Bar: Classic Cars West

  • By Peter Lawrence Kane
  • Wed May 18th, 2016 6:00pm
  • DiningEat

Let's say you're in the market for a “tastefully modified” 1941 Ford Woody Wagon — not unlike the car for which Fozzie traded in his uncle's Studebaker in The Muppet Movie — but you'd also like a mimosa doughnut and a Crooked City Cider. If you have $145,009 in your pocket — plus a couple extra for the tip — you'd do well to check out Classic Cars West in Oakland's Northgate-Waverly neighborhood. If you'd rather not plunk down almost three times the United States' G.D.P. per capita on a set of wheels, there's currently a signal-red 1964 Triumph TR4 convertible and an even more bad-ass green 1974 Porsche 911 Outlaw.

And if you'd prefer a can of Fort Point Kolsch to the cider, you can get that, too.

Not far from Drake's Dealership, Oakland's other automotive-related drinking establishment — which opened less than a year ago — Classic Cars West is a barn-like structure supported by elegant, 50-foot wooden trusses to keep the floor free of posts and columns. Outside, there's an asphalt yard full of picnic tables and plastic furniture walled in by murals, but unlike the beer garden that is Drake's, the cars here are not a legacy of some industrial past. CCW is a fully functioning clearinghouse for unique vintage cars, on top of being an art gallery with a beer license and the first permanent location of Oakland food truck Hella Vegan Eats, which serves food Wednesday through Saturday nights and Sunday for brunch (including the Breakfast of Champions Plate: a house-baked biscuit with oyster mushroom gravy, an asparagus and sweet potato hash, charred lemon cashew hollandaise, maple-glazed seitan ham, an organic savory scramble, and dinosaur kale, $15).

A staple of the Oakland Art Murmur and Saturday Stroll, CCW has been around awhile in a cars-on-consignment form before owner Michael Sarcona decided to expand into the world of faux-chicken-and-waffles and Ale Industries' Spring Fling. Los Angeles pop artist Ed Ruscha would love it, and we're not even certain if he's into oyster mushroom poutine and other meatless delights.

Without overlooking the shade from the pastel umbrellas, the outside could use a bit of greenery and landscaping to soften it further, because on a warm day there's still a lot of direct sun and asphalt — and demand enough that the kitchen ran out of food by a little after 2 p.m. on a recent Sunday. But the atmosphere is happy and relaxed: Nocturnal though the art world may be, it's nice to see families feeding vegan eats to antsy toddlers, and people with neck tattoos and R2-D2 purses petting their equally antsy Chihuahuas.

Being open only during the day, Classic Cars West is more of a picnic spot than a bar. And the space's incongruity is part of its charm: Inviting people to get drunk around vehicles with six-figure price tags isn't quite the same thing as an art museum having a wine-and-cheese cocktail party. There, people know by instinct to behave (and there are guards, and track lighting). CCW is less rarefied; you almost expect to see oil stains or calendars with boobs. And so, there are several signs not to touch the cars.

But there is art, too — good art. There's a furniture-sized sculpture made out of secondhand neckties that looks like a vortex of ugly menswear (or a Bundt cake). On one wall is a three-dimensional painting of a gun made to appear as if it's fired a jigsaw puzzle, some pieces of which are also guns and bombs. And in one corner is a street-art-style painting of a silhouette of a woman walking toward a deer over a brightly colored wasteland of household garbage as a forest fire burns in the distance. (The painting is hung in front of a wall that's painted in the same style, to create a trompe l'oeil effect.)

Outside, there are a couple more cars, the Hella Vegan Eats window, and murals that are far from afterthoughts. We'd be remiss not to note that the spattered blood on Emma Webster's pastoral mural of a tiger (who may have just torn to shreds a little girl in a party dress) didn't look a little like some of Gerhard Richter's work in the recently reopened SFMOMA. In all, the scene is very post-industrial Oakland, and thankfully adheres to strict standards of what constitutes vintage. (As of this year, a patently unsexy 1991 Ford Taurus could be grandfathered into the category.) But from food to art to automobiles, Classic Cars West evinces better taste than that.

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