Oakland's new Starline Social Club could be described as a constantly evolving interactive art installation— albeit one with a full kitchen, bar, and 350-person ballroom and music venue. The unique concept is the brainchild of Oakland artist Adam Hatch, who has been working in collaboration with partners Sam White (Ramen Shop) and artists Eric Siemens and Drew Bennett over the past year.
The multi-faceted Starline is housed in a cavernous, historic space, built in 1893. Originally an Odd Fellows Hall, it's had many tenants over the years, including a saloon, a social club for the deaf and Starline Janitorial Supply; more recently, it's played host to countless underground dance parties. Hatch had been slowly renovating the historic space and hosting events there for years, saying he "selfishly wanted to create a place where he enjoyed hanging out," and where other artists in the community could find a home. But the project kicked into high gear after the addition of White and Siemens, who helped Hatch plot the addition of a full bar and kitchen.
The roomy downstairs bar has a wide staircase leading up to the main ballroom, which features a newly installed Meyer sound system and a sprung floor— a hallmark of many dance halls built in the 20th century. The renovations were all done by Hatch and his partners, allowing the 122-year-old raw plaster walls to tell their own stories. "You can't falsify history," said Siemens. Indeed, relics found in the attic serve as the main decor, including a board noting dues paid by Odd Fellows members in 1943, a ceremonial sword, and other curiosities. Almost every new component was constructed by hand, from the asymmetrical, curving bar to the booths.
"It turned from this 'nouveau punk' thing into a feasible situation," said Hatch, referring to the pop-ups from notable chefs (including Paul Canales of Duende and Chris Kronner of Kronnerburger), dance performances, yoga classes and artistic endeavors that have taken place there over the years. Hatch and his partners plan to host many more creative events at the space, with a focus on staying "artist-forward." Bennett, who also happens to be the founder and director of Facebook's' Artist-in-Residence program, will have a strong hand in curating and event programming moving forward. And as the space continues to evolve, a live music component will be added into the mix, with shows held at least three times a week.
Chef Austin Holey, a Berkeley native, who's cooked at Oakland's Pizzaiolo and Boot and Shoe Service and Paris' acclaimed Bones, says his menu was inspired by his time in France. "In Europe, bar food is actually delicious," said Holey. "They use small quantities of really unique items to create something really interesting." Currently, the menu is focused on smaller plates like beer-battered onion rings with nori salt and lamb sweetbreads with black trumpet mushrooms, though eventually Holey plans to add larger plates to share. (Check out the opening menu here.) "I love challenging people," says Holey, who forages for ingredients in many of his dishes. "I want people to be surprised by simple elements." The beverage program is headed up by Crystal Wilson (Duende), and includes a selection of creative cocktails, wines and draft and bottled beers. Starline Social Club's hours are Wednesday-Sunday, from 6 p.m.- 2 a.m.