop for the Transbay bus—several lines to choose from depending on which way you walk, including the NL, which runs all day long and through the weekend, unlike most Transbay lines (5-10 minutes)
  • Kaiser and Pill Hill doctors (5-10 minutes)
  • Piedmont Avenue shops and restaurants (10-15 minutes)
  • Uptown restaurants (10-15 minutes)
  • 19th Street BART (15 minutes)
  • MacArthur BART and the Emery-Go-Round (15 minutes)
  • Grand Lake/Lakeshore shops (15-20 minutes)

2. Bike everywhere! We ride our bikes (and take the bus) to many of the spots listed above, and also to:

  • 19th Street and MacArthur BART (5-10 minutes)
  • Downtown Oakland/Old Oakland (10 minutes)
  • Jack London Square (10 minutes)
  • Temescal (10 minutes)
  • Rockridge (10 minutes)
  • Emeryville (10-15 minutes)
  • Berkeley (15-20 minutes)

3. Easy access to BART and the freewaybut far enough from both to be healthy and quiet, as city living goes. If you’re freeway-bound, it’s just minutes to the 580, 880, 980, and 24how’s that for choice? And because MacArthur BART is a major transfer station, you can get to all of the East Bay lines in one spot. We hop on BART (or drive) to:

  • Downtown Berkeley/UCB (15 minutes)
  • Downtown San Francisco (15-20 minutes)
  • Alameda (10 minutes)

4. Lots of everything nearby! Within two miles of home, we’re fortunate to have:

  • Restaurants and coffee shops galore (including the brand-new Commonwealth and three new restaurants due to open this summer!)
  • Grocery stores (Whole Foods, Oasis Market, Piedmont Grocery, Trader Joe’s, Grocery Outlet, and Safeway, plus lots of little produce shops on Piedmont, Grand, and Lakeshore)
  • Not one or two but THREE great weekend farmer’s markets: one on Saturday (Grand Lake), two on Sunday (Temescal and Jack London)—and that’s not even counting the Friday Old Oakland market!
  • Bike shops (Bay Area Bikes, Pioneer, Montano Velo, Manifesto, Tip Top, Cycle Sports, and hopefully soon Spokeland!)
  • Parks and playgrounds galore, including Mosswood and Lakeside Parks (and, of course, the lake!)
  • The Oakland YMCA, yoga and martial arts, gyms, Mosswood Rec Center, the Temescal Pool, your choice of library branches, and more
  • Mosswood Dog Park (one half for big dogs, the other for little dogs!)
  • Schools (Piedmont Avenue, Lakeview, Cleveland, Hoover, and Emerson Elementary Schools; Westlake Middle School; Oakland Tech; Oakland School for the Arts; St. Paul’s; St. Leo’s; Park Day; Archway; and Grand Lake Montessori, not to mention all the preschools)
  • Theaters (Grand Lake, Piedmont, the Paramount, and the Fox)
  • Children’s Fairyland, the Lake Merritt Gardens, and the Junior Center of Art and Science—all within walking distance—and the Oakland Museum, Museum of Children’s Art, and Studio One, not too much further afield
  • More religious and spiritual spaces than I can list!

5. Wonderful friends
Our neighbors will fill a whole table at our wedding…’nough said! We got incredibly lucky when we landed on our street—the people we share our block with are pretty awesome, and I love that we live in a place where people still sit on their front steps and talk (okay, or drink homebrewed beer and amazing whiskey sours made with backyard lemons…) Dog-sitting? Baby-sitting? All covered!

6. Shared harvests
If you move in, we will give you bushels of persimmons! (Okay, actually we’d give you bushels of persimmons anyway, but you get the idea…) I have a lot of fun trading fruits and vegetables with our neighbors, and collectively our block has lemons, oranges, apples, figs, loquats, cherries, more lemons, pomegranates, persimmons, plums, even more lemons, tangerines, and more. There are also plans afoot for a communal chicken coop in one neighbor’s yard.

7. Active block watch
Yep, we’ve got one of these too. And because we have all sorts of different work schedules, there’s almost always someone around, keeping an eye on what’s going on. We have access to each others’ homes and cell phone numbers to call if a dog gets out or a garage door is left open. For city living, that’s hard to beat.

8. Inside the Shan Dong delivery radius!
Think you want to live in Temescal or Glenview? Well, I’m sorry to break the news, but Shan Dong won’t bring you any dumplings there! This is the place to be if your favorite late-night snack involves handmade noodles and steamed buns, since they’ll only deliver within 1.5 miles of the restaurant—and we just squeak in. Mmm!

