Bar Dogwood and the Importance of Being Earnest

Stuffed animals and cured meats in Uptown.

Serious question: When the taxidermy craze dies down — finally, mercifully — what in God’s name are all these people going to do with their newly uncool, likely very expensive stuffed animal corpses? Can you throw them away? Will raccoons eat them if you leave them out for curbside pickup? Or will stuffed and mounted woodland creatures simply become a trope of the aging bars of tomorrow, in the same way some places are still doing the awkward Nineties Asian-inspired thing?

These are all questions to ponder at Bar Dogwood, a new-ish spot in Uptown Oakland that features a trio of taxidermied pheasants arranged artfully along the back wall. Plus big, long, blond wood tables (acacia, irregularly shaped); framed photos on the wall (sepia-toned, apparently random); exposed brick (handsome, if obvious); and a pair of Urban Outfitters models hired to stand in the corner and look inoffensively hip (just kidding). Indeed, this place is covered in the fingerprints of someone with a degree in interior design. There are antique gramophones rejiggered for use as speakers, light fixtures meant to look like old-fashioned gas lamps, and an expensive-looking charcuterie rig in the corner, featuring as its main attraction a gleaming, vintage-looking red meat slicer that I can only imagine costs as much as some cars. “This place is Etsy in bar form,” my friend remarked ten minutes after sitting down.

Bar Dogwood is surely urbane and self-conscious and slightly twee, though it is not in any way unpleasant. No place with adorable little birds on the wall, house-made ginger syrup, or Neko Case on the sound system (or, for that matter, inordinately attractive bartenders) can be unpleasant. Even though it just opened in February, Bar Dogwood is already very popular, particularly for couples and after work on weeknights, and it’s not hard to see why. When you design a place to look like a hunting lodge, it invariably ends up feeling cozy and inviting. The aforementioned bartenders seem to have an innate ability to distill completely abstract drink requests into fully-realized and generally delicious cocktails, and the charcuterie thing is also obviously a draw, because cured meat products are the absolute best — especially when they’re locally sourced and lovingly prepared, as are the offerings at Dogwood.

But all that local love and fastidious bartending doesn’t come cheap. The woefully skimpy charcuterie plate is $15, and drinks can run up to $10 during non-happy hour, although you can still get a greyhound for a reasonable $5. Everything is well-executed — after all, you can’t get to self-conscious without being conscious in the first place. The charcuterie plate — three cheeses, three meats, bread, jam, and spicy mustard — was delicious; the greyhound was fresh, if a little weak; and the Stone’s Throw — Knob Creek Bourbon, ginger syrup, orange bitters, ginger beer, and lemon, served on the rocks — was one of the best cocktails I’ve had in a while. (It was apparently invented by owner Alexeis Filipello herself, formerly of San Francisco’s House of Shields.)

The grand mission of Filipello and of Bar Dogwood is, at least according to the bar’s website, to create “an intimate spirits-driven meat sanctuary specializing in cocktails and cured meats by the pound” — which is sort of funny and wonderful, and which also perfectly elucidates the distinct earnestness and ambition of the place. Bar Dogwood was created by and for the “new” Uptown — that is, a utopian vision of urban Oakland that’s been long-discussed and long-planned, but which doesn’t necessarily exist at the moment. In that sense, I suppose you could call Bar Dogwood forward-thinking. But for the time being, it’s still a little out of place, all of that ambition brought into sharp relief against the backdrop of its context. It requires a certain degree of cognitive dissonance to sit among the blazered masses, eat a $15 plate of sliced meat, and drink a $10 cocktail across the street from a pawn shop and next door to the shuttered back end of a deli, now adorned by a sad, graffiti-covered awning advertising “TERIYAKI BURGERS BREAKFAST SANDWICHES.” But who knows, maybe in six months or two years or a decade, the pawn shop and deli will be gone, Uptown will be filled with places like this, and we will praise Bar Dogwood for its foresight. Maybe the stuffed pheasants will live longer than we thought.


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