Dining With Hipsters

posted July 3, 2013

The first thing I realized while recently dining with hipsters was that I’m not hip myself. I mean, I might be. I thought I was at one point. I seem to have some of the trappings: clunky glasses. often poorly maintained facial hair. tattoos. When I venture out to try something new the place is often hopping with young turks.

Tribune Tavern. Oakland, California.

At the Tribune Tavern in Oakland though, I didn’t have an entourage and thought I must be a square dining with hipsters.

If you’re on a date you are not an entourage.

Sure, there were two of us, but I quickly deduced that a couple has the same numerical value of cool as an individual. If the only other person you know in the hip location is your partner, you’re effectively one entity. It’s strange, but people seem to accomplish hipness through familiar interaction with other hipsters. Maybe it’s a West Coast thing. I’m a recent transplant, but it was all very “if a hipster falls in the woods alone do they make a sound?”

I thought one of the restaurant’s staff might be our gateway hipster. I worked in food service so long I guess I feel like I belong to a club. I’m a fellow survivor of the service class.

But no. The staff were hipsters too and the hip staff of a restaurant is impenetrable to even a high-ranking hipster diner. It was like the Jets and Sharks of nonchalant cool. Only without the fighting. Each collective seemed to ignore each other. They’re both just too cool.

Relax. You’re not cool.

Luckily you don’t have to be hip to enjoy hipster strongholds. I quickly embraced my over-the-hill-hipness and was as invisible to the crowd as their parents. I could just enjoy what the place had to offer. In the case of the Tribune Tavern, it was pretty darn good food.

This was going to be a Yelp review

It’s still going to be. Before I paint a picture of the most ridiculous dining experience I’ve had in years I want to start with this: The food at the Tribune Tavern in Oakland was great, truly. I’ll link to my full review when I write it.

The decor

The Tribune Tavern is a beautiful building. The windows are huge and while I was there were so clean I kept thinking I was dining outside. The bar, the ceiling detail, the paint job. All quality. The problem is they don’t stop there. The internals are so manicured and “created” that I felt like I was in an SNL skit.

The place seemed to be trying so hard. And like an over-the-top action movie that at some point becomes absurd because too much is happening, I couldn’t maintain the suspension of disbelief. The initial impression of a cool, old building was quickly lost. It was still gorgeous, just as fake as a movie set. Too interesting to be interesting anymore.


  1. While we were waiting for our 8:15 reservation (which, like squares, we were ten minutes early for) I sat down on one side of what appeared to be a simple, two-seated bench. I almost fell off because the underpinnings of the bench were made of vintage car springs made to look like a bumble-seat for an old wagon. So when I sat politely down on one side of it, so as not to hog the whole bench, it tipped on its springs like a diving board.
  2. When I went to the bathroom I circled the entire restaurant before finding a door in the most dimly lit corner that was only marked with asymmetrical signage made from vintage typesetting letters for a newspaper (presumably the Tribune). I think it said bathroom, backwards, but I can’t be sure. The lighting was bad in that one spot. The door lead to a hallway and more doors. I wasn’t sure I was on the right track until I spotted a urinal.
  3. The lounge area in the front had a variety of custom pieces of furniture all made with the same excessively cool qualities of the bumble-seat. Things like a large, rotating, low to the ground, deep circular chair made with black leather and something resembling wooden ribs.
  4. A wall of framed picture frames. That is to say, a wall of framed pictures whose contents were the slats of innumerable grungy old picture frames. Frames within frames within frames. So meta.
  5. Once we were seated we were brought water in an impossibly tall and narrow bottle with vintage markings. When food was brought to us and other patrons it wasn’t always presented. Sometimes you would look down and something would have been secretly slid into place. The woman sitting next to us almost knocked her soup to the floor because it was quietly inserted onto the table behind her elbow. It was weird, mostly because it seemed like waitstaff policy: be as undetectable as ninjas. Food should appear is if magic!
  6. Dozens of steampunky ceiling lamps

The patrons

The crowd was loud and in packs. There were so many tattoos it was like being at a convention. I’ve got a lot of ink, but my arms, neck, and hands are clean. I thought about taking my pants off, but I don’t think anyone would have noticed.

My favorite hipster there was a woman ahead of us, waiting for friends, hovering over the hostess stand. She didn’t have a reservation and it was busy, and she was alone. She walked around the bar area and the lounge area for no apparent reason. Then back to hang over the hostess stand. Then back to the bar, the lounge, outside, inside. Maybe she was tweaking.

I thought at first she must know the staff, but I don’t think this was the case. She was on and off her phone. At one point she pulled a red bull out of her large leather purse and chugged it. It was like she was trying to get noticed by one of the hipster tribes present. She was clearly lost without her own people.

Once we were seated I was pleasantly surprised to see other squares. They had stuck us all in the back. There were other couples like us there dining with hipsters. I hoped that each of us would bond and perhaps form our own collective, but none of us were interested. We ate our pork belly pate with honey’d blueberries and enjoyed a meal with our companions, sipping water from our tall cylindrical bottles and watching the show around us.

“The Tavern”

I found my first trip to “The Tavern” (as the staff referred to it, since obviously it’s the only place to get a drink in Oakland) to be completely ridiculous , but the memory of its utter absurdity only fosters my affection for the place. Great burger too.

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