Alameda a la carte: Capone's Speakeasy
Alameda a la carte: Capone's Speakeasy
Capone's opened on Saturday, August 30 and it's already the talk of the town, but not in a good way. The focus of the attention appears to be on the arrest of one of the owners, Mark Strachan, on opening night after getting involved in a dust-up with police. I was there that night and witnessed the scuffle firsthand, although I did not see what preceded the incident.
Here's what I did see: As I approached, walking westbound on Central Avenue about five minutes after 9 p.m., I saw several police officers struggling with a man on the ground, just outside the side entrance to the nightclub. The man was shouting, cursing, and appeared to be resisting being handcuffed. My first reaction was, "They're taking this gangster theme to the extreme," but I soon realized it wasn't a stunt.
As I passed, the man on the ground was adamantly denying biting one of the officers, and I saw one of the officers slightly off to the side rubbing his leg.
Very close by was a tall, dark-haired woman with a professional-looking camera, dressed in a silk blouse (braless - which made it especially surreal), skirt and high heels, snapping flash pictures in rapid succession. One of the officers repeatedly told her to get further back. He was very polite in doing this, saying "please" and calling her "Ma'am" (take that Ferguson PD!), and she complied but kept snapping away. I did not see or hear them attempt to get her to stop taking pictures.
Police said they arrested Strachan, 50, after he assaulted an officer on another call at the Starbucks across the street; one witness said he became upset about the police presence and felt it was disrupting the club's opening. As of Thursday night Alameda County's inmate locator listed Strachan as still in jail on charges of battery on a police officer, public drunkenness and resisting arrest, pending $12,500 bail. Police said he had also violated his probation on some prior convictions.
Once inside, I asked a couple who said they had arrived at Capone's about 7 p.m. if they noticed any disturbance but they said that they hadn't. They, like most of the other patrons, appeared to be oblivious to the dramatic scene outside.
Now that I've filled you in on my ringside account of "the incident," let's get down to business. This is a restaurant review, after all!
The former bank building has been beautifully transformed into a dazzling party oasis with one of the longest bars I've ever seen along one side. On the opposite side of the room are long, plush couches with low tables, and in its center, a number of high tables accompanied by barstool chairs. On opening night, a jazz band was set up near the main entrance adjacent the dance floor. The classical Greek columns that were part of the original decor have been spiffed up with gold leaf and marble is used liberally on the flat surfaces. Enormous crystal chandeliers hang from the ceiling.
At the far back of the main room, one of the old bank vaults was open to the public, also outfitted with tables and chairs providing a quieter place than the main room for conversation. The volume level was loud but not obnoxiously so, and the thick exterior walls dampen it entirely so that, from the outside, you cannot hear the music at all.
The female staff was uniformly young, thin, very attractive, and outfitted in adorable, black fringed flapper dresses. The head gear varied somewhat, but all wore headbands with feathers of some kind. As it was the grand opening, it was difficult to tell if the male staff was dressed up just for the night or if their natty attire is intended to be the regular thing. In any case, everyone and everything looked very nice, upscale and classy.
The double entrance doors were open so patrons just walked in. (No sliding secret password door, alas!) I stood near the front, as the place was pretty full and I was not sure if one waited to be seated and, if not, if tables were shared or if I would have to wait for a seat. Numerous staff members walked back and forth by me without a greeting. There was a woman at the front desk but she was mostly obscured by an enormous floral arrangement. When I tried to catch her eye, she made sure she stayed obscured. There was no menu offered even though I saw that she had some.
After wandering around looking as helpless as possible, I finally broke my cardinal rule and told someone why I was there. The first person I spoke to was the bouncer who was sweet but not much help. The second person I approached appeared to be someone assigned to the VIP party going on in a larger vault. She was less than impressed, but asked if I would like to see the manager. I told her that I did not want special treatment, just a menu and to order some food. Her response was non-committal, so I went over and sat on the end of one of the couches against the wall, hoping my luck would change.
