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The Nightcap: Punk rock, PBR and Barbies at The Stork Club

on September 2, 2011

The Nightcap is a new series that will feature a favorite Oakland drinking establishment every Friday afternoon.

The Stork Club, located at Telegraph Avenue and 24th Street, is a bar full of contradictions. It’s owned by Micki Chittock, a sweet 74-year-old lady who uses it to house dozens of the more than 600 Barbie dolls she owns—they are tacked to the wall above the bar, all in their original cases. Her name and her husband’s name are on the sign out front (it’s officially “Wes and Micki’s Stork Club”), and she named the place after a high-society bar in New York City. But from the street, The Stork Club appears every bit to be a dive bar, with a windowless front and aging signs and loud music coming out of the door. It draws a pierced, tattooed and dyed crowd to the live rock shows on offer every night it’s open—Tuesday-Saturday, and sometimes on Sunday.

Really, it’s just a neighborhood bar that fits in with the cool, grimy feel of the neighborhood. “The Stork Club is kind of like your neighborhood, friendly dive bar- punk rock bar,” bartender Zoe Clisham said. “It’s like ‘Cheers’ for Motorhead fans.”

There are three rooms at The Stork Club, each with a different main draw. The first room a customer walks into after entering has the bar and the Barbies—the walls are darkly painted, the room is decorated with turquoise cushioned bar stools, a few portraits of John Wayne, and illuminated bar signs, like the Budweiser one that says “Welcome to Oakland.”

The outside of The Stork looks like a run-of-the-mill dive bar.

If you’re not into Bud, or Pabst Blue Ribbon (the most popular drink at The Stork) you can order “The Barbie,” a shot of cotton candy liquor, a shot of vodka and 7-up, with a cherry on top, which was invented by bar manager Dale Turkette. He says The Barbie is popular with female customers. “They say it tastes like cotton candy,” Turkette says with a laugh.

Turning right, there’s the room with the stage, and patrons can either bring their tall can with them if they want to stand in the front, or sit in the orange-cushioned booths that line the walls. The room in the back is the poolroom—it used to have two pool tables, until a city inspector ordered one of them removed. “They said two pool tables constitutes a pool hall,” Turkette said.

The owners also allow graffiti in the bathrooms, and scrawl from pens, pencils and markers cover the walls in both the men’s and women’s rooms. Multi-colored posters of bands who have performed at The Stork that line the walls of the pool hall, on which someone has inscribed such compliments as “worst band ever” and “eat poop.”

“Some say it’s homely,” Turkette says of what draws people to the bar. “We treat everybody the same here. Everybody here works together, [customers] feel more at home here, more secure.”

For decades, The Stork Club was located on 12th Street, and was originally a country music bar, famously decorated year-round with a Christmas tree and lights. Twelve years ago, it moved to its current location on Telegraph, and although the sign on the wall outside still advertises it as a country music club, “We don’t do country anymore,” Turkette said. “We don’t get the draw. It is now a rock bar.”

While the bar is owned by Chittock, it’s managed daily by Turkette, a stout man of 60, who has a shaved head and white stubble on his chin. On an ordinary weekday, as he’s setting up for the night’s show, he’s wearing a black “Stork Club” shirt with red-and-white lettering and a picture of a stork’s face. Turkette is best friends with Chittock’s son, Tom, who also has managed the bar. Though Turkette is trained as a carpenter and works as a contractor during the day, he still makes it to The Stork every evening at 5 p.m., and tends bar until it closes. “People say, ‘You’re an excellent bartender’ and I say ‘No, I’m a carpenter,” Turkette said. “I build drinks.”

The Stork Club opens every evening at 6 p.m., but bands usually don’t go on till a few hours later. On a Thursday evening at opening, the bar is empty except for Turkette and three other employees who are setting up for the night’s show, which is headlined by Nobunny, a punk band from Arizona. Most nights feature four bands—two local and two from out of town—and Turkette said bands from as far away as Japan have performed at The Stork.

The poolroom at The Stork has posters from past shows, more than a few of which have been written on by customers.

Most of the getting ready on this night means unloading cases of Pabst Blue Ribbon tall cans, the choice nectar for most patrons—Stork Club serves it in tall cans, bottles or draft—and there are cases of PBR stacked on the table. The Stork does have a full bar selection, though, and customers are free to order a cocktail, with a caveat: “We’re not a fancy bar, we’re a dive bar, a punk-rock dive bar,” Turkette said, breaking into a laugh. “So you’d better make it quick and fast, or you’re not going to get something.”

A few hours later, the bar fills up with people holding PBR tall cans and watching the show. Outside, people smoke cigarettes and a line snakes down the block towards the Mama Buzz coffee shop and Rock Paper Scissors Collective art gallery, more recent additions that have joined the mainstay Stork Club on the block.

This is a big weekend for business for The Stork— on Friday night Turkette said he expects a big crowd for the free burlesque show they offer every month during Art Murmur, which is usually the busiest night of the month. He expects to serve a few “Barbies” and more than a few PBR tall boys.

Chittock hasn’t been around the bar much the last few years; she’s battling cancer and was in a car accident. But by phone she says that she plans to be there on Friday night, too. She also has plans on bringing back the Christmas tree that used to sit in the bar year-round. It would be decorated differently for every holiday—turkey ornaments for Thanksgiving, bunnies for Easter and jack-o’-lanterns for Halloween.

While it may seem a little odd that a sweet old lady with a Barbie doll collection and a knack for Yuletide decor owns a punk rock bar, Chittock doesn’t see it that way. For her, the bar simply adapted along with the neighborhood, and to the people who came in. “The young kids who come around didn’t have a place to play or hear their music,” Chittock said. “So they started coming to my place.”

Plus, she added, “All the punk rockers love the Barbies.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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