To quote Friends and Family owner Blake Sondel Cole, it’s been “a hell of a ride” since the Oakland bar opened during the height of the pandemic in 2020. It was initially scheduled to open just days after the shelter-in-place order was issued in March 2020, so it actually debuted in April and then rode the wave of openings and closings in the subsequent months. Now, having reached its third year in business, things finally feel celebratory. In its time operating, the bar and its proprietors have already been recognized by numerous organizations, becoming a James Beard Award semifinalist for Outstanding Bar Program in 2022 and ranking No. 33 on the 50 Best Bars North America list that same year. It’s been “a mix of exhaustion, but deep pride and gratitude at the same time,” Cole says. “In so many ways, I feel like the bar and myself and the team has gone through so much already. It feels like an entire lifetime that it’s been here. And then in this whole other way, I feel like because of the first two years of our three, it feels like we’re kind of just getting started.”
On the occasion of the bar’s third anniversary, it seems a party is in order — plus a collaboration beer made with Temescal Brewing dubbed “Love Letter.” It’s a collab Cole’s wanted to make happen since Friends and Family first opened its doors, but only recently got off the ground. Much like Friends and Family itself, the lager is a nod to the service industry, Cole says; she looked to create a “shifty,” or a beer that’s clean, crisp, and crushable, something someone would want to drink after they get off a shift. Working with Temescal Brewing, Cole smelled and tasted a number of different hops, basing the final choice off the Friends and Family team’s love of white negronis and drinks with “gentian-like qualities” with a little bitterness. What they landed on was a rice lager with hints of floral and bright citrus notes. “The bar was a love letter to the industry, and this beer is in that same vein of that,” Cole says. “We are definitely romantics here, we love anything cheeky and sweet and sentimental, so I thought the name ‘Love Letter’ all just tied in perfectly to that.”
The beer is set to be released today, Tuesday, April 25, the same day as Friends and Family’s three-year anniversary party, and already a number of restaurants on both sides of the Bay Bridge are in line to feature it, including State Bird Provisions, the Progress, Anchovy Bar, Day Trip, Ramen Shop, Jo’s Modern Thai, North Light, and Joodooboo. The art for the label was created by Temescal’s in-house art director, who took suggestions from Cole and came up with a play on Friends and Family’s paper tablecloths and crayons, which customers would often draw and doodle on.
To mark the occasion of Friends and Family’s anniversary, there are also a couple of changes coming to the bar. Cole says they will be launching a few of the plans they had in place before the bar opened: notably longer hours and a shift toward becoming more standing-room friendly, a place that’s easy to walk into and grab a few quick drinks. To that end, there’ll be a dinner menu and table service available until a certain point in the evening, then things will transition to patrons ordering at the bar. There will be a late-night happy hour and limited snack menu, which includes items like the grilled cheese sandwich and the popular carrot cake from Cole’s mom. It’s a return to the idealism the team had while planning the bar, but also recognizing the changes that were made necessary during the pandemic. “I feel like the anniversary party is really a nod to everything that we’ve gone through,” Cole says, “and a moment to give ourselves a pat on the back. At the same time, we’re setting the tone that this next year is going to be one of a lot of exciting change — and stepping into the next chapter of ourselves.”
Friends and Family (468 25th Street, Oakland) celebrate its third anniversary with a “Love Letter” lager beer release party from 6 to 10 p.m. on Tuesday, April 25.