Fluid510, Oakland's fabulous new nightlife venue

  • by Heather Cassell
  • Tuesday June 20, 2023
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Fluid510 regular Oscar Hernandez, (right) with friends (left to right) Gloria Martinez, Noel Muniz, and Bianca Becerra at the bar and event venue's opening party on May 20. (photo: Heather Cassell)
Fluid510 regular Oscar Hernandez, (right) with friends (left to right) Gloria Martinez, Noel Muniz, and Bianca Becerra at the bar and event venue's opening party on May 20. (photo: Heather Cassell)

Oakland's newest nightclub is one of the most exciting things to happen in the city's nightlife in quite some time. Fluid510 is one of three new queer bars and the largest clustered in Oakland's Uptown and downtown neighborhoods that opened within months of each other this spring. It completes a trifecta of rebirth for Oakland's LGBTQ nightlife with an exciting new event space.

The Bay Area Reporter previously reported about the opening of Feelmore Social, which shares a wall with Fluid510, and Town Bar & Lounge.

The LGBTQ bars join the United States's oldest LGBTQ bar, The White Horse, Que Rico, Summer Bar & Lounge, and the award-winning gay bar, The Port Bar.

The bar owners echo each other's hopes that the new entertainment venues will give Oaklanders reasons to stay on this side of the bay and those in the "Gay Mecca" reason to cross the bridge to the sunnier side of the bay.

Fluid510's grand opening party at 1544 Broadway was a splashy Roaring '20s-themed soiree attended by the who's who of San Francisco and Oakland May 20, a little more than 20 days after it softly opened April 28.

Aerialists Viva La Glam twirled about above the crowd at Fluid510's opening party. (photo: Fluid510)  

Another opening
Business and life partners Sean Sullivan, 48, and Richard "Ritchie" Fuentes, 40, welcomed guests into the bar and event space at 1544 Broadway following the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

They pulled back the curtain that closed off half of the 5,000-square-foot, bi-level club, with 21-foot ceilings revealing a stage with the Dewayne Oakley Blues Ensemble playing, a back bar, and another currently unfinished private lounge overlooking the main floor above the bar. Fuentes told the party attendees it should open in a year.

Aerialists Starya and Viva La Glam twirled about in loops above the floor as guests filtered by them toward the bar. Among the guests at the sold-out affair, headlined by singer Crystal Waters, were San Francisco Pride's Executive Director Suzanne Ford and Board President Nguyen Pham, Grand Marshal openly gay Qatari Dr. Nasser Mohamed, and East Bay leaders Pridefest Oakland Co-Chair Christie James, Oakland Chamber of Commerce Board Chair Ken Maxey, Assistant Manager City of Oakland Ana Martinez, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees President 3993 Sal Cruz, and San Leandro City Council & Vice Chair Alameda Democratic Party Victor Aguilar.

"Oakland is deserving," Sullivan quoted Democrat Oakland City Councilmember Carroll Fife (D-3) during Fluid510's grand opening speech. "Oakland deserves to have world-class entertainment every single week."

Oscar Hernandez, 40, a gay man who has returned to Fluid510 several times with friends since its soft opening, was at the club for its grand opening in May and called it "a beacon of queer joy."

"It's like stepping into a queer wonderland where everyone is welcomed and celebrated," he wrote in an email interview, noting the drag shows, dance floor, and the atmosphere of "belonging. Trust me, once you hit that floor, there's no stopping the queer magic!"

Lena Martin, 39, agreed. "I'm super excited. The drinks are great, and the atmosphere is amazing," Martin told the Bay Area Reporter at Fluid510's opening night. "I'm really excited for our community" and "to see how this place prospers and grows."

Dynamic duo
Fuentes and Sullivan have plans for the bar and club to blossom at night with drag shows, live performances, art shows, dance parties, private events, or anything the community wants. As the name indicates, the shape-shifting space is fluid with its movable furnishings and stages, and curtain dividers to be. The community-minded duo has big plans to be a bar and restaurant open daily and an inclusive event space for the community to host gatherings.

Fluid510 owners Sean Sullivan, left, and Richard "Ritchie" Fuentes, right, inside their new bar and entertainment venue in downtown Oakland. (photo: Fluid510)  

The experience is different from the couple's other gay bar, The Port Bar, which opened in Oakland's Uptown neighborhood in the summer of 2016. The bar bounced back quickly when COVID-19 hit in 2020, reopening to serve cocktails and partner with a food truck that parked outside the bar. Customers' positive responses to the food truck inspired them.

The food truck and the seven-year conversation about the need for more queer venues and event spaces in Oakland inspired Fuentes and Sullivan to move ahead on opening Fluid510.

The duo didn't want to simply find a bigger space for The Port Bar, which is a 2,000-square-foot venue. They envisioned a space the entire community could use that embraced Oakland's spirit, signaled the city's rebirth, and offered amenities that The Port Bar and other queer watering holes didn't necessarily offer such as food and space to host a variety of live entertainment performances.

