People occasionally ask me if it’s hard writing about bars week after week, and the (completely assholeish, embarrassingly bratty-sounding) truth is that sometimes, it really is. Because what makes a bar good or bad is almost always completely subjective and almost never explicable in words: It’s the feeling (or not) that you’re in a place where people are happy, and that’s often something better experienced than described. In that sense, and with apologies to Tolstoy, all good bars are alike, even if they’re different in their alikeness — and most bars are good bars, lovable at least to the people who love them, and infrequented by the people who don’t. Even if all bad bars are bad in their own ways, picking on the outliers or quibbling about interior design or music selection or the ins and outs of mixology may make for spicier copy, but it doesn’t much make a difference.
On Saturday, I went to The Warehouse, a cop bar near Jack London Square. Outside, it looks like a two-story house, save for signage; inside, it is clean and cozy and surprisingly big, with a shuffleboard table, several TVs, a jukebox, various other amenities, and about a dozen round, dark-wood tables. The liquor selection is deep and cheap; the kegs taste fresh; and the bartenders are unduly friendly. The Warehouse has, over the years, hosted live music and various charity events a few nights a week; it’s also come to be known as a solidly respectable restaurant in its own right, with a menu of pub-grub standards like burgers and wings. Altogether, by virtue of its cop-bar-ness and in a frustratingly impossible way to explain, The Warehouse is the type of place that is broadly, pleasantly unspecial to most people, but singularly, specifically, palpably special to the cops, firefighters, nurses, and other uniformed types that make up the bulk of its clientele. Seemingly every vertical surface is papered with badges from agencies near (Oakland, mostly) and far (Maryland?), with framed photos, posters, and signed T-shirts. Along the north wall is a chilling, tasteful mini-memorial to officers lost in the line of duty, a helmet and boot mounted somberly on the wall.
These are heady times for the OPD, to be sure: Over the past six months and in the wake of Occupy Oakland, our city’s cops have been publicly chastised, spit upon and screamed at, and made the unwitting enemy in a war that, from my view at least, looks to be intractable. But, like most of us, they’re just looking to do their jobs well and spend their free Saturday nights in a place where people are happy. Like bars, they are mostly good but it’s the bad ones that get noticed. The Warehouse is a place where quiet goodness gets its due.