- 201 W. Nine Mile, Ferndale, MI, 48220
- Overall User Rating:
- (4 ratings)
Status: There are no flashing neon lights or large signs to beckon you to the Oakland. Instead, a slate blue exterior and a decal on the door bearing the name the Oakland Art Novelty Company let you know that you’ve arrived at one of Ferndale’s newest and more unique night spots.
“We purposefully wanted the exterior to be bland and faceless because we want people to come here intentionally,” says Sandy Levine who owns the Oakland with his wife Heather.
At the site of the now defunct Nami restaurant, the Ferndale spot was fashioned with inspiration from the Purple Gang, a 1920s mob that supplied alcohol to Detroit during the prohibition era. The crew used phony businesses named the Oakland Sugarhouse and the Art Novelty Company to sell bootleg spirits.
The Oakland has held private events for the last few weeks, but just opened to the public last week.
“I always planned on opening quietly and just telling the people we know about it,” says Levine who has been a fixture on the local restaurant scene the last few years. Because of the complexity of making the authentic 1920s cocktails, “we didn’t want to be slammed from the get-go.”
Gear: “You can come in pretty much dressed anyway and be comfortable,” says Levine who wore a button-up shirt, dress pants and a tie Friday night.
The staff kept things semi casual in black and the patrons followed suit.
Mood: The 2,000 square-foot bar embraces the ‘20s era through its décor. Dark leather and velvets chairs, old-fashioned paintings and antique rugs procured from estate sales all come together in a seamless medley to create a natural old-timey feel.
Gone are the dropped ceilings that Nami sported. In its place are 12-foot coved ceilings with gold medallions adorned with dramatic chandeliers throughout the length of the space. A coffered ceiling embellishes the front of the venue.
The focus on lighting is obvious the moment you walk into the Oakland. Chandeliers of varying shapes and sizes are evenly placed throughout the space, and the soft glow from several candles help liven up the slate blue walls. The windows are covered in a dark heavy velvet curtain to help maintain the shadowy feel of the bar.
“It’s elegant,” says 50-year-old Craig Pearson of Royal Oak. “It’s nice for a good cocktail with a date. I like the ambiance, and the drinks are exotic.”
Pick me up: This is not the spot to come on an empty stomach, especially since Levine says serving food is not in any of his immediate plans. The Oakland’s focus is on its speakeasy-style, made-from-scratch drinks.
“We have a cocktail menu, and a lot of the items and ingredients are lesser known spirits,” says Levine adding that the drinks are very involved and intricate. “They’re fairly tough to make quickly.”
Kim Fracassa of Detroit and Diane Zane of Birmingham both sipped on Hickory Smoked Margaritas made with El Jimador Anejo tequila, lime, Demerara rum, Gran Gala orange liqueur and black sea salt. The pair said it left a smoky aftertaste.
Levine admits that the drinks may take some getting used to for some people, but hopes that he can show people the difference fresh ingredients make in a cocktail. The bar won't be using boxed mixes, mixes made with high-fructose corn syrup, energy drinks or artificially flavored spirits. Drinks will be infused with flavors created by putting fresh fruit, herbs and spices through a process that involves soaking the ingredients in a container filled with liquor for several days. The Oakland will also make its own sodas and syrups.
“We want to make sure that everybody knows that we’re a different kind of bar,” he says.
The bartenders will try to recommend something similar using ingredients they have on hand to costumers seeking a drink the Oakland doesn’t make.
Levine does plan to add a craft beer menu and a handful of red and white wines. Currently, every drink on the menu is $9.
Entertainment: Levine says he wants to keep the space’s laidback feel and probably will not have DJs or bands. There are also no televisions, jukeboxes or a dance floor.