Planning Panels OKs Oakland LGBT Bar
Plans for an LGBT bar in Oakland’s Uptown neighborhood took a step forward when the Oakland Planning Commission unanimously approved a permit for the establishment.
Called the Port Bar, its owners, business and domestic partners Sean Sullivan and Richard Fuentes, hope to begin renovations soon on the space at 2021 Broadway, right next to the Paramount Theatre. It’s less than a block away from the 19th Street BART station. The bar takes its name from the Port of Oakland’s cranes and the city’s industrial roots.
As one enters the bar the design will have an "industrial elegance" to it, Sullivan and Fuentes noted. Sullivan, who has experience in mixology and nonprofit management, will serve as general director while Fuentes will serve as the bar’s vice president. Fuentes is also running for an open seat on the Peralta Community College Board of Trustees this fall.
At the May 7 planning commission meeting in Oakland City Hall, 14 people spoke to the commissioners in favor of the bar. No one was there to oppose it. If there is no appeal within 10 days, the conditional use permit will go to Sullivan and Fuentes. The next objective is to gain a liquor license, which is on review until May 15.
Construction on the bar will take four to five months to complete. In an e-mail, planning commission Chair Chris Pattillo said that she is behind the project.
"I am all for it. I think it will be a tremendous success and it will inject more vitality into downtown," Pattillo said. "The bar and other entertainment venues [that] the commission [recently approved] are all part of what our predecessors envisioned when they designated the entertainment district. Our vote is helping to make that vision a reality."
Chaney Turner and Christine De La Rosa, who spoke on behalf of the bar, said that they were proud of the commission’s vote.
"It seems that the city is being supportive," Turner said.
"I’m very excited that the vote went so well for [Sullivan and Fuentes] today," said De La Rosa.
Fuentes also said that he was happy with the vote.
"I feel great," he said. "The planning commission understands the need for an LGBT space to serve the entire community."
"We all believe in Oakland and we believe that this will be successful," added Sullivan.
The vision for the bar came into being when Sullivan and Fuentes’s team discovered that there was no existing full service, seven-days-a-week gay bars in the Uptown area. Although the neighborhood does have gay nightclubs such as the Bench and Bar and Club 21, they are dance clubs open four or five nights a week.
The Port Bar’s Facebook page states that the "goal is to provide a unique destination for Oakland and the East Bay’s large, diverse, and growing LGBT community who are seeking to fill their urban experience with a fun venue in a safe, well-trafficked neighborhood."
The San Francisco Business Times estimated that Oakland’s LGBT population is 40,000.
Sullivan said that he and Fuentes wanted the bar to have a different style and space.
"In really large spaces it’s hard to have intimacy and so we wanted to provide a space where people can get a good drink and have a great connection," Sullivan said.
Late last year Sullivan and Fuentes needed money to secure a lease. They turned to the crowdfunding web site Indiegogo.com. The goal was to raise $20,000 but it fell short at the deadline, although over $12,000 was raised. With some extra financial backing from investors, Sullivan and Fuentes were able to secure and sign the lease.
"We want the LGBT community to feel at home here and invested in this as a community space, so doing a crowdfund was a way to do that," Sullivan said in an email. "The crowdfund effort is a small part of the investments we need to make this bar happen. Richard and I have invested considerable personal savings as well as a handful of other investors," said Sullivan via e-mail.