The Night Owl was roosting last week, in a manner of speaking, because of a heavy load of stories and I’ve been working my tail feathers off on a project about last year’s homicides. With the heavy lifting on that project done and the weekly Night Owl in print (Gerald Albright opening the Claremont Hotel’s regular jazz series), I stopped by Cocina Poblana (“the art of Mexican cooking”), a restaurant and night spot opened a month ago on Jack London Square that I had been eyeing for a while. Evidently there is one in Emeryville, too.
I like it, at least the lounge. Strictly speaking, it’s a tequila bar, but it has what I imagine is a 1950s Havana flair. Hard to put my finger on the right description.
Councilmember Ignacio de la Fuente breezed through the lounge on his way from a fancy people party in the restaurant to launch his reelection bid. A guy in the bar kept saying, “This is a real Oakland celebrity.” The guy had been sampling the bar’s mind-boggling selection of tequilas, including the finest one bottled in what looks a bit like a blue and white ceramic genie’s bottle and sells for $20 a shot. There they serve tequila shots with a tomato juice chaser that I’ve only seen in a few U.S. Mexican bars, but which Ivan the bartender said is quite common south of the border. It was a novelty to everyone else too, including one woman who said she had traveled often in Mexico.
I had a tequila mojito to drink and to eat a coctel exotico, which reminded me of seafood tacos (minus the conch) I had on the Yucatan island of Isla Mujeres in Mexico. The spicy cocktail sauce was a bit syrupy without tortillas, but I still liked it.
I had been wanting to drop in since I wandered by after Monday’s glorious sunset and noticed a guy working on a laptop in the lounge. The restaurant is airy and open but the lounge is a bit darker with the salsa music just loud enough to tap a foot to but muted enough so that I could read some reports. Laptops and report-reading journalists are not common but don’t stick out like freaks. The only thing that interrupted me was two bozos who wanted to start a conversation after their libidos were sufficiently lubricated by beer.
When I returned Friday, a woman from Walnut Creek was raving about Oakland over a glass of chardonay and Cocina Poblano’s owner Lito Saldana was at one of the high tables with some glossy looking chicas and slick looking hombres. Another set of dudes at the was under the impression that a woman alone in a bar is just dying to be picked up by them. (I had a cocktail called Oro Azul: tequila with cucumber juice — called “muddled cucumber” — served in a glass rimmed with a unique chili powder concoction that was like nothing I had ever tasted before.)
I ran into de la Fuente again that night over at the Spanish Speaking Citizens Foundation 43rd anniversary celebration. Bay Area percussionist Pete Escovedo was the guest of honor and Paul Rodriguez had la gente rolling. That’s the first time I’ve ever been inside the Scottish Rite Center building across from Lake Merritt (the lake was absolutely sparkling in the glow of the necklace of lights). You know the building is old school when the ladies’ lounge is bigger and posher than most drinking lounges nowadays. Some of the Chicano activists who were there go way back but that will all be in the upcoming Night Owl column. In the meantime, I will get back to regular postings so if you have something to share let’s hear it!