Appearances aren’t everything. Take The Black Bean, for example. Housed in a former Chinese restaurant on Atwood Street in Oakland, it’s the epitome of barely renovated. The long bar that is the major visual focus for the main room lacks any stock or lighting. The cooler of 20 oz. sodas on the left of the bar seems completely out of place, as does the water cooler and plastic cups for self-serve. There’s a little side room of tables. The bathrooms are in the basement. Even some vibrant paintings on the wall don’t quite make up for the restaurant’s lack of atmosphere. It feels like a take-out spot.
And it is, certainly. The price range for appetizers, sandwiches, salads, and entrees are on par with other takeout options, and in a neighborhood like Oakland, a restaurant could make a considerable sum on pick up orders alone. Still, for a place still putting the operation together – for example, as of my visit, their liquor license hadn’t come through yet, thus the empty bar – there’s a kind of low-key charm in the unfinished details.
When I came in, The Black Bean was empty. The friendly girl at the bar gave me two menus, told me to sit anywhere, and that I needed to order at the bar when I was ready. Pretty straightforward, no fuss, no frills.