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Do you like getting your groove on but think San Francisco dance clubs are just too far, too loud, or too expensive? Here are a few spots in the East Bay where you can dance, listen to new music, and meet great people for little to no charge.

1. Missouri Lounge

First of all, this one takes the gold. It's my favorite atmosphere by far: the place is casual, with indoor and outdoor seating, dank food as well as drinks (I got myself a burger), and a pool table for making acquaintances into friends with minimal eye contact.  

The place offers you plenty of comfortable space to hang with your friends and meet new people without the creepy undertones of some dive bars. And for those friends who find it inconvenient to step outside for a smoke, M.L. allows smoking inside.

As the night goes on, the dance floor gets going very organically with the help of a live DJ.  (The place also holds open mics and other events, but I haven’t experienced them firsthand.)

Another perk is the age diversity of the folks there. It’s not just a place where hipsters in their 20’s go. On any given night, you'll see older folks unwinding after work, softball games, etc. It’s a good place to meet people from different “walks of life” and compare notes if you’re into those sorts of conversations. 

Above all, the place has got character. I went for a good friend’s birthday and we left knowing most people’s names - plus a dog named Norah Jones.

 2.  The Ruby Room

The Ruby Room comes in a close, intimate second to Missouri Lounge. The dance floor is a bit more established here. It starts earlier and there’s a regular live DJ playing relatively non-cliché tunes (sorry Pitbull).

The place gets its name from its dim ruby-red lighting seen throughout the bar. Rumor has it, the Foxboro Hot Tubs’ “Ruby Room" was even written about them (according to Google, that’s Green Day’s “rock side project”).The place also allows smoking indoors, but it’s limited to a designated area for folks who want to avoid the smoke. 

The Ruby Room also has a pool table, though it’s been packed (with folks waiting to play) every time I’ve gone so far.The drinks are good and the PBRs are a-plenty for those on a budget. Both places take cash and card. The one advantage I would say R.R. has over M.L. is its location. 

A mere block or two from Lake Merritt, the Ruby Room is an excellent stop before a beautiful buzzed walk along the lake, or after hitting OMCA’s food trucks on a Friday.
Ships in the Night in Oakland, CA Photo Credit: Ships in the Night

3. Ships in the Night at The New Parish

Ships in the Night stands out amongst these places with its themed dance parties. The regular event - which takes place at the New Parish venue - defines itself as a “radical queer Transbay dance party.”

The events are the most dance-focused from the bunch with regularly scheduled, packed festivities, great beats from local DJs, and a minuscule cover charge ($5).The parties usually combine cool, new music genres and focus on getting marginalized groups like queer People of Color out there performing, dancing, and meeting one another

The events also serve as fundraisers for various local projects so your ratcheting dollars are being put to good use (the last one supported Trans Latinas).

Tip: Bring cash for the late-night bacon-wrapped hot dog vendor outside. It will inevitably be setting up at the entrance to catch hungry stragglers on their way home.
The Alan Blueford Center for Justice in Oakland, CA Photo Credit: SF BayView

4. The Alan Blueford Center

The Alan Blueford Center for Justice is less dance-focused and more generally hip-hop oriented. The place holds showcases on First Fridays among other regular community events.

If you're a fan of lyrics and brand new music from local hip hop artists (or you are a local artist looking for more exposure), this is a great place for you. The dancing usually begins at these events and kicks into full gear afterward.  

Events usually have no cover charge and provide great spaces for People of Color, once again, without being exclusive.The center is also located on Telegraph and 25th so you're in the heart of Oakland First Fridays if you want to check out vendors beforehand. 

I recommend you get one of Off the Hook's super burritos or drinks at The Double Standard (conveniently located two stores away).
The Layover Music Bar in Oakland, CA Photo Credit: ike n tina t./Yelp

5. The Layover Music Bar & Lounge

This is probably the most traditional music bar from the bunch.The music is mixed: hip-hop and latin, among other genres. The drinks are strong. The crowd? Well, sleazier.

If you want a bar where you can drink and dance on a loud, dimly-lit floor (which is honestly what folks want sometimes), this is the spot.

It’s got a more dance club-y vibe, with a live DJ and strobe lights, but without the formality.

And it’s located in the heart of Downtown Oakland so you’re within walking distance from Cafe Van Kleef, Make Westing, and Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe (which serves breakfast all day).If dancing isn't your thing, they’ve got plenty of other cool events like comedy nights and Whiskey Wednesdays — but I can't vouch for that myself. 

Happy dancing!

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