Nectar Social Club sits down the half-alley, half-downtown Oakland connector that is 15th Street. A canopy above the sidewalk shelters patrons who work on laptops in the wooden parklet while passersby smoke weed.
While owner Jeremy Redford met with an organizer about a drum-and-bass DJ night, I soaked up the club’s ambience with a refreshing tonic Redford had offered me across the corner bar.
Patrons worked inside or outside. Two video artists met at the table next to mine. Redford worked the bar serving coffee during the day and beer, wine, kombucha, tonics, tea and even hard liquor in the evening hours.
When he joined me it was obvious his personality was all over the style of the place. He’s a poet-faced man, a creator whose easy cool has a sharp edge.
The club’s interior has a DJ/sofa nook in the front, a bar in the back, a row of tables along one wall, some bar stools along the other and a dance floor in the middle. In fact, the whole interior is the dance floor, with an 80-person capacity. Luscious, flowing graffiti across the walls visually unites the club in its purpose—to be a place for art and love and joy.
“With so many new cafes, the aesthetic inside clashes with the culture outside,” Redford said. “When I started the design process, I wanted to feel like there was an extension, like this belonged on this block.”
In fact, the outside becomes a part of Nectar when events spill out into the alley, thanks to the Flex Street Program. The COVID-era permit was just reinstated by the city of Oakland in a policy decision that allows Nectar Social Club to be a beating heart of the neighborhood.
While so many new businesses take a sales-first approach to getting customers in the door, Redford said, “I’ve been working from the opposite direction of like, how do I start with community on day one? Then focus on how to build the business around the community.”
He is looking for queer activist artists, creatives, event producers, DJs and anyone seeking partnerships in building community.
“We’re like, what’s already happening?” he asked. “And how do we become a hub, how do we become an accessible stage, an accessible venue for producers in the area who are looking for a space that doesn’t cost a bunch of money?”
In the process, Redford wants to normalize the “full experience of queerness.”
“A lot of people who identify as queer now don’t necessarily feel like they’re a part of the [gay bar scene,] and so it’s like understanding that there’s this new expansive [world of] ‘queer,’” Redford said.
This is the place where they—we—can just hang out and be ourselves. Over a craft cocktail. Or coffee.
“We have an NWA, ‘nothing with alcohol,’ menu as well,” Redford said with his signature boyish smile. “So [it’s] a kind of bar lounge experience Tuesday through Thursday nights, then on Fridays and Saturdays we host large events.”
Events like the newly negotiated drum-and-bass night.
Then there are the block parties or street festivals, including monthly queer-forward markets that have vendors and close down the street to car traffic so the neighborhood can let its pride come out to shine.
“Kind of like queer Maker Faire vibes,” Redford said.
Being a part of overlapping communities means promoting ways for those communities to support each other. The market series closes down the street for a rotating cast of causes, most recently at the time of writing, a group raising money for queer incarcerated people.
The organization, A.B.O. Comix, is “like an abolitionist comic group,” Redford said. “They actually sell comic books made by people who are incarcerated.”
The event raised hundreds of dollars to pay queer incarcerated people’s commissaries, allowing them to purchase food and supplies while in jail.
“We’re as rich as the community we are fostering,” Redford said.
That’s the optimism needed to build a resilient community in this neighborhood.
“I’ve been essentially on this block every single day,” he said. “If you just stayed at home and watched the news every day, it seems like a terrifying place to come, but I mean, I’m here every day and there’s so much joy.”
So Nectar Social Club fills the role of an inclusive third space, the other place we spend our time between work and home, something sorely needed on the block. In this part of downtown many offices and storefronts are vacant.
That’s significant, post-COVID, said Redford.
“I think that we’re going to see an entire rethinking of the way that people engage with work and re-engage with community,” he said. “[We need] to figure out new ways to build communities [in person].”