9. Block parties
Our street hosts an annual National Night Out party every August (this year’s will be August 3rd) and we’ve been talking about trying to have block parties more regularly in the summertime, too. Come check it out and meet the neighbors!

10. History
In the time that we’ve lived on our street, I’ve learned a lot about its history (much of which is documented here) and the rich history of this neighborhood. I’m a lover of old houses to begin with, and the more I learn about the families who’ve lived on our street over the generations, the more connected I feel to it. Our neighbors are talking about having a 100th birthday party for their 1912 home, and it’s pretty cool to know that at one point, two brothers lived on our street, one in our home with his family and the other in theirs. And our next-door neighbor’s house was built by the same family that built ours, so we love to compare notes on what’s been changed or kept the same over the years. If Arts and Crafts homes are your thing, there are some great examples tucked in amidst the mid-mod buildings that abound in our neighborhood.

Have a question about our ‘hood? Feel free to send me a note, and I’m happy to answer it.

Disclaimer: I have no interest in the sale of either of these properties, other than wanting some awesome new neighbors! For specific information on the properties themselves, you should contact the respective realtors.


Check out City Canvas at the First Friday Art Murmur!

June 1, 2010

Come check us out this Friday—and spread the word! The City Canvas Westlake murals will debut on Friday, June 4 at Farley’s East (Grand and Broadway in Uptown) as part of the June Art Murmur. New murals will cycle through the gallery throughout the month of June as each set is removed to be installed on traffic signal boxes. Look for the murals on signal boxes along Broadway, Grand, and Harrison beginning later this month. For more information on the project, visit

See you there!


Saturday, May 22: Come paint the town (Uptown, that is!)

May 12, 2010

Please come to the first City Canvas Community Paint Day at Westlake! Join City Canvas, a new East Bay arts organization, for painting, food, and drinks in the parking lot between Westlake Middle School and First Congregational Church on Harrison. We’ll be painting murals designed by Oakland artist David Stern-Gottfried in collaboration with eighth-grade students at Westlake Middle School. In June, these murals will be on display for First Friday (location TBD, so stay tuned!) and then installed on traffic signal boxes throughout the Westlake/Uptown area. Thanks to Westlake Middle School, Open Circle, the City of Oakland Public Art Program, Benjamin Moore Paints, and Whole Foods Oakland for their support of this project.

For more information on City Canvas and the Westlake project, check out our website.

Live in the neighborhood or own a business with a window for flyer-hanging? Click here to download a flyer.

A few notes:

  • Families are welcome, although painting activities will be geared towards adults and youth in grades six and above. (Westlake has a beautiful lawn, though, so feel free to bring along other outdoor activities for the younger crowd!)
  • If you drive, please try to park on the street as we’ll need the parking lot itself for painting.

Bringin’ down the house…

August 15, 2009

….but not ours, luckily!

However, this bungalow around the corner from us had a demolition notice posted a few weeks ago, and I finally got around to snapping some photos.

Demolition House

Demolition House

All boarded up...

All boarded up...

This is a 1909 two-bedroom bungalow that’s been sitting empty for years (and from the little you can see, appears to be in pretty bad shape inside). It’s a pretty puzzling house—it’s been flagged for blight (and on the City’s Cleanup/Board Up list) repeatedly since at least 2005, which is especially odd because someone’s been paying some (though not all) of the taxes on it. (Granted, they’re pretty minimal to begin with; it’s assessed for under $40K right now, so I imagine its last sale must have been long before Prop 13 kicked in.) While our neighborhood’s not exactly blight-free, it’s very unusual to see abandoned houses around here these days. You’d think they’d have sold the lot at the height of the housing boom, when they could have gotten a pretty penny for it—oh, well. (Rumor has it that the property is owned by a San Francisco building inspector, which makes it all even stranger.)

Anyway, the notice says it’s now being demolished as blight abatement. (And it does look to be in pretty awful shape—plus there have been squatters there from time to time, which I can’t imagine did wonders for the interior.) It’s also a little unclear who owns the property at this point, given how much is owed in back taxes. The City? Some third party?


