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In its nearly eight years of business, Dragon Gate Bar & Grille was a one-of-a-kind place in Oakland. As a restaurant, it served, hands down, some of the best Taiwanese food in the area—luxuriously tender beef noodle soup, stinky tofu and street-style grilled sausages sandwiched around slices of raw garlic. The genuine article. Then, in the back, there were the handful of private karaoke rooms where the real party happened, to the tune of $190 bottle service and as many Jay Chou and Jolin Tsai bangers as you cared to belt out.
Then, like so many beloved spots, the restaurant closed mid-pandemic, in January of this year, with barely a whimper and little more than an obligatory Eater obit
Good news, though. In a few months, Dragon Gate will rise again a few blocks away from its original 300 Broadway location at a waterfront spot in Jack London Square proper—the former home of Kincaid’s. And owner Johnny Chang is doubling down on what he believes to be the restaurant’s greatest weapon: This time, he says, there will be even more karaoke rooms, and they’ll be bigger and better than before.
News of the comeback is a welcome relief for Taiwanese food lovers. While the Bay Area has seen a resurgence of the cuisine in the past couple of years, Oakland suffered a major setback with the loss of both Dragon Gate and, a few months later, Taiwan Bento. Chang says the restaurant faced all of the typical difficulties of these past two years, exacerbated by the amount of real estate it had dedicated to its karaoke rooms, which were unusable for almost the entirety of the pandemic. Left with only the meager income he could generate via delivery app-based takeout, Chang decided it didn’t make sense to renew the lease at Dragon Gate’s original location.

The success of Dragon Gate 2.0 will, of course, depend largely on whether or not the ballad-belting public is ready to return to karaoke lounges like his in the near future. Karaoke—or “KTV,” as the private-room iteration of it is known in Taiwan—is another of the niche industries that have been disproportionately impacted by COVID shutdowns and people’s shifting levels of comfort around small enclosed spaces. Many of the Bay Area’s most popular karaoke spots have reopened with various COVID safety precautions in place—reduced capacity restrictions, for instance, and little shower cap-like microphone covers
Others simply closed altogether. Chang knows this first hand: He used to run MoneyBox, a KTV-style karaoke spot in Richmond’s Pacific East Mall. MoneyBox closed at the start of the pandemic and just never reopened, despite the hopeful handwritten signs periodically posted in the window. Chang wound up selling the business.

Still, Chang is hopeful that customers are ready to return, especially since he plans to design the new Dragon Gate with those safety concerns in mind. “After the pandemic, I think it’s better to have more private rooms—bigger rooms—so people can get together,” Chang says. 
Indeed, the new restaurant’s nearly 14,000 square feet of space (including a back patio) will allow for socially distanced crooning in karaoke rooms that are quite a bit larger than they were at the old location. Not for nothing, the rooms will be swankier too, with sweeping views of the waterfront. The idea, Chang says, is that customers might book one of these rooms for the night and enjoy a full-service dinner there as well.
“In the old style, the room is only for karaoke,” Chang says. “Now it’s different. It’s like your own suite.”
As far as the food goes, everything will remain more or less the same. Chang says that whether customers book a private room or sit down for meal in the dining room or at the bar, they should expect to be able to order all of their old favorites—the beef noodle soup, the homey dried-radish omelet and the saucy, umami-forward dish known as “idiot noodles,” with its toppings of fish floss, ground pork and simmered pork belly.

It’s been a busy time for Chang, who is in full expansion mode at this late stage of the pandemic. He’s currently juggling about a half a dozen new projects, including a huge Dragon Gate outpost opening soon in Las Vegas, a forthcoming Oakland Chinatown pub focused on late-night Taiwanese street snacks (in the former Eden Silk Road spot), and a new hot pot restaurant in the Pacific East Mall.  
The hope is to cap it all off with the return of his Oakland flagship. If all goes well, the new Dragon Gate will open in early 2023, perhaps in time to ring in the Lunar New Year.

Dragon Gate Bar & Grille will open at 1 Franklin St. in Oakland in early 2023.

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