Under ordinary circumstances, strolling down the street with an open beer in hand is considered illegal. But at Oaktoberfest — the fourth annual craft-beer festival that will spill across four blocks in Oakland’s Dimond District (MacArthur Boulevard and Fruitvale Avenue) on Saturday, October 1 — stein-wielding beer drinkers can imbibe outdoor brews to their liver’s content, consuming offerings from more than twenty Bay Area breweries including Oakland’s own Pacific Coast Brewing Co., Linden Street Brewery, and the Oakland Brewing Company.
The site of the German-inspired beer festival couldn’t be more fitting. In the early 1900s, prior to Prohibition, the upper Fruitvale neighborhood’s Hopkins Street (present-day Macarthur Boulevard) was flush with beer gardens. Among them was Tepper’s, a hotel and beer garden operated by German-born proprietor Charlie Tepper. The business is long gone, but the historic building still stands. And according to Oaktoberfest organizers, the Dimond still has one of the largest populations of German descendants in the East Bay.
While the festival is an obvious nod to the area’s distinct German past, organizers Stan Dodson and Daniel Swafford also see it as a promising sign for its future. Swafford, a Dimond Improvement Association board member whose grandparents moved to the neighborhood in the 1930s, said that five years ago the Dimond was in a “pretty bad state.” Once home to roller rinks and bowling alleys, he said it shifted over the decades into a largely suburban neighborhood, with a Lucky Supermarket serving as the anchor tenant. “It was really kind of a desolate place and there wasn’t much going on,” he recalled.
But in 2006, Farmer Joe’s Marketplace opened up in the former Lucky location, followed by a spate of new businesses. Today, that influx of commerce makes a large-scale street festival like Oaktoberfest more feasible. Organizers have been working to secure sponsorships and the participation of local businesses. Profits will fund the neighborhood’s improvement and merchant associations — proof that the celebration is more than just for fun.
And if previous festivals are any indication, expect no shortage of merrymaking. Last year, attendees ingested upwards of 10,000 steins of beer, according to Swafford. This year, on top of the requisite German fare, food trucks from the Oakland Mobile Food Group will serve decidedly non-German offerings, while kids can imbibe root beer floats from the Rootbier Garten. Because “whether it’s root beer or real beer, you should have a stein in your hand,” Swafford said. Aspiring beer makers can also test their concoctions at the fest’s German homebrew competition and attend interactive brew workshops throughout the day.
Food and drink aside, organizers have scheduled a DJ area and two music stages, with Big Lou (“the accordion princess”) and the Stovall Sisters soul trio among those gracing the main stage, and the Skyline High School jazz band one of many groups on the family stage. Offstage, bands of wandering accordion players will serenade the crowds with German polkas, and an alphorn player will conjure images of the Ricola commercial (“Rico-laaaaa!”). But the unquestionable highlight of the day: Mayor Jean Quan launches the event with a ceremonial tapping of the keg at 10:45 a.m. No word yet on whether she plans to perform a keg stand. 11 a.m.-6 p.m., free. Oaktoberfest.org