Opinion: The New York Times Doesn’t Understand Oakland

By Coolhand Luke  |  January 7th, 2012  |  Published in Featured, History, , , , ,  |  7 Comments

While folks as near as Pleasanton and San Jo are still afraid to set foot in The Town, others around the world are being introduced to new stereotypes about Oakland; stereotypes that involve dynamite restaurants rather than brutal murders. How is the world finding out you ask? Well, most recently The New York Times paid it’s respects by naming Oakland the #5 place in the world to visit in 2012. Ranked between London and Tokyo, it is the only US location in the top 10, and one of only four places in America on the list.

Here’s what they had to say about The Town:

5. Oakland, Calif.
New restaurants and bars beckon amid the grit.

Tensions have cooled since violence erupted at the recent Occupy Oakland protests, but the city’s revitalized night-life scene has continued to smolder.

The historic Fox Theater reopened in 2009 and quickly cemented its status as one of the Bay Area’s top music venues, drawing acts like Wilco and the Decemberists. Meanwhile, the city’s ever more sophisticated restaurants are now being joined by upscale cocktail bars, turning once-gritty Oakland into an increasingly appealing place to be after dark. James Syhabout, the chef who earned Oakland its first (and only) Michelin star two years ago at Commis, followed up in May with the instant-hit Hawker Fare, a casual spot serving Asian street food. Big-name San Francisco chefs are now joining him. Daniel Patterson (of two-Michelin-star Coi) opened the restaurant Plum in late 2010 and an adjacent cocktail bar later, and another restaurant, called Haven, in the recently renovated Jack London Square last month. –INGRID K. WILLIAMS

When I first saw this, I was juiced about the positive publicity, but upon further thought and discussion, it became apparent that this write-up doesn’t actually present what makes Oakland such an amazing place. The Times juxtaposes Oakland’s former “grit” with it’s apparent bougie rebirth as though the city wasn’t worth two cents before San Francisco chefs descended upon it. “I take issue with the idea that Oakland is worth visiting only because new has supplanted old,” shares Oakland playwright Chinaka Hodge. “That notion supposes that everything I’ve loved about my city for the last 27 years is void.”

For those of us that were born and raised here (shout out Michelin Star winner and Oakland Tech alumni James Syhabout), it’s always been a place worth visiting. Sure, The New Parish trumps Sweets Jimmy’s and Commis shits on Scott’s, but the notion that a place is only worth visiting once it resembles Silver Lake (LA) or Park Slope (NY) is absurd. “The blurb invites those who would not otherwise be interested in the cultural backbone of my city to descend and take, as opposed to respectfully visit and interact,” Hodge finishes. “Fuck that shit.”

I won’t go on a tirade about urban renewal or gentrification, just remember that Oakland is more than the latest trendy bar. Of course, if you follow 38th Notes, you already know that. Enjoy the Art Murmur and other assorted new cool shit in The UpTown, but also listen to this recent NPR piece on Oakland to find out what really makes The Town worth visiting. More importantly, find the beauty in the “grit”; It’s more satisfying than overpriced small plates in the Temescal.

After Thoughts:

I’m not poo pooing a positive write-up, only questioning the notion that these types of spots are the reason Oakland is worth visiting.

I’ve never been to Commis or Hawker Fare, but have heard good things and am glad that an Oakland native is showing out. Plum was okay, but overpriced. I’ll assume Haven is delectable, though I dropped by tonight and was not impressed by the menu or prices. Regardless of how amazing these restaurants are or aren’t however, it says little about why Oakland is the amazing place it is. Oakland is not worth visiting because these restaurants are here; these restaurants are here because Oakland was already the shit. They are doing smart business, not charity work.

Even if you define a city solely on it’s cuisine, how do you write about Oakland without mentioning the amazing taco truck culture. I had wine and a few dishes at the Jack London Square wine bar Encuentro this evening and then had to go to Taco Sinaloa on 22nd Ave just to feel like I had an actual meal (for a fraction of the price by the way). What about the good cheap eats in China Town? What about the amazing restaurants that have been here for years? What about mentioning anything east of Lake Merritt (that’s not in Montclair)? Classing up a city with new trendy spots is awesome, but defining it by the resulting pretentiousness is misleading.

