.Ninth Life’s Nostalgic Remix

Vibing and imbibing at Uptown Oakland’s newest throwback bar

On Nov. 15, 2023, Ninth Life opened its doors. Operating next door to Good Luck Gato, it introduced a veritable sequence of cocktails that traverse the ’80s, ’90s and aughts. Most of the visually enticing shots were situated at the bar, but the crowd quickly became a standing-room-only situation. The bar, the music and the establishment’s Instagram provided the atmosphere, but for the most part, the bar relied on customers describing it as “a vibe.”

“A vibe,” as Kyle Chayka writes in The New Yorker, is “a medium for feeling, the kind of abstract understanding that comes before words put a name to an experience.” Defined this way, a vibe prioritizes “audio, video and images over text” that is amenable to the social media landscape.

And Ninth Life, whose Instagram page is replete with vaporwave images and throwbacks to ’90s hip-hop, prioritizes image and sound. It promises a more fleshed-out concept that I’m waiting to come to fruition. In the meantime, it entices people with flourishes, including a neon-green appletini, “Them Apples,” an opaque, ocean-blue cocktail, “Chasing Waterfalls,” and faithful renditions of obscure ’80s songs that jarringly transition to ’90s pop.

Ninth Life is a memory capsule; one of many that pervade American entertainment and pop culture. Other major cities have fully devoted Y2K bars, and Eventbrite is packed with Y2K, ’80s and ’90s events occurring year-round. One could argue it’s a pastiche and a fun rendering of people’s interpretation of these decades, but the nostalgia tour does not end there, as much of the current fashion and entertainment is a remake or a reboot of a previous style.

We are witnessing the revival of slip dresses, cardigans, bucket hats, fanny packs, mullets, JNCO jeans and more. The highest-grossing film of 2023 was an IP whose peak hit in the early ’90s with Totally Hair Barbie, a Barbie who appears in the first few stills in the film, looking out into the sun.

The sun set on Millennials, as they are labeled the most nostalgic generation, but as Jason Farago writes in The New York Times, we are one-fourth of the way into the century that “looks likely to go down in history as the least innovative, least transformative, least pioneering century for culture since the invention of the printing press.” Culture, he argues, used to be spoken about as having forward velocity and continuously progressing, but we have arrived at a point where we have learned the kids are no longer capable of surprising us.

Is this an effect of our postmodern age? Are the economic conditions so unviable that there is no room to create, or even imagine, a better future? Has digital technology separated so many past moments from their context that we are creatively bereft as individuals?

These hypothetical questions are often answered with “yes” and any assemblage of affirmatives. Several writers have written about art’s lack of progress, in both culture and other facets of life. More prominently, the late Mark Fisher wrote about how 21st-century electronic music didn’t surpass the 20th century’s music, and this lack of progress was not only limited to music.

Speaking more broadly, Fisher wrote, “… the disappearance of the future meant the deterioration of a whole mode of social imagination.” With music, entertainment and other industries, people lost “the capacity to conceive of a world radically different from the one in which we currently live.”

People have lost futures through an endless number of economic fluctuations, a pandemic, and crises shocking us in and out of stasis. For many Millennials and members of younger generations, an addiction to reliving the past is a failure to imagine a future that is no longer what was.

But Ninth Life is aptly named because it is a spectral reimagining—an imagining of a time, jumbled and remixed, no longer really available in a sense. It is a memory-tourist location attempting to balance kitsch with cool without fully lending itself in either direction.

By not fully recreating a specific time but in fact seamlessly embodying different anachronistic characteristics, it fails, in a way, to fully deliver on the impetus. The attempt suffers from both valorizing a past that never existed and not fully committing to it, but the only sentiment that can be offered to an individual or entity suffering from this affliction is to hope it eventually finds its way.

Ninth Life is located at 1911 San Pablo Ave., Oakland. Open Wed-Sun, 5-10pm. Instagram: @ninth.life.bar. www.ninthlifebar.com.

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