The brightest light after hours along the stretch of Franklin Street at 15th is a green neon martini glass above the entrance of the Layover lounge. You can't miss it.
But it took imagination to expect after-hours success on that otherwise dark stretch of downtown real estate.
The only people left after sunset on that side of Broadway were the inhabitants of the less-than-savory Fern's Hotel on 15th Street or the less-than-glamorous bar — Pat's — that Layover replaced.
Gone are the pool-playing patrons, cheap booze and vinyl bar stools. In their place are recycled wood shelves, hand-sewn throw pillows, retro hanging lamps, plush arm chairs and a lot of gold, purple and green.
Think Las Vegas meets Marrakech, circa 1970.
The owners put a creative bare-budget, do-it-yourself spin on the kind of eclectic places scattered about cities around the world. Thus the name, Layover, which is the travel limbo two of the owners — Zachary Turner (aka Foreign Legion's MC "Prozack" Turner) and Tim Martinez — often found themselves in at airports. Martinez helped ignite the downtown art scene via Papa Buzz.
The co-owners are their wives, RaeAnne Turner and Christi Vaughn.
"We kind of have all bases covered," Vaughn said. They each bring their talents to the collaboration: everything from music to decorating, and business acumen to "green building" know-how.
"People walk in and feel the vibe of our presence and the setting we created," Vaughn said. They either "get it," she said, or turn around and walk out of the 49-person capacity watering hole if Layover is not what they're looking for.
They would stay if what they are looking for includes local DJs operating from a small stage, or music from an Internet juke box installed near the bar and programmed by Martinez and Turner with mod, ambient tunes.
The drinks are in the medium price range. A martini (alas, served less than chilled in my case) and a Seven and Seven cost $16. The plum whiskey buck cocktail, a mixture of ginger beer, fresh lemon juice and plum jam from Martinez's backyard, goes for $8.
Phillip Mauro of Lazlo, Rye and Foreign Cinema helped design the cocktail menu. Layover has not, however, slicked up too much. The low-slung ceilings painted black lend a natural dive-bar ambience that keeps the bohemian living-room chic in check.
The furniture and art, by the way, are for sale. (Like that vintage sofa or the gilded mirror over the romantic nook in the back of the bar? Make an offer.)
Zachary Turner said the location didn't seem like such a long shot when he and Martinez first set foot inside in October 2008, before the Fox Theater anchored the downtown revival.
The Radio bar on 13th Street is nearby. They are in the geographic heart of the city, and anyone who drives down Franklin has to pass the big green martini glass, Turner said.
They also bet Layover's success on the momentum of the growth that has gripped parts of the city.
"It has been risky from day one because Oakland is growing, but we don't know at what speed and what direction," RaeAnne Turner said, an event planner who plied with needle and thread every sewable item in the bar.
That risk, she added, is mitigated in part by the group's careful planning and the connections Turner and Martinez have with other entertainment entrepreneurs who are helping one another to transform Oakland one restaurant, bar, club and lounge and a time.
I can just see the would-be investors who didn't quite have the same vision kicking themselves when they saw the crowds outside Layover during the opening weekend Oct. 9. They might have swooned Wednesday night when an impromptu drum circle lasted until closing hour.
For now, the quartet is working on opening an art gallery next door and adding bar food to the menu.
"We want this to be an incubator for creativity," Martinez said.