OAKLAND — Judging by the way Oaklanders were out Wednesday night, someone declared midweek the new weekend.

Did someone just forget to tell me about it?

Over in Old Oakland, the Air Lounge and Jesso's were packing the patrons in, while the B Restaurant and Levende East were doing brisk business with the wine-swirling types.

The Pacific Coast Brewing Co. was hopping (no pun intended) as usual. A woman standing outside was so hammered she couldn't light her cigarette.

Even the shops were lit up. Not a parking place was to be had for blocks. It was sort of like giving the recent restaurant robbers the finger.

Only the Washington Inn was quiet, which is not unusual for the posh little 10th Street hotel with a roomy bar, a swank restaurant and a quirky history.

But change is in the air for the inn.

Happy hour soon will be starting up in the bar that dates to 1913 — when the original one-story Victorian opened as a saloon.

The elegant restaurant has a new name (Seison), a new menu and new chef, who is set on creating a buzz about the dining by "word of mouth." Leave it to a chef to choose those words.

"I want people to come try the food that will surprise them. Then get addicted," said Allen Affrosh, a native of Iran whose culinary career began as a skinny, broke teenager in a Texas fast-food joint.

Don't worry: He has come a long way since the days when he was slinging burgers. The afternoonmenu Affrosh created for Seison includes burgers, but they are the type that power-lunchers order.


Advertisement

The dinner menu he devised includes such items as Peking-style duck rolls, deep-fried risotto, curry prawns, coffee-crusted New York sirloin steak and several pasta dishes.

Seison's success isn't a make-or-break situation because the 47-room hotel and the banquet business pay the bills.

But that's not the point.

Luring hometowners is the point, said Carlos Rosales, whose title is operations manager, meaning he works the check-in desk, tends bar, waits tables and does whatever else makes the place ... operate.

"We want to get the locals back," he said. Thus the happy hour and the search for musicians to play in the hotel's all-in-one foyer/sitting room/lounge/bar.

For now, much of the Seison and bar business comes from patrons of the Marriott Hotel just across the street.

Absorbing the Marriott's overflow was the plan when the run-down hotel was bought in 1987 by a kindly couple, Ken and Lillian Ruppenthal, during the first round of the revival in the area between Seventh to 10th streets and Broadway and Jefferson.

Over the years, the saloon had been turned into a bank (the vault is still in the basement), then become everything from a halfway house to a home for the elderly to a two-story hotel.

The third and fourth floors were added in late 1960s, according to General Manager Raj Hameed, who has researched the building's history.

In 1987, the Washington Inn was supposed to anchor the plan to turn what had become a derelict area into a hip, historic hangout christened Old Oakland.

Things didn't quite go as planned. The dreams were based on some over-rosy prediction about how successful the area's makeover would be.

"Many loved it, but not enough patronized it," a Tribune reporter said of the inn when two East Bay investors bought the hotel in a 1991 foreclosure sale.

The buyers, then three rounds of new owners, kept the inn going, even as plans for making Old Oakland a cash cow sputtered.

In this second, current wave (the slogan is the "New Old Oakland"), the streets are filling with chic shops, bustling bars and elegant eateries.

That makes the old Washington Inn a survivor.

The inn outlasted the Hyatt Regency, which became the Parc Oakland Hotel then, finally, the Marriott.

Just a last word about that happy hour: It starts in about two weeks. Now, cut to Gloria Gaynor singing, "I Will Survive."

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig, e-mail me at awoodall@bayareanewsgroup.com or visit the Night Owl blog http://www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl for more events and oddities.