It looked as if somebody had plunked down a ski lodge in the middle of Oakland.
In 2004, when John Plummer, Jeff Kovel and Mike Quinn built the mod-swank Doug Fir Lounge—a plush 1870s log cabin with the interior of a 1970s coke den—the East Burnside neighborhood was better known to police as a prostitution corridor. There was no Rontoms. There was no Le Pigeon. Even Union Jack's strip club seemed a little ritzy for the neighborhood, despite being parked under a ghastly unpainted wreck of a building that looked like a haunted house.
The eastside had been home to iconic rock clubs before the Doug Fir, of course. The skuzzy, all-ages Pine Street Theater and La Luna had hosted some of the most legendary shows of the '80s and '90s. But the Doug Fir signaled something brand new: Someone was actually investing real money on the eastside's rock scene.
Skylab Architects completely gutted and rehabbed a once-terrifying motor lodge next door, making it into one of the city's hipper hotels. What's more, somebody actually invested in the club's sound system.
"Can this overhyped love affair last?" we wrote at the time, noting that the nightclub restaurant's "half-finished benches were still sluttily flashing their foam innards at East Burnside's bums." It was strange to see Wieden+Kennedy account execs drinking upper-shelf liquors on the "wrong" side of town, where artists and musicians had been pushed by skyrocketing Pearly rents.
After that, it was like playing dominos in reverse, with new spots popping up every year. In 2005, Simpatica—the parent company of Burnside's Laurelhurst Market—moved into the old La Luna space two blocks south of the Doug Fir. The next year saw the openings of Rontoms nightclub and Beard-Award-winning Le Pigeon, two blocks to the east. Biwa opened next to Simpatica in 2007. The neighborhood will soon receive futuristic apartment buildings that look like sword blades pointed at God.
The eastside condo boom kicked off, meanwhile, with the Clinton Street Lofts in 2005—one year after Doug Fir was completed—soon followed by the Clinton Condominiums, from which the founders of House Spirits, Stumptown and Pok Pok all hatched plans for their eastside empires.