“I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days trying to prolong them. I shall use my time.” ~ Jack London
There is a lot of history between this town, my Oakland, and the man called Jack London. We have a square named after him, a saloon that has stood since the tall ships came into port and we have his words. He was a sailor, a lover of life, a man who understood that we are here but a short time and that in that time, we must taste life or miss the journey entirely.
As a small child, I ate often at The Sea Wolf (now the site of Scott’s Seafood), another place named in tribute to Oakland’s favorite son. Though born in San Francisco, Jack London spent many infamous hours here, writing, pondering the mysteries of life, and yes, drinking.
It is only fitting then that Make Westing, a newish bar and pub located in Oakland near the recently revived Fox Theater, should be named in tribute to his work. Make Westing is a sailing term that means to catch the west wind, which isn’t always as easy as it might sound. When rounding the Cape (Horn), if the ship could not succeed in catching the western breezes, or “make westing,” the vessel and its crew could be lost. The prevailing eastern winds around the Cape are notorious for causing the demise of many a sailing ship. Make Westing is a phrase that draws natural parallels to so much in life. It recalls the struggles of a difficult journey, and that lucky break that can make all the difference. It makes one think of the skill of the brave crew battling their way homeward while faced with seemingly impossible odds. And it conjures up the yearning to be back home during such a journey. One can only imagine each man on that deck dreaming of his own home, wanting to sit beside a roaring fire, in a comfortable chair with a full belly and a drink in his hand, again in the company of loved ones left behind on distant shores. The journey and the destination all in one phrase. When we are separated from those we love, the question repeats, can we, will we “make westing”?
It is fitting, then, that this bar is a comfortable space, a place that invites us in, a familiar home away from home; one that is missed heartily between visits. I’ve been to Make Westing several times now, and each time the drinks were perfectly balanced, the food simple, yet inventively appetizing, the ambiance pleasant and welcoming. Their bartenders are likewise highly skilled: my current favorite offering is the High Merritt — a blissful blending of tequila, bitters and citrus that never fails to delight the palate.
On my last voyage to Make Westing the husband and I arrived very hungry, and in the midst of happy hour. My Better Half had the Chicken Sandwich, which was a delightful composition of complex flavors and beautiful bread, the lush, moist chicken meat within the toothsome exterior coated in a delicate aioli, spicy but balanced, without too much heat. Absolutely laden with a powerhouse of great flavor. I had the Duck Breast Sandwich, and it was magnificent. Moist, not too fatty, the choice of condiments giving it just the right crunch with enough acid in the pickled toppings to balance the fat in that lovely duck meat. I will definitely be ordering it again.
Since the hubs and I were starving, we also ordered the duck rillette, a beautiful creamy spread that featured more of the pickled toppings; it slathered onto the toast points as easily as soft butter. By the time we’d finished our magnificent repast, we were sated and ready for a game or two of bocce. Funnily enough, we hadn’t actually gone there to eat, but I guess we too, had fortuitously “made” westing just as our appetites had kicked in. As we prepped for our friendly battle, we ordered a basket of their intriguing Habanero Citrus Popcorn. Has a nice kick. Yeah, baby! Turns out it is the perfect accompaniment to a game of bocce.
Make Westing features two bocce ball courts, a game which is increasing in popularity among the young (or young at heart) and which has captured my fascination of late. Turns out I may have inherited my grandfather’s acumen at the sport. He was the reigning champion of San Francisco’s North Beach ‘back in the day’ as they say. It’s fun, engaging and just difficult enough to bring out the competitive side of my nature. By the time we were done playing, the girls had once again take the boys to task. How I love winning at games! If you haven’t tried it, you really should, it’s a great time.
Make Westing is a beautiful notion, realized beautifully. I’m particularly encouraged that the young entrepreneurs who first envisioned a place such as this looked to literature for inspiration in their naming. Sometimes (all it takes is) a great notion. Well, that and a killer cocktail. Here’s to you, Jack!
Check it out for yourself and make some memories of your own.
1741 Telegraph Ave.
Oakland CA, 94612
Phone: (510) 251-1400
Hours: Seven days a week,
4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Happy Hour: 4 p.m. – 6 p.m.
every day ($3 draft beers, $4 wine, $6 cocktail specials)