Oakland’s Black Bar Crawl brings costumed teams to Black-owned businesses

“If you are a person that enjoys a day party and getting back home before 10:30, this event should appeal to you.”

Inside Oakland dance club Zanzi, one of the stops on this week’s Black Bar Crawl. Credit: Zanzi/Instagram

What: The Black Bar Crawl
When: Saturday, June 11, from 3-9 p.m.
Where: Crybaby (1928 Telegraph Ave.), Zanzi (19 Grand Ave.) and Torch Oakland (1630 San Pablo Ave.)

Jason Kelley and Sabrina Harvey, the co-founders of the Washington D.C. organization The Wave, are bringing their most popular event to Oakland. Called the Black Bar Crawl, it’s an affair intended to support Black-owned businesses, while bringing folks together and giving them a good time.

After learning about Bay Area music, such as Oakland rapper Clyde Carson, from an ex-girlfriend and meeting people from the Bay Area, Kelley told Nosh that he’s confident this event is going to be successful for Oakland’s Black-owned bars. “As prideful as I know Oakland is about Oakland’s identity from everyone that I’ve ever met, I know that the community’s gonna show up and show out with this very unique event. And we really want to celebrate that,” Kelley said. 

Three of Oakland’s Black-owned bars are participating in Saturday’s event: New live music venue Crybaby, dance club Zanzi and just-opened rooftop bar Torch Oakland will host bar hoppers from 3-9 p.m. on Saturday June 11, offering discounted drinks and — in some cases — happy hour small bites. Local DJs will also be at the venues keeping up the good vibes for participants. “If you are a person that enjoys a day party and getting back home before 10:30, this event should appeal to you,” Kelley said. Tickets for the crawl are $24 and are available online; participants will be given the location to pick up wristband (required for entry) on June 10.

Crybaby, one of the venues participating in Saturday’s Black Bar Crawl, just opened in March. Here, muralist Berk Visual paints its name on a wall of its mural in the outdoor space. Credit: Amir Aziz

Harvey and Kelley realized that to accommodate the ongoing pandemic concerns as well as respect venue capacity, participants must be be arranged into smaller segmented teams. “So in the design for the crawl we realize if the bar crowd is over a certain amount of people, we then did some engineering to create a better flow,” Kelley said.

The teams will be identified by names of local Oakland artists such as “Team Too Short.” There will be team captains for each of the groups to corral participants to their next location, which Harvey said “adds to the sense of camaraderie to the event.” 

At past crawls, the teams have even dressed up in the theme of their team, adding to the spirit and fun of the day. “When you choose your team, you’re going to be traveling with your team all day. So it becomes a sense of competition,” Harvey said. “We may have team Beyoncé,” she said as one example, “and a lot of the girls will end up trying to dress up like Beyoncé during the day.”

Harvey, Kelley, and Gregory Jackson (who has since left the group), began their group, The Wave, as a community building platform in 2016. Initially a group of friends sharing resources and information happening in their Washington D.C. neighborhoods, the organization has taken a fun and accessible “work hard, play hard” approach, while keeping community service at the core of efforts like a Lunch Bag Social, which kicked off in 2019 as a way to assemble meals for unhoused members of the community. The Wave is also behind an annual book bag drive for students with brunches for its volunteers, among other efforts. Then, as time went on and members of The Wave moved to other cities, the resource events expanded into happy hours and, eventually, into the Black Bar Crawl. 

“The Black Bar Crawl happened from us sitting around and saying, like, we have these Black spaces that we see are struggling,” Harvey said. “How can we infuse money into them?” 

With The Wave’s following, Kelley and Harvey saw an opportunity to support struggling Black-owned businesses within Washington D.C. while having a lot of fun.

Since its launch, The Wave has taken the Black Bar Crawl to Houston, Florida and Chicago. While there have been other Black bar crawls with similar names, organizers said they are one of largest traveling Black-folx-centered bar crawls, hosting 250-2500 barhoppers in both D.C. and Chicago. 

A patron enjoys the view at Torch Oakland, a newly-opened rooftop bar that’s one of the Black Bar Crawl’s stops. Credit: Torch Oakland/Instagram

Technology is key for the participants: Updates prior to the event will be posted on the Black Bar Crawl Instagram page. As opposed to paper maps, the organizers will use QR codes, so teams will be able to view the locations and DJ schedule at each venue.

Because this is a bar crawl, there will be a lot of walking, organizers warn. “We encourage people to come very comfortably,” Kelley said. “This is not a thing where you need to wear heels or anything like that.” 

Using public transit, a taxi or a rideshare app such as Lyft or Uber is highly encouraged for everyone’s safety. “We don’t want people driving under the influence,” Kelley said. “We also, logistically, don’t want people to have to deal with all their personal belongings. Pack light, be comfortable.”

“It’s very similar to a day party, but you’re gonna go to three day parties over the course of six hours for $20,” Kelley said. “The goal is to spend money at these Black-owned venues and enjoy these DJs, that are all local as well.” 

Follow the Black Bar Crawl on Instagram or visit its website for more information.

Brandy Collins is a freelance arts & culture writer and self proclaimed professional auntie, born and raised in the Bay Area. Twitter: MsBrandyCollins.