But what I really want to know, of course, is what happens after the demolition. A vacant lot isn’t much better than a blighted house. (In fact, it might be worse—I’d initially hoped they’d sell the house so someone could rehab it!) So I’m hoping one of the following things will happen:

  1. The people who just bought the fourplex next door to this house could buy this lot. Next door is a beautiful 1912 apartment building, but it’s pretty much built lot line to lot line, so if they were to tack on this lot, they could create a backyard and potentially even build a garage for parking and storage. Seems like a smart investment opportunity.
  2. The vacant lot could be turned into a community garden as part of a project with Westlake Middle School, just down the street. A co-worker of mine took on a project like this last year (although sans kid involvement), drafting the appropriate legal forms to secure permission from the property owner, and has created a pretty phenomenal garden on the site today. (One of these days I’ll snap some photos of that, too, since it puts our garden to shame!)
  3. Something else??

I’m also pretty curious to see if they salvage anything from within (or if there’s anything worthy of salvaging). When they demolished a house on Piedmont Avenue earlier this year, we were pleased to see that a lot of the innards (including many beautiful redwood joists) were carefully bundled up and trucked off, presumably to some new life somewhere. Who knows what else might be in there?

Anyway. There’s no demolition date listed on the notice (very helpful!) so when I have a moment I may give the City a call to see what’s up, and hopefully find out what lies ahead for this little corner of the neighborhood. In the meantime—so long, little bungalow.


Dine About Oakland: Café Noir

June 15, 2009

Last weekend, we had a chance to visit the newly-opened Café Noir (on Auto Row at Webster) at long last. We’ve been watching and waiting for this place to open for as long as we’ve lived in the neighborhood, and had been getting pretty nervous in recent months when the renovations looked done but nothing seemed to be happening. Finally, though, this little café on Auto Row next to Mua opened its doors last month with a limited menu of coffee, pizza, and crêpes. We took our next free weekend morning to go for a walk and try it out.

First, the food. We were there for breakfast, so we passed on the pizza and opted for crêpes and coffee instead. The menu is pretty tiny right now; our options were a ham and cheese savory crêpe, several sweet crêpes (lemon, Nutella, blueberry, and/or sugar), or a croissant. On the coffee front, we could choose from the typical espresso drinks, but they don’t currently offer “real” coffee, which was a bit of a disappointment for D., who generally prefers drip. But the latte and macchiato, made with Ritual espresso beans, were great, so it worked out. (On a side note, though, I’d still prefer to see Blue Bottle beans here, since they roast here in Oakland—but I know both have their fans!)

The crêpes (we chose blueberry and Nutella-blueberry) were good, though I’d have preferred a wider range of choices. A non-meat savory option would be a good place to start, and it would also be nice to have a bigger assortment of pastries to choose from. (In fairness, I think this place currently opens at 11 am—though that’s a guess, since frustratingly no hours were posted—so it’s not trying to play the breakfast game. But they might be wise to test the waters on that, since there aren’t too many spots to get morning coffee and pastries in the stretch between downtown and Piedmont. In fact, I’d be really psyched if they’d strike up a deal with La Farine, which is getting ready to open its third Oakland location on Piedmont Avenue, to get French pastries for the morning rush.)

Some of the pizza we didnt get to try (from the Cafe Noir website)

Some of the pizza we didn't get to try (from the Cafe Noir website)

The pizza options are similarly limited, but I’m actually okay with that, provided there’s at least one solid veggie option each day. (Arizmendi gets by on just a single option, after all—but the key is to make sure it’s a strong one.) The menu is intermittently posted on the Café Noir blog, so hopefully once things get going, they’ll update this more regularly. We’d certainly check this site to decide whether to head over for lunch on weekend afternoons. We didn’t try the pizza, and neither did anyone else who was there at the time, so we didn’t get to catch a glimpse of it. But at some point we’ll make a repeat visit to see how it is, since the atmosphere was lovely (and since they’re in the process of getting a liquor license, and it’s hard to beat good pizza and local brews on a summer afternoon!)

And then there’s the space. The interior is very nicely done (as well it should be, after years of renovation!), though on this visit we had the Labradane in tow so we opted for an outside table. (There weren’t any set up when we arrived, but the owner, who was very friendly and accommodating in general, was quick to bring one out for us.) The main problem with the space was simply that it was empty. One other couple was having breakfast at the counter when we arrived, and the guy from the bike store down the street swung by for a coffee, but otherwise, it was just one big empty space crying out for people. I have a feeling that if and when this place gets its groove going, the vibe will change completely—it looks like the kind of space that should be buzzing with conversation and motion.

