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The People's Guide: Ben Lewis and Lake Merritt

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The People's Guide is Curbed SF's tour o' the nabes, lead by our most loyal readers, favorite bloggers, and other luminaries of our choosing. Have a piece to say? We'll be happy to hand over the megaphone. This week, we welcome Ben Lewis, Curbed SF reader.

Nabe: It’s hard to define the Lake Merritt area as its borders blend fairly seamlessly with several other neighborhoods. For this bit, I’ll be including everything within a 1 mile radius of Oakland’s little gem, Fairyland (and if you haven’t checked out Oaklandish’s new Fairyland tee and hoody, please do).

Tell us something we don't know about Lake Merritt?
Boring fact: Lake Merritt was the very first wildlife refuge in the United States. Less boring fact: In the early 1950s Walt Disney visited Fairyland to get ideas for his theme park. Exciting fact: The area right around Lake Merritt is stealing chefs from other cities quicker than you can prove there are four letters in cook. James Shyabout interned at England’s The Fat Duck, Spain’s El Bulli and then landed in the bay area at Manresa and Betelnut. He has recently opened Commis on Piedmont Avenue and quickly got a Michelin star. Many more are following suit.

Local customs of note: Rod Dibble has been playing the piano at The Alley since God knows when. This is a spot that you can easily lose your bearings in and no one will know or care.
The first Friday of every month is a celebration of life called Art Murmur. Many of the art galleries, bars and restaurants in the area open their doors to the wandering souls of Oakland. It is a great way to visit several spots in one night, get a taste of several restaurants, act a fool and take in lots of local art.

Hidden gems in your neighborhood: The Grand Tavern. It’s quiet, unassuming and hosts a bartender that is more excited about alcohol than just about anybody I know. I ventured in one night and after discussing my options with the bartender I rested one word in his mind, “savory”. He created the perfect concoction. He smoked scotch in the glass then poured it out like a martini’s vermouth coat. The drink creation had gin, basil and a smoky hint of the scotch. The perfect savory beverage.

Are your neighbors "rotten neighbor" worthy? If so, dish. If not... well, why not? For the most part, the neighborhood is pretty quiet and far from rotten. There is one gentleman that walks down the middle of the street with 5 or 6 pairs of pants on, always more high than most. I’ve snuck glances at him licking dirty windows. He seems harmless, but I keep my distance. Other than that and the occasional stolen car, it seems like a typical neighborhood to me. There are a couple of ladies in my building that have been there for over 30 years. They are my watchful eyes and let me know what happens in the neighborhood. I like that.

Inflate the bubble or burst it: What's not-so-swell about your "perfect" neighborhood? I’d love to tell you that the neighborhood is going down hill and that you shouldn’t come here, but I’d be being a dirty liar. I live less than a mile from Commis and Hibiscus, both Michelin starred restaurants, a few blocks from bottomless sake boxes at Coach Sushi, a ten minute walk to Bake Sale Betty’s new location and In the opposite direction, I’ve got the Grand Lake Theater which is only a short hop from Charlie Hallowell’s Boot and Shoe Service.

The final word on Lake Merritt: Oakland in general gets a terrible rep, and yes, there are parts to stay away from, but I love my neighborhood and have a hard time imagining living elsewhere.
· The People's Guide archives [Curbed SF]