Roaring 20s Return to Fabulous Ferndale

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The Oakland Art Novelty Co. adds an elegant flavor and some high society to the city’s creative community.

There’s a new watering hole in town called the Oakland. One might actually call it “old-new,” considering it’s modeled after a 1920s-style speakeasy.

If you’re not one of those people “in the know,” you could easily walk past the joint and be none the wiser. The exterior of the building is a plain slate-blue/lavender hue that has no frills, sparkle or pizzazz. The glass door has a simple emblem that reads, the “Oakland Art Novelty Company.”

The exterior of the Oakland has the feeling of a phony business front. In the 1920s, the Purple Gang, Detroit’s Jewish version of La Cosa Nostra, used phony businesses named the Art Novelty Company and the Oakland Sugarhouse to sell bootleg spirits. This, says owner Sandy Levine, is what the name of the bar was drawn from.

After entering through those unassuming doors, you’re greeted by the scent of custom-flavored popcorn wafting through the elegant setting — sparkling chandeliers, dark leather and velvet furniture, antique rugs and elegant paintings.

“My wife and I lived in Chicago, and there was a bar there called the Violet Hour that we enjoyed frequenting,” Levine says. “It was kind of like a speakeasy-style bar that made amazing cocktails, and that was our first introduction to the concept. Then we learned about some other places in New York that were doing similar things, and we wanted to bring that concept to Detroit.”

The Oakland’s specialty is its carefully crafted cocktails; the drinks all are based on recipes predating Prohibition. The ingredients include only top-shelf liquors, fresh juices, homemade syrups and bitters. Even the maraschino cherries are homemade, and the cocktails have creative names such as “On The Night You Were Born” and “Juliet and Romeo.”

The bartenders take great pride in creating their drinks. Translation: It may take a few extra minutes to get your cocktail, but the results are worth the wait.

Barfly Hit Parade

On-The-Spot Impression: “We were blown away by how great the drinks at the Oakland taste,” says Janet Warren of Royal Oak. “Some people may be a bit apprehensive about paying $9 for a drink, but the quality and taste make it worth it. The atmosphere is great, and it would be a fantastic place for a first date.”

Drink Cost: Everything on the regular drink menu costs $9; artisan beer is $6.

Clientele: A diverse crowd, early 20s and up. There is no dress code; patrons come in both dressy and casual.

Music: Eclectic, from ’20s- and ’30s-era blues to modern-day tunes.

Bar Appeal: The bar is great for a night out with friends or as a date spot.

Accessibility: Parking is metered on the street, and there also is a metered parking lot on the street behind the bar.

Queue Factor: There is no cover charge; currently there are no lines to get in on the weekend, although as word gets out about this trendy new hot spot, this is subject to change.

Location and Hours: 201 W. Nine Mile Road, Ferndale; (248) 291-5295; Wednesday-Saturday 5 p.m.-1:30 a.m., Sunday 5 p.m.-12:30 a.m., closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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