An Opinionated Guide to Experiencing First Fridays

September 14, 2013

Culture, Food, Streets


Live band and mural behind Uptown Body and Fender

Live band and mural behind Uptown Body and Fender

I have probably gone to at least 25 First Fridays/Art Murmurs over the years and have watched it change and morph. I went to one large community meeting in the summer of 2012 where I advocated for the “official” street closure of Telegraph as the crowds had become so large that they were spilling onto the street and with so many cars cruising Telegraph, someone was bound to get hurt. I have many critiques of how the City and the two business improvement districts (Uptown/Lake Merritt and KONO) could have supported and directed the event before it devolved to a small group of community activists who have by default taken the leadership of it. I know the KONO BID was advertising to pay someone to coordinate the event but it has become so unmanageable in terms of raising the money to do the street closures and provide adequate toilets and waste stations for garbage and recycling that it will take superhuman efforts now to negotiate the political and financial minefield that First Fridays has become.

That said, few merchants, be they gallery, restaurant or bar owners in the downtown or Uptown want to see First Fridays collapse since it’s the economic engine that is helping fuel the revival of the area. Time will tell and October’s Telegraph street closure is a go.

How to See First Fridays

I always find it most convenient to ride a bike so I can cover as much ground as possible. Finding a place to lock up can be a challenge along Telegraph so I lock up on 24th or 25th or on Broadway. Telegraph Avenue from Grand to 27th St is the street closure and the food is located between 26th-27th mostly. But the best food trucks hang out on 25th and 26 St and these typically include Doc’s of the Bay (26th St behind Uptown Body Shop) and Liba’s in front of 418 Warehouse on 26th St. Commonwealth Club also sells beer and brats at a lovely and lively patio space on 26th St next to the Uptown Body Shop.

I like to start the night at 25th St Collective where Hiroko Kurihara has put together an eclectic assortment of “slow food and slow fashion artisans” who work in a variety of disciplines, especially in textiles. If you want to start the night with a good glass of wine, buy one from Two Mile Winery as you come through the door on the left since you won’t be able to exit with it later (ABC rules). Then cruise the booths and be sure to check out Korrupt Label, who makes the iconic t-shirts and patches with stylish Russian lettering and iconography. Next up is Vessel Gallery a few doors towards Broadway where you go upstairs to a tricked out second story that captures the essence of the term “soho” but this is Oakland style. The exhibits are typically stunning but accessible and the added bonus is often live music and a small patio out back, again with wine to purchase. Beware, though, 25th St Collective and Vessel close by 9pm and at 9pm I often am just getting the First Friday spirit going, so it’s off to the Uptown Body and Fender on 26th St (enter through back or front) whose owner, Giovanna Tonzillo is a gracious host and Oakland booster who provides a homey location for all kinds of craft artists and also donates her space for numerous worthy causes, especially leftie political ones.


Crowd at Latham Square, a new outdoor public space

In September two live bands were playing, one inside where folks were doing some lindy hopping and an louder rock band out back with some excellent lighting on the wall mural. Next door is the spacious patio with new picnic tables for lounging and sampling the wares from Commonwealth. I’m not sure how late they stay open but it has the vibe of a late night scene. Next up is Warehouse 418, as of this writing my absolute favorite hangout spot of the night. New to the mix is an open kitchen on the right as you walk in, where a chef sells her sliders, complete with a tasty Armenian chutney. In the back is a bar where I like to have a cocktail, with the mixologist typically making a fresh rum drink among other offerings. A DJ spins tunes and for some reason it’s never too crowded, unlike some of the other galleries. Oakland Heritage Alliance is there selling books and maps of Oakland, and the art and crafts is whimsical and lower end than most of the galleries mentioned above.


It’s now 9:30 or 10pm and time to get on the bike and pedal down Broadway or possibly catch a flick at The New Parkway. Now that the Latham Square’s temporary design is completed, it’s fun to hang here and people watch, although let’s hope there is some good live music programmed soon, especially for First Fridays. Next up is live music at the Awaken Cafe or even a quick cruise of Oaklandish near 14th but these two are still usually packed with folks so depending on my mood, it may be time to ride home or drop by Disco Volante (currently closed but hopefully something similar opening at that location.)

About Karen Hester

Karen Hester is a community activist and events coordinator who lives in North Oakland in Temescal Creek Cohousing. Her event productions website is She lives and breathes the fight to stop more billboards in Oakland and started

View all posts by Karen Hester

No comments yet.

Leave a Reply