As artifacts of the ever-roiling bar buzz machine go, it's hard to resist the lurid charms of Thrillist, the pun-spewing, pop-culture-referential food-and-entertainment newsletter targeted squarely at San Francisco's disposable-income set. Especially when it comes to its assessment of The District, Old Oakland's newest wine-and-whiskey bar: "If you're going to convince yourself to spend any amount of time in Oakland, a) wait, you're seriously going to spend time in Oakland?; and b) fine, at least promise you'll do it at District Oakland, a new barn-sized, brick-rich bar opening tomorrow in Oldtown [note: ?!] and serving you high-end whiskey and wine ...."
Because, yes: The District — which already has an outpost in SoMa — is certainly the San Franciscoiest bar in the East Bay, for better or for worse. The furniture comes in expensive-looking fabrics and neutral colors; the music doesn't stray far from the midtempo, vaguely world-inflected soundtrack of upscale bars everywhere; the clientele falls squarely along the lines of the post-work and polo-shirted. The space is, indeed, barnlike and brick-rich, with a big U-shaped bar, hardwood floors, high tables, microsuede couches, cushy booths, and gorgeous light fixtures — gentle and comfortable, if a teensy bit focus-grouped. The walls are adorned with graphic art, and, on the north side, a big TV that appears usually to be playing sports; on the east end, they're replaced almost entirely with big picture windows looking out onto the genteel adorableness of Old Oakland. There's Fernet in the cocktails and acronym-soaked shop talk in the air and the slightly itchy feeling of newness everywhere: new wood on the floor, new life in a previously inert location, and — it can't be ignored — new cachet for Oakland, at least of the kind that attracts San Francisco money and blog buzz. After about four weeks, The District already appears to be wildly popular, judging by the way it can get packed even at off-peak hours.
The District is plainly a bar for wine and/or whiskey snobs — or, at the very least, people who would like to be — and its double-sided, fine-printed wine menu and padded, booklike whiskey bible reflect that. Wine is on the expensive side ($9 to $16 a glass) but appreciably high-quality, with tasting notes — a flurry of "nose"s and "palate"s and "tannins" — included, as well as a brief list of education-oriented three-wine flights ($15-$22). Whiskeys are well-chosen, spanning a spectrum from the relatively cheap and widely known (Bulleit, $10 for two ounces) to the rare and understandably expensive (Pappy Van Winkle fifteen-year, $32). And cocktails do the craft thing generally well and sometimes superlatively; the District Buck, for example, is a just-okay combination of bourbon, Fernet, and ginger beer, but the Breakfast of Champions (house-made bacon-infused bourbon, maple syrup, and egg white, $10), on the other hand, takes what could easily be a novelty thing and turns it into something surprising (even if it could use a little more bacon and a lot less maple): sweet and rich, with a sticky maple-sugar rim that I would seriously have licked off the glass if it were socially acceptable in a place like this (or, let's be honest, anywhere.)
The food, too, is impressive. At this point, I've tried the chèvre-stuffed Peppadew peppers (tangy and surprisingly sweet), the ahi tuna tartare (bright-tasting and well-garnished with chili, cucumber, and lemon), the Moroccan spiced lamb meatballs (unctuous, rich, spicy-sweet), and the charcuterie platter (so good I ultimately started eating it with my fingers, social acceptability be damned) — all above-and-beyond-the-call-of-bar-food-duty delicious.
All together, it might even be worth a visit to Oldtown.