Gay Dive’s New Vibe

Lesbian entrepreneurs seek to replace Caleb's Reef with Oakland's only upscale GLBT nightspot.

The dilapidated storefront that used to be Cabel’s Reef — a GLBT bar that opened 23 years ago on a stretch of Telegraph Avenue that now includes art galleries, boutiques, and hipster coffee shops — is now completely gutted. By September it will have undergone an infrastructure overhaul in addition to major reconstructive surgery. Graphic designer Susanne Borman and her partner Lori Dynes, a retired Wells Fargo marketing manager, plan to transform the old dive into a chic, two-story GLBT venue called the Vibe.

The name says it all: Trading the Reef’s Cheers-style setup for swankier digs that include flat-panel TVs, a video jukebox, built-in seating, wheelchair-accessible bathrooms, soft LED lighting, and an upstairs dancefloor, the co-owners plan to create an upscale cocktail lounge targeting Oakland’s 25-and-up queer community. The city’s few gay watering holes include the divey White Horse and the Bench and Bar, a campy salsa club oriented toward exotic dancing.

The couple got the idea about a year and a half ago, Borman says, in part because they wanted a reprieve from their corporate jobs, and partly because they realized that demand for safe GLBT venues in the East Bay far outpaced supply. “We’ve infiltrated everywhere in Oakland,” Borman says. “I’ve got five gay households on my block.” She adds that when the queer women’s bar Velvet opened a few months ago on MacArthur Boulevard, four hundred women lined up outside to get in.

After scoping out real estate, Borman and Dynes found Jack Everhart, who offered a prime opportunity. Granted, the new owners inherited some of the bad blood associated with Cabel’s Reef, which ostensibly shut down because ex-owner Everhart was ready to retire from the nightlife business. The city had enjoined him to close at 11 p.m. due to neighbor complaints about drug use in the adjacent parking lot. “To my knowledge he was never required to close at 11,” Borman surmises, but for the most part he did. “That was one of the things we needed to address when we made the purchase from Jack. We’re gonna have a minimum of two security guards every hour that we’re open — one at the door and one roaming.”

Vibe’s cofounders seem inured to — even emboldened by — the venue’s spotty history. “We wanted to run an above-board and transparent situation,” Borman says. “We have a lot of meetings where people come, and we hear their concerns.” She notes that the Vibe plans to feature six signature cocktails inspired by local gay bars that came and went before it. One of them will bear the Jack Everhart name.

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