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Oakland’s Iconic Uptown Nightclub Won’t Reopen After the Pandemic Ends

It’s the latest Bay Area music venue to shut down for good

Oakland’s Uptown nightclub is permanently closed
Uptown nightclub

Oakland’s Uptown Nightclub, a 15-year-old nightclub that’s hosted acts like Ice Cube, Green Day, KRS One, and the English Beat, won’t reopen when bars are allowed to reopen, its owners announced. It’s just the latest Bay Area live music venue to shutter in recent months, many due to the pandemic.

Owners Bob Fratti and Kevin Burns opened the Uptown in 2005, which, as the Bay Area News Group put it, was “before the revitalization of the Uptown District made the area a destination.” While the Uptown’s stage was its focal point, just as significant was its vast mahogany bar that, according to its owners, traveled through the Panama Canal to reach Oakland at some time in the dim past, eventually landing at Jack London Square’s Old Spaghetti Factory before settling into its present location.

Though the nightclub was initially applauded for its role in the city’s arts community, the Uptown soon floundered and shuttered. It reopened 2007 with a trio of new owners, nightlife veteran Larry Trujillo and physicians Ray Yeh and Robbin Green-Yeh; and with a lineup of acts like the Buzzcocks, the Dead Kennedys, and Agent Orange racking up “best rock club” laurels from local publications along the way.

Though the bar was busy, behind the scenes its owners continued to lose money, telling the East Bay Times in 2014 that they’d invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” into the bar. “The Uptown is fantastic and it’s successful in the sense that we’ve had amazing people on stage, but financially, it hasn’t made a dime,” Green-Yeh said at the time, “There are a lot more expenses to owning a nightclub than people realize, than I think we realized.”

The financial pressure prompted the trio to close the Uptown yet again, the East Bay Express reported in the fall of 2014. “We opened before the Fox [Theater],” Trujillo noted to the alt-weekly, saying that during the bar’s second run, “we’ve had everyone from Green Day to Ice Cube.” According to Green-Yeh, by closing they hoped to lure a buyer for the business, but acknowledged that even though “there’s local interest, I don’t know if there’s local money.”

A little more than a year later, the Uptown reopened yet again. Green-Yeh and Yeh were the sole owners at that point, again booking national touring acts as well as hosting popular local club nights. The Uptown’s last show was on March 14, and then it went dark, as the Bay Area’s shelter-in-place order closed all bar and nightclub doors.

At the beginning of the shutdown, Uptown experimented a bit with virtual events and fundraisers, but those outlets were not enough to keep the business afloat. Writing on the Uptown’s GoFundMe page on September 4, Green-Yeh said that “with no date in sight when having live entertainment will be safe, we just cannot afford to continue to pay our rent and other expenses with no income in the foreseeable future,” and that the Uptown would close for good.

“The Uptown was never a financial investment for us,” Green-Yeh writes, saying that “it was always a labor of love and the dividends it paid are measured in the wonderful friendships that sprung from the shared love of music.”

One might wonder, given how many times the Uptown has risen from the ashes, if a third reopening is in the works. That question was posed a few times in the hundreds of Facebook responses to the closure, but the answer, again and again, appeared to be that its owners are serious about closing, and don’t plan to revive the spot.

It’s just the latest bar known for live performances to permanently shutter in the Bay Area, following the March closure of Slim’s in SoMa after 30 years, the Stud’s loss of its 9th Street home in May; Oakland bar Stork Club, which closed in May after a century of live music; and 44-year-old Fremont country music bar the Saddle Rack, which also closed in May after announcing that they “have been unable to come up with a viable solution to reopen the Saddle Rack while ensuring the safety of our family.”