Cafe Noir interior

Cafe Noir interior (from the website)

I can’t help but think that Café Noir is a little ahead of its time (which is pretty ironic given the three years it took to finally open!) We sat out on the Webster Street plaza that doubles as a parking lot and car showroom, so cars periodically drove right past our table, bumping over the stones and sidewalks. And, of course, that’s exactly what they designed this plaza for, so it’s hard to complain. The Avis Rent-A-Car garage entrance is just two doors down and a dumpster and grease bin sit a few yards away. The funny thing, though, is that it’s not hard to envision this plaza post-Auto Row, when a few planters might carve out a separate patio area, people will sit and look out on Broadway as they drink a morning latte or an afternoon beer, and the only traffic will be the bikes headed to and from the bike shop or people en route to the martial arts/yoga studio that now sits in the middle of the block. For now, though, these are the pioneers.

Walking back home, I took note of the many changes in the works on this stretch of Auto Row: Bay Bridge Chrysler, which is slated to close and currently shares space (and another beautiful plaza) with Z Café and Bar; the empty Kia dealer; the parking lot on 27th that’s temporarily housing Audi of Oakland’s stock but has a giant “for lease” sign up (and a really cool abandoned diner at the back of the lot). Just up the street are a mish-mash of businesses: a newish art gallery (which sadly seems to be closed, at least for right now), auto repair shops that have been here for decades, a brand-new children’s gymnastics studio that took the plunge and moved down here from a posher Piedmont Avenue space. And, of course, dozens of empty storefronts that once housed auto dealers, repair shops, and other related businesses. The whole corridor is oozing with potential (some of which, hopefully, will be better articulated by the Broadway/Valdez District Specific Plan process that recently launched). It just can’t quite figure itself out.

Anyway, while we weren’t blown away by our first visit, we’ll certainly be back to see where Café Noir takes this thing. (Plus, the value of good espresso in the neighborhood shouldn’t be underestimated!) If they can hang in there while Auto Row sorts itself out (and until Kaiser opens its new hospital a few blocks up the street), they may be onto a great thing.

Update, 09/18/09: Café Noir now has a beer and wine license and is open for dinner Thursday through Sunday, so we headed there to check it out one recent Saturday night. We tried the special pizza of the day—roasted pasilla peppers, green onions, and four cheeses—along with a mixed greens salad; both were quite tasty. D. deemed the wood-oven pizza “not as good as Marzano, but better than Arizmendi,” though I’d argue that it’s not actually the same style of pizza as Arizmendi, so it’s hard to compare the two. Still, we got in and out with pint of beer each for under $30, which is not bad at all; we’ve never managed that at Marzano! Café Noir continues to have problems filling the space, which may stem in part from their fluctuating hours as they get licenses and such sorted out. While we were there, a few people poked their heads in and murmured things about how there wasn’t much happening—I presume they then headed next-door to Mua for music and cocktails. But I actually think that’s one of the best things about Café Noir: it’s not trying to be a place to be seen. While we were there, one group was celebrating a birthday, while another couple was having crepes and coffee in the upstairs lounge-like area. It’s definitely a place you could take kids, in contrast to a lot of the new Uptown spots. And it seems like it would be a perfect place to work on a rainy winter night, since they also have free wireless. So, yeah. They still need some more people to really get their groove on, but slowly things seem to be coming together.

(They have also changed their morning hours, and now open at 7 am. The guy at the counter says they also do take-out.)

Grade: B+
Price: $


So you wanna help plan Auto Row?

May 8, 2009

Among the many tidbits presented at last night’s kick-off meeting for the Auto Row/Upper Broadway Specific Plan to revitalize the stretch of Broadway between Grand and West MacArthur was the full project schedule for the next year and a half. So mark your calendars now and get ready for some meetings! (I’ll write more on the meeting itself when I have a few minutes, though it was primarily a visioning session.) Hopefully you don’t have any standing Thursday conflicts—it’s a little irritating to see every meeting on the same day of the week and every meeting starting at 6 pm, which is a bit on the early side for folks with jobs that run beyond 9 to 5….but what can y’do. At least they’re publicizing them in advance! (And we did get a postcard this time around, which was nice.)

All meetings will be held at the First Presbyterian Church at 2619 Broadway (at 27th) from 6 pm to 8 pm.

Thursday, May 7, 2009: Vision & Goals

Thursday, July 9, 2009: Existing Conditions & Market Demand Report

Thursday, August 20, 2009: Project Alternatives

Thursday, November 19 December 10 January 28, 2010: Project Alternatives

Spring 2010: Preferred Concept

Summer 2010: Design Guidelines

Late Fall 2010: Specific Plan