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The Nightcap: Going clubbing at Lounge 3411

on December 16, 2011

The Nightcap is a series that features a favorite Oakland drinking establishment every Friday afternoon.

From her seat on a barstool in the corner of the room, Stephanie Sulivan looked out over a packed house and smiled. The bar she owns with her husband, Adam Afuvai, which they named Lounge 3411, is packed with people. “It is pretty amazing,” she said.

Sulivan and Afuvai have owned Lounge 3411, a bar on MacArthur Boulevard in the Dimond/Laurel District, for four years. But business has really taken off in the last two years when they switched the format from a lesbian bar to more of a laid-back nightclub, or a “pub club” as a customer recently called it.

“We really wanted to have a space where people in the neighborhood, people locally, could come and listen to music and have a drink, and not have to go to downtown Oakland or the city,” Sulivan said. “We really wanted to have a cool space to showcase local talent.”

“It’s a local bar,” she added, “but it’s more of a club because of what we offer.”

Lounge 3411 does have the appearance of a small club from the street. The sign out front is nondescript, just the white numbers of the address, and the large doors are closed. In the late-night hours, groups of smokers congregate in front of a heat lamp out front, reminiscent of the line behind a velvet rope outside a trendy club. The hours also bring to mind a club—Lounge 3411 opens at 9 pm most nights, except on two nights at 6 pm—Tuesdays for Taco Night and Wednesdays for karaoke, which begins soon.

The club look does not extend past the front door, though. Inside it looks more like a laid-back bar, with couches and coffee tables set up on one side of the first room, facing the bar. There are two main areas, separated by a wall with windows. The first room has shiny purple-painted walls, and couches and coffee tables are set up on one side of the room facing the bar. Bottles of alcohol are displayed on metal shelving under lights behind the bar, and oranges, lemons and limes are piled up in the corner. The work of local artists decorates the walls, and is switched out every month.

The second room also has couches in the corner, and few blue Christmas lights hang from the ceiling. The difference, though, is at night, is the music blaring through the door and lofting into the main bar area. Lounge 3411 hosts live music every night its open, from Tuesday to Saturday, and the performers cut a wide swath, from rock to Latin jazz, punk and techno. There’s a DJ booth set up in the corner, and Sulivan said about 30 DJs perform at the club per month.

Sulivan said she and Afuvai, who have been married for 14 years, wanted to open up a small club because that’s the business they knew best. Afuvai, who is from Hawaii, had worked in security and management at clubs in San Francisco like City Lights, and Sulivan, a Fremont native, had also worked in bars in the Bay Area for years.

“He’s been the front of the house, and I’ve been the back of the house, waitressing, bartending, all that,” Sulivan said. “It makes us a great pair.”

After two years of running the lesbian bar, which was called Velvet, Sulivan said, it was time for a change. Business was slow and the couple decided to come up with a new concept to get people through the doors. “It was really self-preservation,” Sulivan said.

Sulivan said in order to attract new customers, they had to put the word out the place had changed. She said she did that by networking—contacting people she used to work with, starting a Facebook page, and getting bands to spread the word as well. They’re also meeting folks who live nearby. “People are finding us in the neighborhood, they’re telling their friends this is actually a cool place to come in the neighborhood,” Sulivan said. “We’re really happy about that.”

Afuvai said a big draw for customers is the late happy hour, which starts when the club opens at 9 pm. For the first hour its open, draft beers are $2 and mixed drinks are $4. “Great drinks for a great price, because everyone is in an economic bind right now,” Afuvai said. “We’re not charging Las Vegas prices for some drinks.”

Sulivan tends bar most nights, and makes some of the syrups, like fresh ginger in the  Dark and Stormy cocktail. Instead of a specialty cocktail menu, though, she said she often will just ask customer what they like to drink and invent a cocktail on the spot. “And then they love it and they can only get it here,” she said, starting to laugh. “I don’t let them know what’s in it. I don’t even name it.”

Sulivan said it’s all a part of good customer service, and keeping the people that come through the doors happy. The couple both said they’re proud of good reviews on Yelp!, and are especially thrilled when club-goers from San Francisco cross the bay to try out Lounge 3411.

“I’ve had people from the city say they never leave the city, but they’ll come to our place because of the music that we have here,” she said. “That’s huge for us, for a little bar out in the cuts.”

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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