When Here’s How opened in Uptown Oakland last April, it was hailed as one of the city’s most exciting new bars. It had an open prep kitchen where customers could watch giant blocks of ice being hand-cut, and its bartenders mixed the kinds of drinks that appealed to both cocktail nerds and regular folks. But on Wednesday, after a lengthy battle with building residents that owner Jennifer Colliau says drained all of her financial resources, Here’s How closed its doors for good.
“The residents of this building have protested my presence since I signed my lease two years ago, and I can no longer financially weather this fight,” Colliau wrote in a note posted on the bar’s entrance yesterday. In an interview this morning, she told Eater SF that she was “gutted” by the decision, which left the bar’s twelve employees without jobs.
After nearly two years of delays associated with neighbors protesting the bar’s liquor license and its construction plans, Colliau says, “I opened up under too much debt, more than I should have. I have been trying to crawl my way out of that, and I just haven’t been able to.” As a result of the closure, with eight years still left on her lease, Colliau says she’ll likely spend the next two years tied up in bankruptcy proceedings.
Here’s How was first solo project for Colliau, a longtime Bay Area bar star and a respected figure in the local cocktail scene. From the very beginning, Colliau says, some of the residents of the mixed-use building seemed dead set against a bar on the premises. Citing concerns about noise, late hours, and other related issues, seven of those neighbors filed protests against the bar’s liquor license application, as the SF Chronicle reported at the time.
The upshot was that Here’s How was forced to open with an interim operating permit rather than a permanent liquor license — and because of that, she had to pay her liquor distributors with cash on delivery instead of being allowed 30 days to pay the bill. The latter system is typically how bars operate, which means that they can use the revenue from a month of sales to cover the expense. In the end, that financial burden, month after month, was too much to overcome — especially as multiple delays in the hearing process meant that the temporary liquor license issue still had no end in sight.
Meanwhile, Colliau says the bar started off in a financial hole, as construction was delayed for more than a year — mainly, she believes, because as a representative of the building’s homeowners’ association, one of the main protestors sat in on all of her construction meetings, snarling that process. In the end, she felt she had to cut her losses instead of continuing to throw money at the project.
What’s particularly upsetting, Colliau says, is that the contentious circumstance surrounding the liquor license will make it difficult for any other bar to move into the space, much of which she built out with her own two hands. And if it isn’t a bar, she says, “whoever moves in is going to gut it.“
The irony, Colliau points out, is the 1755 Broadway building where her bar is located, and where a two-bedroom condo recently sold for nearly $1 million, is just steps away from the Fox Theater, at the heart of Uptown Oakland’s nightlife district — an explicit plan for the area that the city of Oakland has been promoting since even before the building opened to its first residents about a decade ago. As one supporter of the bar tweeted last night, “Don’t move to a nightlife area then complain about the businesses coming into the area.”
“Oakland is my city. I love that I can get regional Cambodian cuisine and very specific Guatemalan curries,” says Colliau, who grew up just a few miles from the bar. “Generally, in business in Oakland, if you are kind and respectful and you take care of your staff, people support you.”
But the handful of residents in the building who, in Colliau’s view, ultimately caused Here’s How’s demise were different. They were “so god damn entitled,” she says, constantly emailing her to complain about noises or smells coming from the bar, but never actually setting foot in the door to communicate with her about their issues.
“They wanted a fucking Williamsburg. They don’t want Oakland,” Colliau says. “But they moved here. And their apartments and condos have increased in value three times since they moved here ten years ago.”
- NIMBYs Versus Negronis: Oakland Residents Protest Cocktail Spot Here’s How [SFC]