The Barbary wears its pirate theme proudly.
Sisters Narges and Nala Gardizi are seasoned restaurateurs and bartenders who grew up in Richmond and Albany. This year, for the first time, they set their sails toward starting their own business and opened the bar on Grand Avenue in September.
“We’ve been in restaurants since we were very young,” Nala said, “including eleven years at Trader Vic’s.” They love the industry, and it has kept the sisters close, she added.
Having worked at Trader Vic’s, the Emeryville tiki bar founded in 1934, the Gardizi sisters recognized the appeal of establishing a bar with a theme. The bar is inspired by the Barbary Coast—the area of North African coastline along what is today Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya—historically noted for the Berber pirates who preyed on ships that sailed the Mediterranean from the 16th to the 19th centuries.
The Barbary: Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday 4 p.m. to 1 a.m., Sunday 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.; 3332 Grand Ave (near Mandana Boulevard) in Oakland; (510) 922-9919
For Bay Area natives, the name might conjure images of the San Francisco neighborhood known during the Gold Rush as the Barbary Coast, an area complete with dive bars, dance halls and a red-light district. Once inside the Barbary, however, patrons are transported to a much different time and place.
“We were hoping to find a midpoint between a tiki and a traditional dive bar feel,” Nala said.
They executed a sweeping transformation from the former occupants of the space—the Libertine, the Lucky Lounge and others. From the wallpaper to the new floors and furniture, and the complete reincarnation of the restrooms, the vibe has definitely changed.
Early patrons of The Barbary who knew about the previous saloons in the space asked if “we had done anything to fix up the restrooms, so we encouraged people to check them out and see,” Nala said.
One of the restrooms is resplendent in a vibrant orange with birds of paradise and parrots decorating the walls. (The other one? It must be seen to be believed!)
When they started thinking about opening a bar, the Gardizis searched for a location in the East Bay—including taking a look at the Hotel Mac in Point Richmond—but decided to “start small.” Although no food is served currently, there may be popup food options in the future. For now, the bar will host a variety of events such as live DJs, karaoke and belly dancers on the first Friday of each month.
When you enter the bar, first nod to the portraits of pirate royalty: Barbarossa (Italian for Redbeard), a Mediterranean pirate and later Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Empire; and Sayyida Al Hurra, known as the pirate queen of Morocco and one of the most famous female pirates of her time. Then take in the decor—the towering greenery, the glowing faux fireplace in the lounge area, and the golden replicas of an old-world monkey species called the Barbary Macaque clinging to the walls. The monkey theme continues with the White Lotus-like wallpaper in the lounge. Whimsical portraits decorate the bar and the lounge, featuring uniformed versions of animals that were once found in the Atlas Mountains of North Africa: the Barbary leopard, the Barbary lion and others that are harder to identify (many of which are the fanciful creations of an artist the sisters found on Etsy).
Keeping with the pirate theme, the illustrated cocktail menu features a number of grogs, including The Barbary Grog (Appleton Estate rum, Averna Amaro, Barbary Grog mix, lemon and orange), the Spice Trader (spiced rum, ginger, lime—to prevent scurvy—allspice, cinnamon and cardamom bitters); and the one we could not resist trying, the pirate flag-adorned Black Tot Grog (bourbon, vanilla liqueur, pineapple, allspice and activated charcoal), as dark as the deepest ocean depths of Davy Jones’ locker. The bar also offers a selection of “the Captain’s Classics,” including a seasonal daiquiri, the Ottoman Old Fashion, a Coconut Mojito and the Black Sea Manhattan. Mocktails and the Daily Ration, a bottle of beer and a well (low-end liquor) shot, are on the menu as well. A team of experienced bartenders joins the sisters in creating all the libations.
“We were fortunate to find them. They all bring something to the table,” Nala said.
The Barbary’s parklet in front contains more plants with colorful cushions lining the sheltered benches. Inside there are a variety of seating options: at the bar with handy hooks for bags and purses, several cozy nooks and plenty of places to gather in the lounge area.
The Gardizi sisters have done their due diligence in creating a fresh space complete with atmosphere and history. At the same time, they’ve added their own pirate-themed pizazz to Grand Avenue.
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