By Ethan Fletcher on January 22, 2016 at 11:41 AM
D.C. Looney spent most of his adult life dreaming of opening a wine bar—he wrote a small business plan on the topic as a college undergrad; got his Masters in wine business in France; and met his wife, Lisa Costa, working at a Sonoma County vineyard.
They spent three years building The Punchdown, a bar in Uptown Oakland focusing on “natural” wines (no additives, minimal preservatives, farmed in a sustainable manner), into a viable business and popular destination. So it was a gut punch when they lost their lease and were forced to shut down in late 2013.
Punchdown owners DC Looney and Lisa Costa
But rather than stay down for the count, they got back up, dusted off their business plan, and started searching for a new space. Low and behold, one of their loyal clientele base tipped them off to building set to be renovated just down Broadway whose landlord was looking for local food-related tenants.
Now tonight (Friday, January 22), just over two years after shuttering, Looney and Costa will, softly, reopen The Punchdown in a larger new location custom designed from scratch by Oakland’s Black Creek Builders.
“We started with a blank slate, so [the new space] took us a little bit of time, but we’re really proud of it—and it was designed how we always dreamed,” says Looney, adding that it would be a soft opening phase for the next couple weeks with a grand opening planned sometime in February. “It was really a heartbreak to lose the old space; we loved it. But now I look at it as if the old Punchdown was almost like my Ph.D. and [the new space] is what I’ve finally been working up to my whole life. This is like the completion of The Punchdown.”
The interior is 600 square feet larger, allowing them to significantly expand the retail component of the business. That includes a small, temperature-controlled room to store their selection of natural and minimally invasive wines, much of it made without preservatives. Everything behind the bar, where the two will be spending most of their time, is ergo friendly, and the interior is filled with custom touches such as a communal table made from the reclaimed wood of a volcano-charred tree in Hawaii, a bar made from old wine casks, and 100-year-old apricot crates from Hollister to store wine bottles.
The new Punchdown
The kitchen was built to meet their modest but expanded needs. Like at the old Punchdown, they’ll offer small bites and cheese and charcuterie plates. They’re adding soups (Cauliflower chowder), hot sandwiches (grilled ham and gruyere), and a hot dinner special of the night (short ribs and polenta for opening night). As with the wine, some of the food will be influenced by the republic of Georgia, which Looney and Costa have visited and come to admire. They’ll also continue to emphasize flights as a way to educate customers on their eclectic selection of wines.
The location is in a slightly less established section of Broadway (they’re next door to a pot club), but Looney says it has its advantages. It’s closer to BART, which makes things easier for both customers and employees, and it’s just a block away from the central hub of bars and restaurants orbiting the Fox Theatre in Uptown. And things are changing fast. Just next door, Looney says that a cocktail bar, from the same folks behind Drexl down the street, is under construction. Local fashion retailer Jeremy’s is moving into a historic church around the corner. And in an adjacent space in the same building as The Punchdown on the Telegraph Ave. side, Hopscotch chef-owner Kyle Itani is set to open his anticipated new ramen shop.
Meanwhile, it should be noted, the owners that took over The Punchdown’s previous location at 2212 Broadway have already cycled through three concepts … and the latest iteration, Bombay B’s, has been closed since September for “renovations.”
For their part, Looney says he and Costa are thrilled to be pouring wine again after so many months spent building the space out.
“It’s going to be a whole shift of gears to get back to the wine stuff and being behind the bar and interacting with customers,” he says. “I miss it. We’re stoked to be back open.”