The Nightcap: Pub fare and British ales at CommonWealth
on August 5, 2011
The Nightcap is a new series that will feature a favorite Oakland drinking establishment every Friday afternoon.
When CommonWealth Café and Public House opened in May 2010, the owners couldn’t serve alcohol because the pub’s liquor license was working its way through the bureaucracy chain.
But when people started showing up to watch the World Cup in the months following, they would see the taps and, naturally, order a beer. “It was a big disappointment when people would see the taps and say, ‘I’ll take a [beer],’ and we’d have to say, ‘No, you won’t,’” said Pete Jeffryes, one of CommonWealth’s owners.
The day before the liquor license came through, in July 2010, the Telegraph Avenue and 29th Street pub’s owners notified the neighborhood.
The place was packed that night.
“It was all faces that we’d seen, all neighborhood people,” Jeffryes said, “people we’d struck up friendships with.”
“All the things came together,” he added. “A British pub, and really, really Oakland.”
CommonWealth serves a unique niche in Oakland – a British-style pub on Telegraph Avenue, rather than a standard American bar.
“The pub in Britain is much more of a community experience,” Jeffryes said. “It’s not a place to go get drunk, it’s a place to meet your family or have a business meeting in the morning with a cup of coffee, a place for a traveler to take a break while he’s waiting for a train. It’s much more of a meeting place.”
CommonWealth has the look and feel of a café crossed with a bar. Laptops and coffee cups cover wooden tables in the morning, but there’s also a bar towards the back with 12 beers on tap – traditional British-style ales like Fuller’s and local beers like Dying Vines, most served in 20-ounce “imperial pint” glasses. “That’s the quantity of beer we feel satisfies,” Jeffryes said. (Dying Vines is also making a brown ale specifically for the pub called Knotown Brown, named after the area, dubbed “Koreatown-Northgate”.)
The pub is owned by Jeffryes, his sister, Ahna Adair, and her husband, Ross Adair. The Adairs also live above the pub. Jeffryes and Ahna Adair are from Sunnyvale, while Ross Adair is from East Kilbride, Scotland, and “the main catalyst” behind the bar, Jeffryes said.
Ross Adair also serves as the pub’s cook, and the menu features standard pub fare like “toasties” (hot pressed
sandwiches), shepherd’s pie and stews with Yorkshire Pudding. “We’ll also throw an occasional curry in there,” Jeffryes said of the menu.
The pub has two TVs, and they’re just about always tuned to a soccer match (they make exceptions for Giants baseball games). Whenever there’s a big soccer tilt, the pub is packed with soccer fans who may have had difficulty finding a place to watch matches before CommonWealth opened. “The culture was here, they used to just have to go all the way to San Francisco [to watch a soccer match],” Jeffryes said. “People deserve a spot near their home to watch some soccer.”
CommonWealth’s owners have plans to expand into the building next door to offer more seating, which will probably happen in the next year, Jeffryes said.
Jeffryes said he’s noticed that many of CommonWealth’s customers know each other, often thanks to relationships forged right there at his bar. He wants to promote a friendly atmosphere where people can talk to each other, wherever they come from.
“The pub is a place to discuss, a platform for everybody to share equal footing, no matter where you come from,” he said. “Everybody can afford a $5 beer and come and just hang out.”
CommonWealth is open from 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 9-3:30 p.m. on Sundays. Go here for more information.
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