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Low Bar, Oakland’s New Chicano Bar, Takes Off After a Yearlong Delay

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Low Bar owners Matt Meyer (left) and Daniel Paez sit on stools inside an empty bar.
Low Bar owners Matt Meyer (left) and Daniel Paez. (Kait Miller)

When Matthew Meyer and Daniel Paez first announced their plans for Low Bar early last year, the Chicano-owned bar was hailed as part of a new wave of craft cocktail bars in Oakland that centered the experiences of people of color. Then, of course, the pandemic hit, and everything ground to a halt. Low Bar was one of countless local watering holes that either shut down entirely or had their openings placed in protracted limbo.

Happy news, then, for those who have been waiting: About a month ago, Low Bar quietly opened at 2300 Webster Street (the former Hawker Fare space) with both food and cocktail menus that proudly reflect the owners’ Mexican American backgrounds: quesabirria tacos, plenty of creative agave cocktails, and an ingenious Mexican twist on a Scotch egg. For now, the bar is open Thursday through Sunday for both indoor and outdoor service.

“I feel like COVID obviously put a huge damper and was a momentum buster for everyone,” says Meyer. “But if you’re asking if bars owned by people of color are going to slow down: Absolutely not. As a Chicano, I’ve never been more proud.”

Three cocktails glow red in front of a neon sign that reads "Low Bar."

If there was a time when Oakland’s booming bar scene was regarded as the purview of white hipsters, by early last year that characterization had increasingly started to feel like it no longer applied. As Eater SF first noted, within a span of a few months, several prominent, upscale-ish, POC-owned spots opened with diverse staffing and serious cocktail programs that reflected their owners’ cultural backgrounds—and all within a few city blocks. Before COVID hit, Viridian was trumpeting its uniquely Asian American identity as a cocktail bar, slinging Portuguese egg tarts and sublime drinks inspired by Chinese-American dishes like a tomato beef stir-fry. And Sobre Mesa had a whole Afro-Latino lounge vibe going, with a deep rum lineup and a small plates menu that drew inspiration from across the African diaspora.

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Both of those bars are back up and running now that COVID-related restrictions have started to loosen. For Low Bar, the past year has mostly been a matter of survival, Meyer explains. Investors pulled out, and, unable to finish the build-out of the bar, Meyer and Paez had to pivot to doing a burrito and tamale pop-up called Chancho’s just to keep some revenue coming in. In fact, Meyer says, it was Chancho’s partnership with World Central Kitchen, celebrity chef José Andrés’ disaster relief organization, that ultimately saved them, paying Chancho’s to provide meals for people in need during the pandemic. “We haven’t missed a single week since July,” Meyer says.

As POC-owned, POC-focused craft cocktail bars have become more normalized in Oakland, it’s allowed folks like Meyer and Paez to be a little bit more expansive in the way they define what it means to be, say, a “Chicano bar.” For Meyer, who is Low Bar’s chef, that means he’s put together a food menu that’s a little less traditional than the old-school burritos and tamales he was serving through Chancho’s. He describes it as “Mexican-ish American bar food,” heavily influenced by his own upbringing near the border of San Diego and Tijuana. Yes, he makes a version of quesabirria, the cheesy birria tacos that are easily Tijuana’s most famous culinary export of the moment. But he also serves a number of dishes that are reflective of the border city’s vibrant fusion food scene: a cheeseburger with salsa verde and, perhaps most notably, a play on a Scotch egg that consists of chorizo coated in ground-up tortilla chips before it gets deep-fried.

As Paez puts it, “The concept of Mexican food is no longer defined by just a taqueria.”

On the cocktail front, Paez describes his approach as “low pressure, low stakes, high reward,” with a strong emphasis on all the classics—your negronis and old fashioneds and daiquiris—but also plenty of creative agave and tequila drinks, as befits a Chicano bar.

According to Meyer and Paez, if anything has changed in the past five or 10 years, it’s that bar and restaurant patrons in the Bay Area are now actively seeking out different kinds of cultural experiences. “People are more excited about trying new flavors and traditional dishes from people’s backgrounds,” Meyer says. “I’m thrilled to be a part of it.”

Low Bar is open for both indoor and outdoor dining and drinking at 2300 Webster Street, Thursday through Sunday from 3–10pm.

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