OAKLAND -- The freeze that made the Bay Area shiver for weeks finally broke Jan. 17 as people spilled into the restaurants, bars, cafes and theaters downtown.
There was the bloggerati power couple of the 2000s -- Echa Schneider (aka V Smoothe) and Jonathan Bair -- at Duende, Oakland's newest darling on the dining scene. They were standing at a table in a room, christened the Bodega, adjacent to the main chamber. Bottles of carefully selected wines and $18 bottles of artisan olive oil lined one of the walls.
After a few minutes of catching up, I marched across the street to the Fox Theater, where a 10th anniversary celebration for Oakland School for the Arts was in full swing. (Full disclosure: My child attends this school.)
"This is the governor's school," OSA's director Donn Harris told the beaming assembly of posing teenagers, proud parents, philanthropists, developers and city officials.
Harris was referring to Gov. Jerry Brown, who founded the school, but the crowds were too dense to seek out the governor.
I left after a while and walked back to Duende.
A swinging up-tempo jazzy song played over the hum of voices. Diners filled every table in the woodsy-rustic-artsy vaguely-Santa-Fe dining chamber and filled the dozen or so stools at the bar.
"We've been graced," the bartender told a customer.
I ordered a $9 cocktail called The Finch made with rye, Montenegro amaro, red vermouth and orange bitters and took up position opposite the bar at a long table, a strip of wood, overlooking 19th Street.
Two men next to me chatted enthusiastically about the lively evening crowd while I tried to casually take notes on a napkin.
Their enthusiasm was tempered by the past.
"Oakland has a way of messing up a good thing," one of the men said.
"I think that's changing," the other replied.
A trio of young 20-something women settled bar tabs, adjusted their tops and slid off their stools.
A blonde with her boyfriend took two stools and I was too slow to claim the third so I walked upstairs to a room meant for musicians to play and inspire the chefs making the food.
Duende is a Spanish word that loosely relates to people and experiences with certain otherworldly qualities, according to the story founder chef Paul Canales tells on the restaurant's website: "It was one of those idyllic spring mornings in Manhattan's East Village. I was sitting in Tompkins Square Park with my friend, the great composer, improviser, and gourmet John Zorn. ..."
Long story short, Zorn came up with the name. Canales and restaurateur/impresario Rocco Somazzi came up with the Spanish-inspired menu.
As I was leaving I ran into Top Ten Social impresario Michael Orange, who pointed out the art on the other wall in the Bodega came from Raymond Saunders. I made a note to look up the famed Oakland-based artist and pretended to know his name in the meantime.
The other newly opened Uptown venue, Camber, seemed like a good idea so I walked on Telegraph toward 17th Street.
But on the way I passed the shoe store/art-performance gallery Sole Space, so I stopped to visit the owner, Jeff Perlstein, whom I first met more than half a decade ago. The irony of being surrounded by footwear was that the shoes I wore with my overdressed ensemble were rubbing several blisters on my aching feet.
Sole Space doubles as a gallery and community gathering point and that night Perlstein was hosting the first of "Oaktech Talks: Getting inside how innovation happens" with the creators of the "Food: An Atlas" project and the founder of the People's Kitchen. Oakland Local's Susan Mernit was there along with Anca Mosoiu, who just moved Tech Liminal to a new nicer location downtown, Nerd Night's Rick Karnesky and Hub Oakland's Ashara Ekundayo. I apologized for missing Ekundayo's "Greens and Grits" breakfast series. Not everyone is interested in art or in tech but everyone is interested in eating, she said, mentioning two main themes of the series.
It was getting late for a Thursday night so I walked up to Camber, whose Asian-fusion restaurant theme surprised me. Camber has a bar, but I opted to end the night with friends at Era and enjoy the warm night.