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Bar Dogwood serves up smart cocktails and cured meats in downtown Oakland

on March 31, 2011

It can be hard out there for a meat and booze lover. Or it was, at least, until a few weeks ago, when Bar Dogwood opened its door in Oakland. The new watering hole offers a selection of cured meats, cheeses, and fresh cocktails, seamlessly blending old school taste and style with a modern, Bay Area sensibility.

Owner Alexeis Filipello, a San Francisco native who has lived in the East Bay for twelve years, has made a career of bar ownership, though at times she thought she’d be a chef, or maybe a food writer. Filipello owned San Francisco bar House of Shields for years, where the post-work crowd dominated the scene. Filipello hopes Bar Dogwood will give downtown Oakland something similar—a relaxed place to unwind.

“Our concept was to have a bar that felt good to be in, that was super casual, and that had reasonable alcohol prices,” says Filipello, a direct, hospitable woman with striking green eyes. “We also wanted to have a meat counter that was all cruelty-free, hormone-free, grass-fed and free range.”

Dogwood, which opened a few weeks ago at 17th Street and Telegraph, is decorated ceiling-to-floor in hunting lodge chic, and specializes in fresh, artisanal drinks and cured meats. Behind a pane of glass in the corner of the bar, a stainless steel kitchenette houses Dogwood’s selection of fine charcuterie and cheeses, which varies by the day. Some comes from local purveyors, some from as far away as Iowa, and some is made in-house.

Filipello, who comes from a food-oriented Italian family and recently learned how to cure meat, makes a buttery lardo, delicate duck prosciutto and a variety of sausages for the bar. On a Wednesday afternoon two weeks ago, the charcuterie was offered alongside bread and three cheeses—an Irish Blue, a Spanish Manchego, and a French P’tit Basque. A mixed plate of everything goes for $15.

But the food, Filipello says, is just an accessory—this bar was made for drinking.  “People have been bringing up the standards up for meat in the Bay Area recently, and I’m stoked to be a part of that,” says Filipello. “But honestly, first and foremost, we’re a bar.”

Filipello’s approach to cocktails is similar to her approach to food—her drinks are smooth, decadent and luxurious. You won’t find sour mix or bottled juice at Dogwood—on the counter are fresh garnishes and a bowl filled with citrus fruit, ready to be squeezed. Filipello refuses to buy her alcohol from a single vendor—it’s too important, she says, to be able to pick and choose the gins, ryes, vodkas and tequilas that she really wants.


At Bar Dogwood, sour mix and bottled juice are nowhere to be found—owner Alexeis Filipello insists on using fresh fruit juice and fresh garnishes.

The cocktail menu, printed on slips of ivory paper and tied to small planks of wood, features both classics—including a Rye Manhattan and a Classic Martini—and original concoctions crafted by Dogwood’s crew of bartenders. Filipello’s own creation, The Stone’s Throw, is made with Knob Creek bourbon, ginger and lemon. On Saturday, March 26th, Filipello celebrated the Oakland Running Festival with a Bloody Mary buffet—optional garnishes included skewers of filet mignon and prawns.

The high-end cocktails will run you $8-$10, and if those prices are a little rich for your blood, the Dogwood offers bottled and draft beer, and well drinks that far exceed normal standards in size and quality. For $5, customers get a 12 oz. cocktail made with fresh juice and tasty spirits. “We could serve the bad well liquor,” says Filipello. “But I just want people to like it here, and come back and enjoy themselves.”

This attention to detail extends to Filipello’s precise decorating of Bar Dogwood, which she named after her late stepmother’s favorite tree. Aside from the bar itself, patrons can sit at three long wooden tables made of black acacia. The table tops have a smooth, shellacked appearance, but the sides sport the original tree bark. Three stuffed pheasants that Filipello bought online from a taxidermist in the Midwest take flight up the back wall. Gramophones converted into speakers hang from the ceilings. Art deco lamps festoon the shelves over the bar, and lighting fixtures from the 1920s illuminate the scene.

“I just love the feel of an old hunters lodge. I want it to look like it’s been here for 70, 80 years,” says Filipello. “But we’re also trying to be very Oakland-centric. All of our photographs and art is from Oakland, and a lot of the stuff we designed or our friends made.”

Filipello’s classy, relaxed, urban, lodge-like, antiquated-but-brand-new bar may seem an impossible vision to realize, yet somehow, it works. And according to Filipello, it’s working for Oakland as well—business is off to a solid start.

“I love how culturally diverse we are,” says Filipello of her clientele. “We have people from every ethnic background, every social background, every economic background—it’s awesome. I’m so glad it’s not the next trendy hipfest.”

She’s happy to have anyone—age, demographic and hipness factor aside—who shares her tastes and sensibilities join her at Bar Dogwood for a cocktail and a snack. “I want to serve the things that I like to drink, and the food that I like to eat,” says Filipello. “And if people agree with it, that’s great.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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