Stop, sip, stay awhile. It’s a simple concept for a restaurant, but one that seems to be a rare exception as Bay Area life — and its dining scene — becomes faster and less personal. Diners are finding fewer opportunities to slow down to enjoy a meal or unhurriedly sip cocktails with friends and family, what these days can seem a luxury reserved only for special occasions. Not so at Sobre Mesa. At this Afro-Latino cocktail lounge that opens today in Uptown Oakland, patrons are given permission to press pause on the “have tos” in order to kick back in a cozy nook and engage in conversation.

An energetic pulse of Latin music flows from Sobre Mesa’s threshold, luring guests into the low-lit space. Dark, jungle green walls stretch high as the black herringbone-tiled bar glows warm and inviting. With its modern brass fixtures and unexpected pops of neon pink, Sobre Mesa’s interior is just the right mix of funk and luxe culminating in an impossibly cool vibe.

Sobre Mesa chef-owner Nelson German, who also operates alaMar in Oakland. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography
Sobre Mesa chef-owner Nelson German also operates alaMar in Oakland. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography

Run by chef-owner Nelson German (of alaMar fame), the cocktail lounge is influenced by the chef’s Dominican and African roots, and pulls inspiration from other Latin regions such as Cuba and Puerto Rico. In Spanish, sobre mesa literally translates to “over the table,” referring to the Spanish and Latin tradition of relaxing at the table after a meal and spending time with loved ones, usually with a great drink in hand.

Speaking of drinks, the libations here induce all the vibes of a tropical vacation without the sunburn or regret of drinking too many sugary-sweet cocktails. Based heavily in spiced rums, and other Latin liquors like Brazilian cachaça and Patagonian Träkál (a spirit distilled from indigenous fruits and botanicals), Sobre Mesa’s cocktail menu is expertly curated by consultants Susan Eggett of San Francisco’s Last Rites and Alex Maynard of Oakland’s Starline Social Club.

Many of the cocktails at Sobre Mesa are rum-based, like the Mojito.
Many of the cocktails at Sobre Mesa are rum-based, like the Mojito. Photo: Thomas Kuoh Photography

Featuring small-batch liquors and a proprietary light rum blend crafted in partnership with Berkeley’s Mosswood Distillers, Sobre Mesa’s cocktails are fun, approachable, and oh so quaffable. (Word to the wise, the rum is dangerously good.) Take the Spice Me Down ($13), for instance, a not-too-sweet rum drink with spiced pear liqueur, soursop puree (a tropical fruit with a flavor profile that’s a mix between a pineapple and strawberry with a sour citrus note), lime juice and pepper jerk. One sip and you’re ready to samba the night away.

But before your dancing feet get too carried away, and as the conversation gets lively, order a few plates to share off the tapas menu. Chef German, whose culinary style is shaped by his childhood memories and worldly travels, designed his food menu to pair perfectly with drinks. Deciding that the food at his bar-lounge would not be an afterthought, the chef pulls from Afro-Latin flavors using fresh, local ingredients to whip up comforting gastronomy with a twist. From the satisfying truffle patatas ($7) with house-made guava barbecue sauce to the Saltspring mussel toast ($12) with chipotle escabeche and avocado mousse, everything is meant to be eaten intermittently between sips. Though we wouldn’t blame you for inhaling these finger foods, especially when it comes to the Peri Peri petite wings ($12) — tender chicken smothered in a finger-licking, good-to-the-last-drop sweet, sour, tangy sauce that you’re definitely not gonna want to share.

Menu offerings vary based on where you sit. Guests at the first-come-first-serve lounge and bar can enjoy a limited tapas menu, along with cocktails on tap, classic cocktails and signature punches. The full-service dining area offers its own seasonal tapas menu; while tables must be reserved in advance, there are 13 bar seats that are available for walk-ins. Finally, La Sala (“living room”), a deep blue velvet curtained alcove, is a reservations-only bottle-service area for up to 12 guests. La Sala has its own personal bartender, a bar cart and a special menu designed for the selected spirit.

So set the phones down, grab a friend (or five), and snack, sip, chat the night away in this little piece of paradise.

Sobre Mesa is open 5 p.m.-midnight, Wednesday, Thursday; 5 p.m.-2 a.m., Friday and Saturday; and 3-10 p.m., Sunday. Happy hour is 4-6 p.m.

Lauren is a Bay Area freelance writer and editor specializing in all things lifestyle including travel, culture, fitness and food and drink. She has an incredible soft spot for cheese and is a firm believer...