On a typical Saturday night, Starline Social Club in Oakland is packed. Hot young people in hip (if scant) outfits jostle to the bar, order cocktails and cheap beers, and booty pop to loud, grooving music. They make out on the stairs on the way to the second level; some nights there’s a live band playing up there, other nights it’s a 90s R&B themed dance party. The building itself is beautiful and old, an 1883 Victorian Oakland landmark with high ceilings, and the space feels limitless. It’s easy to get lost there, in the crowd, in the din. But alongside what you might expect at such a joint—shots, whiskey sodas, and the Champagne of Beers—the Starline Social Club serves a notably deep list of natural wine.
Here you can grab a glass of juice, a tonic to restore life and energy for the evening—this is how every nightclub should be. Even better, Starline keeps classic bar hours, meaning it’s the only place in Oakland where, say, on a quiet Tuesday night, you can get a glass of natural wine at 1:00am. Behind the scenes this venue’s ties to the Oakland natural wine community in the Bay Area and beyond is strong. The natural wine fair Brumaire has been held there for the past three years; when the bar first opened in 2015, Brumaire co-founder Quinn Kimsey-White (who recently opened Psychic Wines in LA) consulted on the wine list. The end result feels rare—a bumping club and bar with killer wines on offer—but perhaps it won’t be rare for long.
As a fan of the space and regular patron, I had to learn more. So Starline proprietor Adam Hatch and I shared a couple of bottles (2014 Jean-Yves Peron “Les Barrieux” and 2016 “Brut de Cuve” from Romain des Grottes, to be specific) and talked juice, bar life, and modern Oakland.
Kara Fowler: Why do you serve natural wine in your establishment?
Adam Hatch: Why would I have a business that didn’t have natural wine should be the question.
I think most people don’t know what natural wine means. Even I don’t really know what it means. For me I define it as I can trace it back to somebody I can talk to.
I remember when Two Buck Chuck came out, and I got into drinking wine, but it was Two Buck Chuck. And I would try to get into other wine, and people would throw elevation or soil type at me, and I just didn’t know what was going on. But then I visited a friend in Italy, and met Bradford [Taylor of Ordinaire] and other people and it started to be about the story, and the story is something I can get behind.
What happened in Italy?
In Italy I was in Comogli, and we walked down the hill, and we brought this five-liter bottle in a wicker basket to this shop, and they just put a gas nozzle in there and pumped it full of juice. It was made by this guy down the street, it was super fucking cheap, and it was so delicious. It was my first time experiencing a table wine. You just put it on the table, and when it’s not good anymore you cook with it. Nothing’s lost in the process.
How does it feel different to support small producers, as a business owner?
I run a venue, and sometimes there are 1,200 people in there, and when the dance floor is packed with 450 people and there’s someone dancing and holding a magnum of natural wine up, I can feel good about it, as opposed to when I was younger, when I thought venue wine was shit. People shouldn’t serve things that they wouldn’t want to drink themselves.
Do you find that people order wine pretty often at Starline?
In our setting, it’s a cultural thing. Certain demographics are targeted to drink certain things, whether it’s by race, or by class, or by access. They can be the hipster kids bitching about a four dollar Miller High Life, or the Hennessey culture, or the wine culture. And you need to step back and say, “Why are these people choosing these drinks?” And I think a good space to be in is to be able to bridge the gap and to find a way to expose people to new things. Not the things that they were taught to like, but the things they actually do like.
Do you think people enjoy the wine because it’s natural wine or because it’s delicious?
The customers can have some piss made in a factory, or some weird juice, made by somebody who they can go meet. So it’s more human. Humanizing anything is a good thing. Now everybody is abstracted by technology, and its really comforting that natural wine exists, or re-exists at this point to bring people back to something that’s very homey and chill. Wine shouldn’t taste the same. It’s not fucking Kool-Aid. If it’s uncomfortable for you, then maybe you’re a bit inflexible. You shouldn’t want things to be the same all the time, nothing’s like that. Ever. And whether it’s ourselves, or the music that’s playing on the dance floor, or the people who are dancing, what you’re putting into your body is a great opportunity to have something that’s unique, and special, and cared about, and accidental, and fucked up, and all of the beautiful things that we all are. As opposed to a sterilized, sanitized product where you know what you’re gonna get. And if we’re going to call it “natural wine,” if we’re bringing nature into it, nature is kind of that way. It’s not clean. You shouldn’t want to know what you’re gonna get. It’s good to get weird.
Kara Fowler is a wine professional and writer based in Oakland, CA, and the publisher of Wine Shots, a small print zine dedicated to natural wine. Read more Kara Fowler for Sprudge Wine.
Photos by Connor Geraghty.