Not so long ago, parts of Oakland's Grand Lake neighborhood — especially along upper Grand Avenue — were sleepy enough to warrant "hidden gem" status. But no more. In the last several years the neighborhood has become a regional destination, and a seven-days-a-week draw for diners and shoppers from far afield. What once was a pastiche of copy shops, nail salons, and neighborhood cafes is today a foodie haven and hip shopping district thanks to culinary anchors Camino, Grand Tavern, Boot and Shoe Service, and Sidebar. The transformation has only accelerated in 2011 and early 2012.
By sheer ambitiousness, Monkey Forest Road (3265 Grand Ave., 510-327-2400, MonkeyForestRoad.com) ranks among the top new businesses. Revamping a formerly vacant and unsightly space, this split cafe/retail shop selling handcrafted, high-end furniture, jewelry, art, and home accessories has become an instant Grand Avenue landmark: massive, mega-modern, and dressed up like a downtown boutique. The name comes from the main street in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali, Indonesia, where many of the shop's items are sourced.
Directly across the street is another new arrival you can't miss, a sleek Greek restaurant called Ikaros (3268 Grand Ave., 510-899-4400, IkarosGr.com). The large, glass-fronted space formerly housed a high-end nail salon, but now it dishes out Greek salads, gyros, lamb chops and shanks, cheeses, soups, and more — all in satisfyingly large servings. An instant hit.
Up the road is another new furniture seller, Rebooty (3654 Grand Ave., Rebooty.net), that sells home furnishings and art made from reclaimed and repurposed materials by local artisans.
On Lakeshore Avenue, more changes are afoot. Despite some pushback from residents, female-friendly sex shop Good Vibrations (3219 Lakeshore Ave., 510-788-2389, GoodVibes.com) opened with a flourish in early January. As at the store's other locations, vibrators are available in a plethora of sizes, shapes, designs, and price points, along with other bedroom toys and accessories for the discerning shopper. Good Vibes' offerings are rounded out with books, movies, and frequent in-store events. The sexual revolution marches on.
Just opened in the last couple weeks is Flipside (3401 Lakeshore Ave., 510-879-7195), a gourmet burger joint taking the place of formerly old-timey (and quintessentially Grand Lake) Adam's Burgers. Also recently unveiled is the remodeled Easy Lounge, feeling less like a dance club and more like a gracious Uptown-style cocktail bar. And Caña (530 Lake Park Ave., 510-832-1515, CanaOakland), a Cuban cafe and parlor that opened down the street from the theater last February with its very own sidewalk seating area, continues the trend toward upscale and worldly. But keeping it real, mostly, is the aim of the newly reopened Kwik Way Drive-In (500 Lake Park Ave., 510-832-1300, KwikWayOakland.com), home to a menu of burgers (made with freshly ground chuck on a focaccia sesame bun; there's a gluten-free version, too), sandwiches, fries, onion rings, milkshakes, pizza, and desserts. Vegetarians can enjoy the tasty veggie cheeseburger for $4.75.
Two more openings worth noting: new-wave Oakland foodie cafe Kitchen 388 (388 Grand Ave., 510-893-3005, Kitchen388.com), near Adam's Point, and Oaktown Spice Shop (530 Grand Ave., 510-201-5400, Facebook.com/oaktownspiceshop), serving the area's evolving class of edgy gourmands.