Geisha is very red and very open after what seems like years of waiting — and despite controversy stirred up by the bar's name.
Opponents argue that the word, originally applied to highly trained Japanese entertainers, reinforces a racist, sexist image of Asian and Asian-American women as submissive sex objects.
"Is this is a strip club?" asks a man passing by. His wife is pushing their son in a stroller.
But he isn't looking at the Geisha sign in stylized metallic letters over the entrance at 316 14th St. Instead, he sees the row of shiny silver poles that reach from the black cement floor up the ceiling.
"That's what I thought," says a man who had walked in a few minutes before and pulled up a barstool and ordered a Corona.
With a 6-inch diameter, the poles are too wide to hold an exotic dancer. But they are right in the middle of the rectangular room — black on one side, red on the other.
"We've seen people spinning around them at night," bartender Rick Eggers replies, joking. His gray hair is wavy, and he is wearing a Hawaiian shirt and jeans.
He has worked as a consultant helping people navigate the business and bureaucracy of bars since opening his first nightclub 21 years ago in Phoenix.
"You want a lime with that?" Rick asks the man, who is on his way to pay his cell phone bill. Rick looks up the address of the store on Broadway.
"Another day in paradise, brother. You know how that goes," the man says, putting three $1 bills on the black, wooden bar.
They contemplate the thought of being billionaires before the man drains the rest of his beer and leaves.
Owner Jamal Perry, who is Korean and black, stuck with the name Geisha despite the backlash.
Perry told the East Bay Express he always gravitated toward geishas because they are sexy, classy and exotic. He reportedly has tattoos of geishas on both arms.
I don't know for sure because he wasn't at the bar when I stopped in a few times, and he would never call me.
Opponents took their objections to the Oakland Planning Commission.
"We have the responsibility to protect the citizens of Oakland," Commissioner Vien Truong said at an October hearing.
Nine months later: "It's pretty quiet in here," says the afternoon bartender, Megan Fenske, a tall blonde in stretchy black pants and a tank top. She used to work at Café Van Kleef and plays in a blues-punk-soul band called "The Bodice Rippers." The name refers to a genre of romance novel, Fenske explains.
She blends one of Geisha's signature cocktails, the Pink Blossom, made with sake and rum. The men ask her why she is wearing a polka dot scarf tied around her neck.
"It's just fashion," she tells them, ruining the more exotic version they favored.
Rick starts the DVD of "Belly," a film about a pair of vicious gangsters who have a spiritual awakening. Images of small children with large guns play on the two plasma TV screens above the bar, as well as the smaller screens embedded in the wood-paneled wall opposite the bar. Nobody is watching the movie.
A man walks in and heads straight past the benches upholstered in red to the crimson-painted double doors that swing closed behind him.
Wall-sized paintings of geishas are on the same side. Their black hair is piled in the classic style associated with geishas and held by long pins. A lot of cherry blossoms are involved. One of the only framed pictures is a poster by Frank Zio: a giant BART ticket smudged by a red fingerprint. It hangs near the poolroom.
Perry stayed open all night during the last round of protests after the verdict against former BART Officer Johannes Mehserle. Several nearby businesses still are boarded up.
Several more people trickle in and out. The light shining through the front door is so bright they become a glowing silhouette until they get past the entrance.
Rick and a man dressed in a beige polo shirt and khakis start to make small talk about the weather, loneliness, wood and the oxcart the man has shipped from India.
He offers some of the Mongolian beef dish he has ordered.
"Don't be shy," he says.
Geisha eventually will serve lunch and dinner to the local business crowd from noon-10 p.m. It will have happy hour from 4-7 p.m. with discounted cocktails, appetizers and a piano player on the white baby grand donated to Perry by a friend. It sits near the entrance. After the dinner crowd clears out, the tables will be whisked away and the floor will open up for dancing and mingling.
"It's 5 o'clock," someone remarks.
"There shouldn't be a clock," Megan answers. "No clocks allowed."