In a time when our beloved gay bars seem to be shuttering their doors at an ever-increasing rate, Oakland welcomes The Port – a bold new LGBT space that arrives just in time for summer evening cocktails. This exquisitely refurbished 1,900 square foot industrial space is located at 2021 Broadway in Oakland, adjacent to the landmark Paramount Theatre. The Port brings a welcomed boost of energy to Oakland’s emerging gay scene.
Sean Sullivan and partner, Richard Fuentes, have certainly done their homework. Using their marketing savvy to their advantage, these two business professionals assembled focus groups to help cultivate the essence of what The Port is all about.
“In the summer of 2013,” says Sullivan, “we had this hypothesis that Oakland needed another gay establishment. To prove that point, we put together a series of focus groups and what we learned is that people who live here in Oakland have a real sense of pride about being a part of this city.”
The Port is beautiful. It’s an unexpected jewel. It’s a linear space with impossibly high ceilings featuring an LED skylight and amber Edison light fixtures hanging above the bar. Concrete walls, a generous white quartz bar flanked by pieces of colored shipping containers worthy of Mondrian; it all leads to an intimate, windowless backroom that’s suitable for lounging.
Sullivan adds, “The Port was essentially born from the idea that Oakland wanted something that was truly industrial — but also elegant, and something that reflected the new community of people that live here. Oakland is a city of artists, so the space had to be both interesting and fun – but also refined.”
The Port will rely on the foot traffic created by its neighbors – Pandora, Kaiser, Uber and the Paramount Theatre. With thousands of commuters coming and going daily from the 19th Street Bart Station, located just a few steps away, The Port is perfectly positioned to be one of Oakland’s hottest new Happy Hour destinations. Consequently, The Port is putting together an exciting evening cocktail menu that will be as diverse as the patrons themselves, featuring signature artisan cocktails, local beers and wines, and an array of spirits to tempt the palettes of all their customers.
“We plan to be ready for anything,” says Sullivan, an award-winning mixologist himself. “Because the community is changing. People are moving into Oakland to escape the outrageous rents in San Francisco – but more than that, people are moving to Oakland because it’s a cool place to live.”
“We are an LGBT establishment. We’ve said ‘LGBT’ from the beginning – not just ‘Gay’.” Says Fuentes, “We didn’t want to just open up a new boy bar and forget about some of the women here who would also enjoy also having a new space. I mean, everyone is welcome. In our focus groups we learned that a lot of gay people want to be able to bring their straight friends.”
Will there be a ‘girls night’ for the lesbian crowd? “Yes! We have actually already started thinking about that. We were thinking maybe Thursdays? That’s a prime night. We don’t want to give the ladies some Tuesday between 10 and midnight. We want to give them a prime night. They deserve to be fully included in what we’re doing here. We want them to be a big part of what we’re trying to accomplish.” The City of Oakland gave The Port $25,000 in funding to help with tenant improvements as a show of support for this new LGBT bar.
The city is fully behind this new venue. “However, any time you work with any city organization there are going to be challenges.” Says Fuentes, “That is just how it is.”
The process of bringing The Port to reality has been a long one but the team argues that it’s been worth it. Fuentes says, “Everything we’ve done has been intentional. People want something that looks and feels like Oakland. Nobody wants a bar that looks like it belongs in the Castro. We are so diverse in Oakland. We pride ourselves on that diversity. We want to embrace it.”
“No one is trying to make this the new Castro.” Sullivan says absolutely, “This is something altogether different. This is something fresh. This is something unique and wonderful. We can’t wait for people to see it.”