OAKLAND — What's big and pink and stays open until late?

The Mexicali Rose, of course.

The bright, rose-colored, stucco eatery on Clay Street has been serving up stick-to-your-ribs Mexican dishes for more than 70 years.

And the no-frills place with its dark lounge and plain dining area is still one of the hottest hangouts for a Friday night for a decidedly African-American clientele.

But anyone would feel welcome.

"It's like 'Cheers' — everyone knows each other," said Ike Stewart, a steady patron for 27 years who one Thursday night wore a "God don't like ugly"

T-shirt.

"Everyone in here is a regular," he added, gesturing to the packed lounge adjoining the cavernous restaurant with Aztec-theme paintings on the walls.

Stewart knew the original owner, Efren Gomez, known as "Mr. Jorge."

A daughter is running the business now, which includes several other Mexican restaurants scattered across the East Bay.

There are also Mexicali Roses in New Jersey (several, in fact), Wisconsin, Philadelphia and even Australia.

But none are as pink as Oakland's, or probably as old.

The same family has operated the restaurant for more than 70 years.

When the Mexicali opened at 547 7th St., about 80 years had passed since the Alta California Peralta family lost the giant ranch that became Oakland in1852, the tail end of the Great Depression had lost its much of its sting, and Oakland residents could see the Bay Bridge being built.


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It wasn't all roses for the Mexicali, though. In 1944 the restaurant ran afoul of officials twice. The booze police (State Board of Equalization) suspended its liquor license for 15 days for serving an "obviously intoxicated person," according to press accounts of the time.

(It was a state-led attempt to crack down on eateries that sold much more booze than food).

And the city's health department closed the place down until it had a good scrubbing.

Today few remnants remain of the bustling commercial district that spread over half a dozen blocks on either side of the Mexicali. Police used to do their Christmas shopping in one fell swoop, old-time residents say.

The original site, however, had to make way for the Wiley M. Manuel courthouse and a jailhouse.

But don't fret, little darlin'.

"Dry those big brown eyes and smile dear," as the song goes.

"Banish all those tears and please don't sigh. Kiss me once again and hold me. Mex-i-cal-i Rose, goodbye."

Actually, the goodbye was more of an hasta luego (until later).

The original Mexicali was reincarnated as the big pink block of a building at the current location, across the street at 701 Clay St.

Before the move, the Mexicali was bringing in $1 million annually, press accounts said.

The proximity to the police station for 44 years (the police administration building cater-cornered to the Rose on Seventh opened in 1963) has kept trouble away when the place was open until 3:30 a.m., Stewart said, shortly before he and several other patrons broke into an animated conversation about the merits of different pancake syrups inbetween talk about various football teams.

Not quite: Two gunmen got away with $18,000 in a 1982 heist.

A favorite Mexicali bartender was murdered at a West Oakland gas station at 4 a.m. in 1991.

Nowadays the Rose closes at

1:30 a.m. Monday through Sunday.

The after-10 p.m. crowd is different than the early evening crew, testified the bartender of 15 years, Joel Corral.

Or "Joe" for short.

He wasn't yet on the scene when police were summoned to the Mexicali in 1985 because a bartender claimed State Treasurer Bill Lockyer had skipped out twice without paying his tab. Lockyer, then San Leandro state senator, later California attorney general — the state's top cop, said it was a misunderstanding.

Maybe that's what Joe thought my order for a martini was. The look on his face told me that requests for that cocktail are rare.

"Every now and then," he told me later, adding the usual drinks involve tequila — margaritas and shots mostly. 

The drinks are good, said Betty Dimmer, whose signature cocktail is the Cadillac margarita (the classic with a dash of Grand Marnier liqueur).

Jo Ann Souma, a Jamaica, Queens transplant, said she is a loyal customer in part because "the waiters always look out for the women."

"Everyone always looks out for each other. Believe it," she said.

Souma said she is part of the workday crowd who come for cocktails after work. A younger crowd arrives on the weekends.

"Everybody," Souma said, "has their time at the Mexicali Rose, and you know your time."

Now for the rest of the week. If the Night Owl were going to be hanging out between tonight and Oct. 19, here is a list of places where she might be. If, however, you want to read more about where she went, visit the Night Owl blog http://www.ibabuzz.com/nightowl.

The sound of rumba, guaracha and son montuno is coming to Ashkenaz, 1317 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley, beginning at 8 p.m. tonight with Tito and su son de Cuba. The event kicks off with dance lessons at 8:30 p.m. to match the traditional dance music. Then Tito takes the stage at 9:30 p.m. Tickets are $13. For more information, visit http://www.titoysusondecuba.com or http://www.ashkenaz.com.

October is Maafa Awareness Month — "maafa" being a Kiswahili word for "disaster." In this case, the disaster was the European slave trade. Weekly free events in Oakland during the month, include the exhibit "Push Rewind: Maafa 2007" opening tonight. The event is at Inquiry Gallery, 2865 Broadway, Unit 2. Tonight is an opening reception from 6 to 9 p.m. with an artist talk from 7 to 8 p.m. The closing reception is 6 to 8 p.m. Nov. 2. A host of other events are planned, mostly at the Oakland Public Conservatory of Music, 1616 Franklin St. For more information and a full schedule of events, visit http://www.maafasfbayarea.com, call 641-715-3900, ext. 36800, or e-mail mail@maafasfbayarea.com. The Conservatory's phone number is 510-836-4649.

The Oakland International Film Festival opens Oct. 18 at Grand Lake Theater, 3200 Grand Ave. There is too much to fit in here. Let's just say for now the Oakland Ballet is rising from the ashes, and there are plenty of films and after-screening events. For more information, visit http://www.oiff.org.

That's all for now, ladies and gentlemen. But if you have a cool shindig,

e-mail me at awoodall@angnewspapers.com.