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    Ebabes Turns Ten

    By Karen Bardsley–

    It’s the first Friday of the month and Oakland is full of life. Galleries have opened their doors to a stream of visitors passing from venue to venue as if trick-or-treating for art. Telegraph Avenue between Grand and 27th is closed to traffic for one of the Bay Area’s biggest street parties. Yet, a few blocks away, Lake Merritt is a picture of tranquility sparkling in the light of the setting sun. On its shores, women filter into one of Oakland’s hidden treasures: the Terrace Room at the Lake Merritt Hotel.

    By the bar, newcomers linger at the welcome table chatting with one of the evening’s hosts, and regulars call out greetings to friends they haven’t seen for a month. Conversations begin and drink orders are placed. In the dining room below, silhouetted against a wall of glass windows facing the lake, a band sets up for the performance to come. It’s Ebabes, one of the Bay Area’s longest lasting social events for queer women and their friends, and this month, it celebrates its tenth anniversary.

    Ebabes is the short form of the group’s original name: the East Bay Babes TGIF. The initial idea for the group started at a July 4th gathering in Montclair in 2008, when East Bay residents Jennifer Jones and Denise Petty lamented that most of their social lives seemed to involve trips to San Francisco. Why do we always have to cross a bridge to socialize, they wondered? Perhaps they could start something on this side of the Bay.

    Jones and Petty decided to meet up for a happy hour at a wine bar near Broadway and Grand. Unbeknownst to each other, they had tested the waters with their friends. Interest was immediate and sincere and, in the end, eighteen women showed up. Five of these local business women resolved to turn this meeting into a regular event. And so, Ebabes was born. Their simple and collaborative mission, states Jennifer Jones, “was, and is, to provide a safe and festive venue in the East Bay for lesbians to meet and mingle.” The five spent the next few weeks planning and advertising their first event, which was to be held on the first Friday of October.

    One of the chief tasks of the new group was to find a permanent home. After considering several alternatives, one of the original founders (and a current host), “DB” Bivolcic, discovered the Terrace Room, the bar and restaurant attached to the Lake Merritt Hotel. The others agreed that this was a perfect setting, and for the last ten years, Ebabes has held after-work happy hours here on the first Friday of almost every month.

    The Lake Merritt Hotel was designed by the well-known Bay Area architect William Weeks and was built in 1927. The bar and dining room came to prominence in the mid 1930s when an outdoor terrace was enclosed to form the Terrace Room (originally called the Cascade Terrace). The venue soon became one of the foci of Oakland’s nightlife, attracting big name performers and dance orchestras. In fact, for a time, a nightly live radio program was broadcast from the Terrace Room by the radio station KLX.

    Nowadays, the Lake Merritt Hotel is an independent senior living community, and the Terrace Room is no longer the heart of Oakland’s social scene. However, its elegance, glamour and sense of history remain, enhanced by the beautiful murals of Lake Merritt’s shores painted by the artist Andre Boratko in 1956. Beneath these artworks, the long, undulating and cushioned benches of the bar area are a welcoming space for the women of Ebabes, encouraging conversations both across and amongst the tables.

    From very early on, the organizers of Ebabes realized the networking potential of their event. Within the first year, they decided to invite nonprofits to briefly address the gathering and to stick around to answer questions. Their first guest was Kate Kendell of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR). Eventually, the list of invitees broadened to encompass lesbian artists and lesbian owned, or focused, for-profit businesses. Past guests include representatives from not only NCLR, but also HRC, Gaylesta, “Betty’s List,” Olivia Travel, Girlpages Network, Charlotte Maxwell Clinic, Muttville, Epochalips and many more.

    Appropriate to the venue, music has also been an important part Ebabes events. Originally, Jennifer Jones created her own Ebabes music mixes. However, for the past few years, the Terrace Room has provided live music for most of the events. The dining room below the bar has a band stand and a sizeable dance floor, and Ebabes attendees often join in the dancing, along with other patrons of the bar and dining room. The management of the Terrace Room does their best to book lesbian musicians for Ebabe’s Fridays when possible. Over the years, the organizers of Ebabes have treasured their great relationship with this management and with the bartenders, including current favorites Jackie and Jo.

    After over 90 successful events, Ebabes is still going strong. “As a community building exercise,” said attendee Kathy Lemmon, “they kind of hit it out of the park.” Lemmon went on to explain that people need a “third place,” somewhere between home and work, where they can relax and build community. For the last ten years, Ebabes and the Terrace Room have been providing that space for an extended network of Bay Area women.
    If you are interested in the group, you can e-mail them ( EBabestgif@gmail.com ) or find them on Meetup as “Ebabes TGIF Meetup” or on Facebook as “Ebabes TGIF.”

    Karen Bardsley is an independent scholar and writer who lives in the Bay Area.