Transplanting Tradition at Ferndale's Oakland

When Sandy Levine, owner of Ferndale’s Oakland Art Novelty Company, was living in Chicago with his wife, he became enamored with the Violet Hour, a classic cocktail bar in that city. The watering hole was still on his mind when he befriended Toby Maloney after he and his wife moved back to Detroit. Levine tried talking Maloney into opening a similarly themed bar in Detroit, but Maloney turned the tables on him, suggesting he create his own in the Detroit area by “finding a space and writing up a business plan.”

As you might guess, that business plan developed into what is commonly called “The Oakland.” When Levine opened the spot in 2011, it was really the first establishment of its kind, and he says the drinks “were perceived as very creative, off-the-wall, and innovative.

It’s fun to show guests that using fresh ingredients and quality spirits could make really interesting and satisfying drinks.” Since then, Levine says, “The craft cocktail program has pretty much exploded.” He says he hopes what sets the Oakland apart from other bars is service. He says he finds it “really tough to find a place full of genuinely hospitable personalities that truly enjoy working with people.” When you serve people with kindness and respect, and you take pride in your product and the vision of your workplace, you’re going to have a good following of people. As he puts it, “We become friends with people that come in every week.”

Part of the job is educating the public about what cocktails can be. Levine says that job begins with the bartenders educating themselves. He hopes their excitement for the ingredients and drinks “translate to the guests, assuming they’re receptive to it.” Rather than force-feeding cocktail history, Levine urges his staff to feel customers out to see if they seem interested in the ingredients before showing our “excitement and passion to them.”

Levine says he feels a huge sense of pride in the people he works with. The most satisfying part of his job? “Guests saying how much they love our bar as they’re leaving,” Levine says.

The Oakland Art Novelty Company is at 201 W. Nine Mile Rd., Ferndale. The Oakland offers seated service; calling one hour in advance is recommended; guests waiting are called when seats become available if they leave a cell phone number.