I don’t think we have to choose between being known as bougie or crime-ridden. Why not choose the reality that lies somewhere in the middle?  These accolades that we’re now receiving on the strength of a few over-priced small plate restaurants, is the equivalent of a woman getting hella attention after getting a boob job. I’d rather be known for my heart rather than my rack any day.

We’re not saying any of this to whine, just to put these accolades in context. If you’re interested in what else makes Oakland an amazing place, poke around the site and keep coming back here. 38th Notes has been here for the past 3+ years showing you exactly why The Biggity Biggity O is dope. Partake.

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Играй невероятные с реальным выигрышем на реальные деньги, игровые автоматы гаминатор без смс.


  1. Kat says:

    January 7th, 2012at 6:50 am(#)

    Well said. I’m cycling through similar reactions to the NYT article.

    I’ve found that even the proudest Oaklanders can fall victim to a strange pervasive and systemic inferiority complex. Myself included.

    We are starved for any positive attention. So when a respected cultural purveyor like the Old Gray Lady recognizes our glory, we can’t help but trip all over ourselves.

    Some of us rush to soak up the praise from an outsider. Some of us get defensive or inspect the praise for the strings attached. And others get awkward and self-deprecating, like we don’t deserve to be praised at all.

    Just look at how the Trib spun the news, like Oakland is some charity case for the NYT. How sad is that? Our own paper was “surprised” by the positive attention. http://www.insidebayarea.com/news/ci_19690089

    I hope someday our pride will be so great, that our tragic inferiority complex will fade out. And that our sense of self-worth as a community will be strong enough that when the NYT sends a scrap of praise our way, we won’t even notice or care, because we’ll already know we’re worthy. Grit and all.

  2. Joseph says:

    January 7th, 2012at 10:55 am(#)

    While I agree with everything written, I vote to react gracefully. Let’s take this compliment for what it is: that somebody not from here likes our Town and is writing something nice about Oakland.

    It’s the New York Times! Can we really expect them to understand and appreciate the nuances and depth of what makes Oakland the realest place on earth??

  3. Brock Winstead says:

    January 7th, 2012at 7:22 pm(#)

    I agree that this is a reductive look at Oakland, and I hate the use of the word “grit.” But I can’t get too worked up about this. The entire nation of Tanzania also gets compressed into two paragraphs. This entire feature is a reductive look at EVERY place listed.

    Those of us who live in Oakland are decidedly NOT the audience for this little blurb in the New York Times (written by a freelancer who lives in a small town on the Ligurian coast in Italy and apparently travels for a living — not that there’s anything wrong with that). It doesn’t take anything away from us when people come here — whether from across the country or across the Bay — and have dinner or whatever and then go home. In what way is that “descend[ing] and tak[ing]”, in Hodge’s words? WE are taking THEIR money.

  4. Event: 2/14 Lenny Kravitz w/Raphael Saadiq Live (Oakland) | says:

    January 8th, 2012at 3:18 am(#)

    […] right?  The city that New York Times just named #5 place to visit in 2012– read about it here, and a response, courtesy 38th Notes one of my favorite, well written […]

  5. suga says:

    January 10th, 2012at 11:57 pm(#)

    Great article. And great comments.

  6. Ezekiel de la Luna says:

    January 12th, 2012at 1:06 am(#)

    Hell yes. Steered to your page by Platurn just now for the first time. I like your article much more than the NY Times article. I’m gonna check out some more.

  7. Inner City Advisors : #WhyOakland as the #5 Place to Go in 2012? says:

    January 17th, 2012at 9:18 pm(#)

    […] if name brand newcomers work like Xanax to calm tourist jitters. The Oakland Art Scene Examiner and 38th Notes made poignant follow-up critiques along similar […]

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