One night last week I picked the ultimate place to tip, toe, and trot rather than crawl: three restaurant-bars in Uptown Oakland — which, let’s face it, is just a few blocks from Midtown and then Downtown. But I like the sound of it, so after pulling on my stacked greige suede boots and purple silk trench coat, we headed down Broadway.
First we came to Mua (2442 Webster St.), a converted 6,500-square-foot garage with a black facade and graffiti inside and out. (The name is pronounced moo-wha, Korean for “no self.”) The decor felt a bit neither-here-nor-there, but the vibe was nonetheless remarkably comfortable, and we struck up many conversations with others at the bar — which is as it should be.
Jus, the head barman, is the real deal: passionate about fresh ingredients, and a philosopher to boot. He served us a drink-of-the-day called the Kicher ($10), with Corzo tequila, green chartreuse, crème de gingembre (ginger), lime, grapefruit, and a rinse of absinthe. Jus said it was the ginger that “makes it pop.” You see, he mused, “making a drink is like life; you’ve got to get the balance right — going out, working, going to the gym … and then you need something like the ginger to make things pop.”
We said farewell to our new friends, both actual and existential, and hopped across the road to Picán (2295 Broadway), an elegant door to the Deep South serving variations on old staples such as fried chicken and collard greens, and seemingly an entire book of bourbons. It’s a really swishy place, with doormen and valet parking and as many as three very glamorous women to greet you. The interior is elegant: deep chocolate browns, colored glass, copper ceiling tiles, Victorian moldings. Having a pianist at the grand in the bar was a wonderful touch, but the TV dulled the atmosphere. Still, this is a place to really dress up for: One can never be too sparkly nor too fancy for Picán — one-shoulder cocktail frocks, stilettos, and chandelier earrings are all perfect. Many of the amen wore three-piece suits with hats, ties, silk scarves, and pocket squares.
But back to the bourbon: There are boatloads of options on hand, plus cocktails for mixing. I am not a bourbon aficionado, though we tried the Kentucky Highball and Picán Old Fashioned. I did enjoy the Mint Julep ($10), with Jim Beam, rock-candy syrup, and fresh mint: fresh without being too sweet.
The evening ended up next door at Ozumo (2251 Broadway), a chic Japanese restaurant and bar with a jazz-club atmosphere. The bar is in a horseshoe shape, decorated with dramatic colored lighting, a waterfall, dreamy blue paintings, pretty sake bottles lining the walls, and … another TV. We sat at the Robata Grill, where diners can soak up the drama of a huge kitchen with leaping flames. We opted for a taste of the Sparkling Lychee cocktail ($9): lychee syrup and passion fruit purée topped with Chandon De Noir sparkling wine; the drink was sparkly and slightly sweet without being too cloying.
So it was Mua for the bohemian rhapsodizing and funky ginger; Picán for the slow, silky lounge-lizard moves; and Ozumo for a fresh, fruity bubbly. By the time I arrived home and the cocktails had worn off slightly, my feet were starting to ache. A bit of rest would be required before the next “research assignment.”