Eli's Mile High Club is a dive bar, restaurant, music venue and tattoo shop located in the Longfellow neighborhood of North Oakland. Originally a blues club and record label, it now caters mainly to young people of a counterculture leaning. Weekends bring a variety of music, but Monday is West Coast Blues Night at Eli's.
More recent blues performers have included such cultural icons as former legendary SF pimp and blues man Fillmore Slim, and Oakland Black Cowboy Association president Wilbert McAlister (playing as Cowboy and his Sometimes Blues Band.) Eli's hosted a fundraiser screening of a movie being made about Cowboy.
3629 Martin Luther King Jr Way
Oakland, CA 94609
Features: art gallery, pool table, back patio / beer garden
[ Question: Is there still a tattoo shop? ]
Eli's is on the former site of a neighborhood soda fountain, Cow Bell Dairy, which began in 1931. Various successors had a fountain there until at least 1950. In the late '50s and early '60s it was a shoe repair business. The 1967 directory lists Eleanor's Barbecue Restaurant; 7 it's listed as vacant in 1969. Margie Walker (dba Margie's Lounge) applied for a cabaret license in 1972. 8
The Eli's story begins in 1974, when Elijah and Alberta Thornton applied for a cabaret license. 3 Eli's became known as a place to hear the Blues. But a few years later in 1979, Eli Thornton was shot and killed by his girlfriend, Frankie Williams (a Blues singer), while he was tending bar.
Alberta sold the club to Troyce Key (and J.J. Malone?) in 1980. Key owned it until his death in 1992, when his wife Margaret Key took over. 4,5
After various owners, Eli's closed down in 2008, owners Sam Marshall and Laura Jans citing an "intolerable rent increase." 1 It reopened in 2011, after a multi-year struggle by Jason Herbers and Geoff Melville to get a cabaret license. The new version of the club focused on punk music. 2
According to the SF Weekly:
Long a renowned blues hotspot, Eli's Mile High went through some rough times - and many owners - before being reborn as a punk rock dive by the highway. Thrashy bands now take over the stage several nights a week, blasting heavy riffs to tattooed crowds who may not even notice the decades worth of blues memorabilia and old show posters on the walls. A casually scruffy back patio, lowbrow art mini-gallery, upstairs tattoo parlor, and plenty of cheap booze help complete the makeover.
Eli's was the recipient of the East Bay Express write-in award of Best Punk Rock BarReaders' Poll Award in 2014.
Beginning in August 2013, Eli's hosted a Cajun restaurant (with vegan options): Couyon Cajun & Po'Boys, which was the recipient of the East Bay Express Best Cajun Food in the Back of a Punk Club Award in 2014. These days the food is mostly vegetarian or vegan, though chicken is still an option.
Photos CC SA-BY Our Oakland from October 2022.
Links and References
- Blues and jazz alive in Eastbay Oakland Tribune March 23, 1980
- New owner puts blues back into Eli's SFGate.com May 4, 2003
- Best Place to See a Show, Get a Buzz, and Get a Tattoo East Bay Express 2011
- Eli’s Mile High Club in West Oakland Celebrates Its Blues Legacy This Weekend East Bay Express February 21, 2017
- After Five Decades of Shows, Eli’s Mile High Club Keeps the Party Going on Patreon KQED February 18, 2021
- Yelp reviews
- Eli's Mile High Club shuts its doors SFWeekly May 1, 2008
- The Nightcap: Eli’s Mile High Club returns to rocking Oakland North October 14, 2011
- Legal Notice Oakland Tribune September 10, 1974
- oaklandmilehigh.com (via archive.org)
- Eli's Mile High Club owner Troyce Key Dies Oakland Tribune November 10, 1992
- Blues still have western home despite Troyce Key's death Oakland Tribune March 19, 1993
- Polk's Oakland 1967
- Legal Notice Oakland Tribune October 25, 1972