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When The Uptown Nightclub announced its closure in September 2020, fans of the popular venue on Telegraph Avenue—known for its music performances, burlesque shows, karaoke nights, and neon guitar sign—were devastated. Comments showing love and appreciation for the club’s 13 years of live entertainment poured in on social media, along with chatter about what would become of the space. “Please keep the name!” one fan wrote on Reddit.
Then, last July, The Uptown announced on its still-active Facebook page that the space would reopen under new ownership and a new name. An Instagram account named “Crybaby Oakland” began posting “coming soon” announcements the following month. By January, Crybaby announced it would be taking over the space once occupied by The Uptown.
Crybaby’s owners—Miles Palliser, Dominic Green, Jesse Tittsworth, and talent buyer Conrad Loebl—hosted a soft opening this past Tuesday, giving close friends and family a first glimpse of the new space.
The owners began five years ago developing their vision for Crybaby: an entertainment venue where the community could gather to check out both up-and-coming acts and renowned names, and where everyone would feel welcome—with no VIP ropes, and no bottle service.
“A friend of ours, Quinn Coleman, who unfortunately passed away in 2020, connected me with Jesse [Tittsworth]. We hopped on the phone, Jesse was in L.A. at the time, and he came up to Oakland,” Green said of those initial conversations back in 2016. “We walked up and down downtown Oakland getting to know each other. I showed him a few spaces, and from there, he was just like, ‘let’s do it.’ That’s how the ball started rolling with what we wanted to do here.”
Tittsworth was already a veteran of the music business as a longtime DJ, producer, and one of the founders of the U Street Music Hall in Washington, D.C. Like The Uptown, that venue also shuttered in 2020 due to the pandemic.
The interior of Crybaby is akin to a giant soundbox. Its walls are black and acoustics take center stage. The name of the venue is an homage to the director John Waters and his 1990 film, Cry-Baby. The filmmaker hosts a popular annual music festival in Oakland at Mosswood Park.
“It’s these little things a lot of people don’t realize—the tone of the room, the tightness of the bass. Nobody pays attention to them, but they’re the reason why the music will physically compel you to move,” Tittsworth said. “And the next day, your ears aren’t screaming, and you never want to do it again.”
When redesigning the space, the wall that separated the bar from the stage at The Uptown was removed. The entrance now features a black-and-white mural by Xavier Schipani, illuminated by a disco ball. There’s also an outdoor patio with a mural by Berk, and two open mezzanine areas that oversee the entire space.
The team kept the original mahogany bar, only adding digital screens with the cocktail and beer menu, and that’s where Miles Palliser’s expertise came into play.
Palliser, an owner of The Athletic Club on Grand Avenue and Webster Street, met Green through mutual friends in 2019 when Green was already in talks with Tittsworth about opening a venue in Oakland. Palliser brings his hospitality background and knowledge to Crybaby, where he curated the bar’s menu, among other things.
He also brought deep existing connections in Oakland. Palliser worked with Alex Maynard to help craft the cocktail menu. Maynard is the son of journalists Robert Maynard and Nancy Hicks Maynard, who were the first African Americans to own a major metropolitan newspaper (The Oakland Tribune). Alex Maynard also worked at Starline Social Club and was a consultant for the restaurant SobreMesa.
Once Green, Tittsworth, and Palliser were on board, the trio knew that they needed someone with experience and dedication to be the head talent-booker for shows. That’s when Tittsworth reached out to Conrad Loebl.
Loebl, who calls the Bay Area his second home, arrived with a two-decade career under his belt as a DJ and talent buyer, most notably in Los Angeles and Oregon.
“Jesse hit me up one day and was like, ‘What do you know about Oakland?’ Little do you know that I’ve been coming here since the 90s,” Loebl said. “I know the politics. I know how things move here.”
Opening a music venue during the pandemic was no easy task. Still, the four were determined to make their unpretentious black box a space to foster their vision of building community and an “independent ecosystem” for artists.
“We want to have a diverse and inclusive calendar,” Tittsworth said. “The brutal honesty of it is that a lot of people aren’t even booking right now.” Despite continuous setbacks due to the pandemic, however, CryBaby already has events booked until May.
Continuing a long history of supporting local talent at 1928 Telegraph Ave.
Their idea of fostering a local and independent music scene in Oakland isn’t new, and it’s not new to the physical space that Crybaby is occupying, either. The hub will be paying homage to The Uptown as well as its predecessor, The Black Box Theater and Gallery, an entertainment venue opened in 2001 by Steve Snider and Andrew Jones.
The latter venue was renamed the Oakland Box Theater and Gallery in 2003 and remained open until 2004. Snider and Jones had other venue ventures too, including 2232 MLK (now Starline) and Oakland Venue Management. Snider is also the executive director of the Uptown Downtown Oakland Community Benefit Districts.
The Oakland Box Theater and Gallery fostered local talent who went on to find national and international success, including the writer Chinaka Hodge (best known for her work in the TV show Snowpiercer), Grammy-nominated MC and poet Ryan Nicole, actor/producers Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs, and the pianist, composer, and activist Kev Choice, among others.
Green wants Crybaby to continue the tradition that Snider and Jones began in the space with The Black Box. “I want people to come on down and say, ‘I saw this band that I’ve never heard before. I saw this DJ I’ve never heard before.’ I want for people to have those kinds of life-changing experiences through the sounds of music,” said Green.
Snider is thrilled to see what Crybaby will bring to the post-pandemic revival of Oakland nightlife.
“The Crybaby team is keeping the vision I started in 1999 alive and I could not be happier about it,” said Snider via email. “I have always been worried that the space would just become a Starbucks or something. But now, my baby is going to be Crybaby and it’s going to be awesome for The Town.”
Back when The Uptown opened in 2005, Snider became friends with the first owners, Bob Fratti and Kevin Burns, who then sold the business in 2007 to Ray Yeh, Robbin Green-Yeh, and Larry Trujillo.
“We’re doing our best to pay tribute to what the space has represented, but also figure out what its future potential could be as well,” Tittsworth said. The team met with the former owners and were chosen over other groups interested in purchasing the venue.
Crybaby isn’t the first or last Oakland venture that Palliser, Green, Tittsworth, and Loebl have their eyes set on. The team has its sights set on another venue in the near future.
“COVID has annihilated many parts of the country. But Oakland is still here and the only way to be a part of it is to keep building things,” Palliser said. “Things are building, other places are reopening. We are a little nervous. But if we build, and other people build, that’s how we get back.”
Crybaby will have its grand opening on Friday, March 4, with an event hosted by Fran Boogie, with musical sets by DJs Shortkut, D-Sharp, and Lady Ryan.
Correction: Conrad Loebl is not a co-owner of the venue.