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Oakland historic bar ‘The Alley’ on brink of closure

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OAKLAND, Calif. (KRON) — Oakland’s historic and last-standing piano bar, The Alley, is now on the brink of closure due to the pandemic.

The Alley on Grant Avenue originally opened in 1933 shortly after the end of prohibition. It has since created a legacy in Oakland, was honored in 2016 as a local historic property and became a stopping point for many famous performers. 

However, its doors have been closed since mid-march and now the community is fighting to save to the bar.

It’s a familiar sound in Oakland — the piano keys leading a variety of voices, anyone from amateurs to famous performers.

Jacqualine Simpkins has owned The Alley since 2009, but it’s been in her family since 1950.

“It means everything,” she said. “It’s my life basically, I’ve poured so much into it.”

The Alley originally opened in 1933 shortly after the end of the prohibition and is now the last-standing piano bar in the city. However, it might not stand for much longer because of the pandemic.

“We need some kind of help, small businesses. I don’t know what I’m going to do after this,” Simpkins said. “I’m so very close to closing it’s not funny.”

Simpkins says The Alley’s doors have been closed since mid-March, and without any income, she’s drowning in bills. 

“I have a multi-use building. My upstairs is apartments and the downstairs is The Alley of course and I can’t open because I can’t do it on just to-go,” she said. “If I would’ve opened this last time, that would’ve been the end and the problem i’m having is the tenants upstairs can’t pay their rent.”

To try and save the historic property, one of the pianists, Bryan Seet, along with community members are raising funds through a go fund me as a last ditch effort to save the bar restaurant.

“We’d just be losing a place that survived 90 years so far which would be a tragedy in itself but the community is centered around getting together at this place that is this place of acceptance and diversity that reflects the bay area itself,” Simpkins said.

To keep the bar alive and its community together, Seet also hosts “virtual piano bar” nights each week, where regulars tune in, sing along and make song requests.

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