They named it Fluid510. "Fluid" signals the multipurpose flexibility of the venue, Oakland's diversity, and a nod to Gen Z. A Gallup survey in 2022 found 7.1 percent of U.S. adults self-identify as LGBTQ or gender diverse, reported The Washington Post. The "5-1-0," the East Bay's area code, signifies the bar and event venue's location.

Material world
However, opening Fluid510 wasn't easy. They hit some bumps in the road, from permit delays to supply chain issues that moved the event venue's opening from late fall 2022 to its soft opening in late April.

Fuentes said the delays were the same that all small businesses have experienced since the pandemic. Many of the items they needed came from Asia, simply because they aren't made in the U.S.A. anymore.

But the delay didn't deter the couple, who noted they had it easier compared to the challenges Feelmore Social and Town Bar & Lounge.

"That hasn't stopped us from moving forward with Fluid510 because we really believe in this concept," Fuentes said. "We've been very proactive and making sure that we also source some materials locally."

Sullivan added, "Where we can hire local craftspeople, we do."

They worked with local suppliers as often as possible, including the recycled redwood flooring that came from the old barracks at the former Oakland Army Base. The handmade 27-foot-long banquet table was crafted in San Francisco, and the partitions were made in East Oakland.

"Throughout the whole space, it's all recycled material from the army base," Fuentes said, adding that no other venue in downtown Oakland is constructed with the materials used to build Fluid510. "That type of material doesn't exist anymore. It's not made like that. I don't even think a heel can make a hole in one of those pieces of wood."

Topping off the experience, Fluid510's furniture is from Restoration Hardware and the tabletops are marble, "an elevated furniture for lounging," as Fuentes described.

The space is already booked out with sold-out events from the queer entertainment they are producing to people renting the space for private events. with its bars, a full kitchen, and a 250-person capacity.

Said Fuentes, "There's clearly a need for a venue like this, because there's no other venue on Broadway."

The menu, created by chef Alessandro Campitelli, formerly of Contrasto, currently offers bites, shared items, pizzas, and some vegetarian items. The Mediterranean pizza, an earthy pie topped with goat cheese, mushrooms, and arugula, is drizzled with truffle oil.

The cocktail menu offers spicy margaritas and classic cocktails like the Manhattan, to sparkling and red wine flights, beers of tap, and mocktails, such as a refreshing light mint berry fizz.

Fluid510 owners Sean Sullivan, left, and Richard "Ritchie" Fuentes, right, officially open the new bar and event venue at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 20. (photo: Fluid510)  

Community focus
Fuentes and Sullivan have raised thousands of dollars for community organizations throughout their careers as nonprofit and public service professionals and small businessmen. The couple have raised thousands of dollars for local organizations at The Port Bar's Karaoke for a Cause events, that continues with regular events.

Sullivan is a former president of the Association of Fundraising Professionals' Golden Gate Chapter. In 2007, both men were working in the nonprofit world and met at a chapter meeting. Two years later they became domestic partners. Sixteen years later, they are successful small business owners and active community members in Oakland. During his career, he raised more than $45 million for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns.

Fuentes is currently a manager of special projects in funding strategy at the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District. He is a recognized community leader with more than 15 years of experience in public service with deep and broad relationships throughout local and state government agencies.

Fuentes is the driving force between the couple's business ventures. He worked for Oakland's City Council in 2010 when council members voted in favor of improving the nightlife entertainment district in downtown Oakland. He watched for a decade as other venues opened and managed the nightlife scene before conducting their own foot traffic study before opening The Port Bar.

"As a person of color, I'm really excited to see that Oakland continues that melting pot of leadership for businesses," Fuentes said.

"As a downtown resident and business owner, I feel so excited to see the streets activated," Fuentes said. "Having more people of color owning businesses sends a strong message that Oakland is so welcoming that you could be a person of color and start a small business."

By opening Fluid510, the couple hopes that along with the city's other new LGBTQ nightlife venues nearby, it will help revive Oakland's downtown.

"We've always said, the more the merrier," Sullivan added.

"I actually feel that our competition has always been San Francisco," Fuentes continued. "Oakland has residents that live downtown. Oakland's downtown is active."

The couple is energized and believes that Fluid510 is going to be a part of downtown Oakland's renaissance along with the other bars, restaurants, and entertainment venues.

They aren't worried about Fluid510 taking business away from The Port Bar or other LGBTQ venues that opened recently, they said. The Port Bar will continue the programming it has now, especially the drag brunch on Sundays,

"None of that is coming over to Fluid. Fluid is going to be a new venue with new programming," Fuentes said.

Fuentes noted what he sees working the door at Fluid510 and The Port Bar is that people are doing exactly what the couple and other new gay bar owners hoped they would do. They are bar-hopping from Downtown to Uptown.

"We used to see people leaving for San Francisco," Fuentes said. "Now they're staying the whole night, which is great for Oakland. There are enough customers to go around because people are coming from throughout the East Bay and the Bay Area to downtown," he added. "It's now a destination hub."

Fluid510 Lounge, 1544 Broadway www.fluid510.com

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