First Impressions At Tribune Tavern

Categories: Oakland

tribune tavern molly gore.jpg
Molly Gore
Smoked trout salad at Tribune Tavern.
When the Tribune Tavern opened two weeks ago in Oakland, I was excited. Firstly, it's a tavern, under a former newspaper building. A place for wiry and haggard journalists, gatekeepers to the misery of the world, to roll down their sleeves and commune. Wingback chairs, scotch, Jimmy Stewart (maybe?). Halfway through my jar of puréed rabbit and frothy drink last night I thought, no, it's not for them. I'm not sure who it's for.

To begin, the word "tavern" tricked me into coming. It's not a tavern, at least not entirely. It's more confused than that. The center of the bar displays a rack of spirits, lit blue by a light that looks like it was salvaged from a nightclub. The bar, peppered with hoodies and youngish folks, is flanked by TV's. Khakis, ties, and suits fill out the rest of the restaurant, an elongated room that sits under a strange and cheesy faux-art deco lighting theme. The interior itself is a strange mash-up of materials -- like segments of wine barrels, golden moulding, leather booths, backlit couches, and not-so-reclaimed wood -- that my dining friend deemed "schizophrenic." The whole thing has a very clean sheen, like a prototype, but a prototype of what is more difficult to discern. Between the confused aesthetics and the strange brand of "updated tavern," it's hard to tell what era inspired the place.

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But oh! The food. The food is very good. The menu is a smattering of hearty fare and meats in all their incarnations, divided into "Smaller" and "Bigger" plates, with sides and potted meats listed on their own. The potted rabbit was rich and delicious, a luxe spread. Beer-steamed mussels and the pork trotter and cheek fritters were both lovely renditions, restrained and tender. The Spring Soup, a sprinkling of vegetables in prosciutto broth, was delicate and inspired. You can expect the rest of the menu to be consistent, judging from our random samplings from other tables (we made many friends last night). To be well fed, order more than a small plate. If you're of a certain mind, you can also fork out for a rib-eye or flank stake. There's also a certain elegance here that you don't normally get with tavern food. It's rustic and thoughtful.

The tavern offers an old-timey selection of cocktails with a pre-Prohibition feel. The Front Page rings of rye and amontillado, rounded out with a sweet dose of créme de cacao. The Man About Town is a less than timid grouping of Buffalo Trace Bourbon, Carpano Antica, and Gran Classico. The Opposable Thumb, a rum-based delight, is a frothy number decked out with fernet, Créme de Banane, and some whipped up farm egg. Beware, it's sweet. My friend uttered one thing between first and last sips, "This is not a grown up drink."

The tavern has an impressive list of wines (on tap even), and the selection of spirits is properly extensive. We snuck a sip of a stranger's very old St. George scotch, sweet and complex, and realized we would maybe like to stay awhile. Stay we did, as the ratio of suits to tattoos changed before our very eyes as the night wore on, until the latter had colonized the greater part of the restaurant's front. We ventured to the back once, but it felt empty and a bit like Bennigan's.

The Tribune Tavern is a good stop if you're in the area and looking for a classy happy hour, or some highly glorified, old worldy food. One suggestion, save the cocktails for before and after the meal, they're a little too fruit forward and intensely aromatic to count on pairing well with your cheeseburger. Beyond that, it's all fair game.

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