No alcohol-themed edition of The Pitt News would be complete without an argument for the best bar in Oakland. This year, we’re bringing you two takes on the controversial issue. Read and enjoy as two of our editors square off on their opinions for the best place to grab a drink in our beloved Oakland.
Read the alternative take by opinions editor Amber Montgomery here.
When I have a night free from writing papers or covering protests, you’ll usually find me building imaginary trains in 1998’s classic video game Railroad Tycoon II.
But on the nights when socializing sounds more entertaining, I’ll meander down Louisa — one of Oakland’s slim side streets with a name more appropriate for the old lady who hands out hard caramels on Halloween — to Gene’s Place. The front door is guarded only by a light smokescreen from a few patrons savoring their nicotine, along with a painting of a Tyrannosaurus Rex clutching a keg of beer in its mouth.
Gene’s admittedly lacks buzz — while other Oakland bars get so cramped that eager entrants spew into the streets, Gene’s can keep the fun inside. There are no pizza windows or $5 late-night menus. And to my disappointment, there’s no pool table lurking inside.
But Gene’s more than makes up for what’s missing with cheap beer, camaraderie and a lack of skull-shattering top 50 songs. If going out is a way to appreciate the friends you have and make new ones, then the bar that reigns supreme in Oakland’s crowded scene is none other than the little hole in the wall on Louisa.
Most of my memories of Gene’s are simple but pleasant. It’s the only bar where, upon rising from bed at 11:30 p.m. at the incessant texting of my friends, I can throw on a crumpled T-shirt and still meet my friends without an intolerable wait or feeling like so many cattle in a pen.
A few blocks away up Atwood, Garage Door’s line often snakes around the block. Going to Hemingway’s in the shadow of Towers would entail either squirming my way across a floor sticky with shot pitchers or gaining the ability to part a crowd of Panthers like only a third quarter performance of “Sweet Caroline” at Heinz Field can.
So, I’ll usually text my friends to join me for an IC Light or Duquesne Pils on one of Gene’s high stools at a corner table.
Upon walking in, as is standard, I’ll present my ID to a bouncer, who gives the license the legally required check efficiently and equitably.
The bouncer doesn’t examine it with a suspicious eye, questioning even the slightest physical discrepancy. He’s a seasoned professional and can spot a fake with one eye. He also spends just as much time checking my ID as he does with the person three notches up on the attractiveness scale in front of me. The bouncer just sizes my ID, flashes it under a light and promptly makes his decision.
Upon receiving the okay, you’ll look up and see a bounty of specials on a glass of beer for one or a pitcher for a whole group. Personal favorites are the $4 Guinness specials on Thursday or the Straub special on Fridays for $2.25. And in both cases, the price gets you 22 ounces of cool, refreshing brew.
Behind the counter, the eponymous barkeep himself is often there. Gene has a twirling, old-timey mustache balanced on his upper lip and always seems ready with a smile. He makes all feel welcomed and at home within seconds.
After getting the usual — a pint of an old school American lager with a shot of house bourbon — I’ll wander to a stool, careful not to spill any of my intoxicating liquid cargo on the way. There, I’ll sit with a few friends and chat away the hours.
Music requires a generous soul to throw a buck into the digital jukebox. While this occasionally leads to an awkward silence, the denizens of Gene’s are of the communal sort. Someone usually makes the sacrifice to bring the speakers to life with Run the Jewels, Third Eye Blind or Billy Joel.
Once flowing, the tunes fill in the space around you — they don’t intrude upon your conversation. At Gene’s, I don’t have to lean across the table and scream like I might at elsewhere at 9 p.m. on a Thursday, when I might still be trying to just enjoy a late-night feast with my girlfriend — you can read her not-as-good take across the page.
Because of this intimate setting, it’s also easier to strike up conversations with strangers. Even with a full house — for Wednesday trivia, big sporting events or a Friday night — the volume doesn’t weigh you or your conversation down. At one of the bigger bars, the room is so large and the crowds so dense that any casual aside seems contrived from the start. But Gene’s is so small, you might overhear someone’s conversation or accidentally bump into another patron while playing darts.
The hours fly by sitting at one the bar’s high tables as my friends and I talk of the old friend who got a new job, the latest album we can’t stop listening to or the most recent tweet from our President that might forebear the apocalypse. By closing time — never indicated by the cliche blasting of Semisonic — you’re sad the night’s over.
Just as every night has to have a last call, I’ll be having my last gulps in these coming weeks as a senior. But if you want to commiserate on your job prospects with an “enemy of the people” journalist, I’ll be the guy talking about lead pipes on a Saturday night.
I’ll buy you a beer if you listen to me rant. I promise it’ll make my stories seem more interesting.
Stephen Caruso is the assistant visual editor at The Pitt News. He’s written about everything at this point. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org