Waitresses swanned back and forth but seemed to assume I was with a group that had already been taken care of and so no one approached. I can see this being a continuing problem with the communal couch arrangement. Just when I was despairing of ever getting a crack at the cuisine, a vision of delight appeared out of nowhere.
Dressed in a stunning silver flapper dress and strappy heels, she said her name was Rose and offered to get me whatever I needed. Over the din, I indicated that I needed a menu and to order a drink. Instantly a menu was produced, but Rose seemed reluctant to meet my request for a drinks menu. I told her I was doing a review so I wanted one of the signature cocktails. She asked me what kind of cocktails I liked and I said "Champagne," at which point she offered to have one specially made and dashed off, much to my annoyance since a custom drink is fairly useless in my capacity as a reviewer.
Shortly, a waitress who introduced herself as Jamie appeared to take my order. I explained my plight about the cocktail. By this time, I had accessed the online version of the cocktail menu on my cell phone and was able to tell her that I wanted a Baby Face. She went off to place my order and I chatted with a couple about the arrest outside (as mentioned before) and asked what they thought of the place. They were enjoying themselves. Loved the band. Thought the bruschetta was quite good and liked the idea of a nice place like this in Alameda.
Soon, Rose returned and nearly sat on my lap in her eagerness to assist me in any way possible. When she offered to dance on the table, it got kind of awkward. (Do I LOOK like a salesman from Omaha on a convention?) Once again she rushed off to get me "just the thing" which turned out to be a bag of Asian-inspired, caramel chips called Karinto Krisps. "Do you serve these here?" I asked. "No," she replied. "My girlfriend makes them."
By now, of course, I realized that word had filtered back to the management that a food reviewer was in the house and someone had ordered Rose to be my new BFF. I asked her if she had a special title, was she a hostess or something? "Oh, no!" she replied, "I'm a Realtor." Naturally. Every nightclub has one on staff. Silly me!
Rose evaporated once again and I made friends with my table mates by sharing the bag of Karinto Krisps. They were really terrific. It turns out they are made in Alameda and they disappeared quickly. Everybody wanted seconds.
Turns out, the Karinto Krisps were the food find of the night.
The Baby Face (The Botanist gin, Dubonnet, lemon juice, simple syrup, and fresh cantaloupe) was good and girly. Jamie explained that the bartenders were really overloaded so there was a longer wait for cocktails than for beer or wine. I suspect that was why Rose was trying to convince me to order something simple.
I sampled the Capone's sliders with homemade potato chips, the sizzling pork belly with seared scallops, and the bruschetta trio. The scallops were fresh and very tasty, although the $20 price tag seemed a bit steep. The sliders were unremarkable with just a tiny sprinkle of blue cheese and the chips had no salt on them. The trio consisted of two pieces each of tomato with mozzarella and basil, mashed cannellini beans with red onion and rosemary, and blue cheese with arugula and raisins. There was a hair embedded in my bean bruschetta (this put me off a bit), but I sampled the others and they were just "okay." I snuck out before Rose could debrief me on my experience.
Well, there you have it. The future of Capone's Speakeasy is reportedly up in the air, some fuss about felons and liquor licenses (a police department spokesperson said the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is taking a second look at the nightclub's liquor license). My experience was decidedly unique, so I think I can safely say you are unlikely to witness another arrest or get Rose to assist you. With the right crowd and the kinks in the service ironed out, it could be a really great addition to the nightlife of the Island City.
On a final note, this is my last review for The Alamedan. My husband has taken a long-term contract in New York, so I won't be able to check out the Island eats for a while. Thank you for reading. Thanks also to my fabulous editor extraordinaire Michele Ellson for giving me my shot at big time journalism. I'll be relying on the new Alameda a la carte-r to keep me up-to-date from afar.
I'm sure the next time I'm in town, there will be many more places to try. Until then, I will miss the Isle of Style and its gracious residents.
Capone's Speakeasy, 1400 Park Street; 522-2391. Open from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 4 p.m. to midnight Thursdays, 4 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays and 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sundays. Dress code.