San Francisco Insider: Oakland Artist Pablo Manga

Pablo Manga moved to San Francisco to attend UC Berkeley as an undergrad, returned to go to law school at Boalt and stayed close by because he loves the Bay Area. Fulfilled as an artist (and sometime lawyer), he tells us why the region's diversity in people, Lake Merritt and a great Thai/Laotian restaurant have him happily calling Oakland home.

Name, Age, Occupation: Pablo Manga, 37, artist (moonlighting as a business and trademark attorney)

Neighborhood: Lake Merritt area of Oakland, Calif. It's one of those areas where there are 20 micro-neighborhoods, but that's too much to get into.

Abode: One-bedroom apartment

How long have you lived in Lake Merritt?
Four years
What do you love most about your neighborhood?

I love having the lake nearby. It's a nice outdoor space in an urban environment that attracts lots of people from the neighborhood. You can see some of everybody there. It's a really ethnically and economically mixed neighborhood, which is really nice.

Do you talk to your neighbors?
Yes. I talk to my neighbors in my building and some that I see on a regular basis around the neighborhood. I originally moved into the area because I knew people here and I find that I bump into people running around the lake or at the Farmers' Market, which is [another] nice feature of living here.

Best kept secret in Lake Merritt?
One is a [Thai/Laotian] restaurant right around the corner called Champa Garden. When my girlfriend and I discovered it we had to eat there four nights a week for a while. It may have been only a secret to me though. I told my other neighbors about it and they were like, "Yeah, of course. You didn't know about that place?"

The other treasure of the neighborhood is the Easy Lounge which serves delicious special-drink cocktails on Saturday afternoons after the Farmers' Market. They're made from fresh ingredients from the market: berries, citrus, mints and other goodies muddled together. And they have an outdoor patio which is great. It's enough to get you up and out the door.

What's your favorite thing to do in your neighborhood on a Saturday night?
Camino Restaurant. It's another one of these generation-after-Alice-Waters restaurants from people who were trained at Chez Panisse. It's a California cuisine place where everything is carefully handmade and the menu is changed daily because everything is fresh. They have these boudin blanc sausages that are out of this world.

Oakland has a big art scene, right?
Yes. The one thing that draws a lot of artists is the affordability of giant spaces in Oakland. You can get a nice studio space for less money than in San Francisco. And the art scene here is very vibrant. There's a lot of good shows and galleries, but it's also smaller-scale than San Francisco, so it's personable. It's got a community of artists.

How did you settle on Oakland as an artist-lawyer hyphenate?
I came to this area to go to law school because I knew I loved it from my time here as an undergraduate. I feel like Oakland is the best of the Bay. It's close to S.F. and Berkeley and yet you've got outdoor space and hills.

To me Oakland is one of the best-kept secrets of the Bay Area. It' almost exclusively gets negative press, yet it has great culture, nature, restaurants and is a space that is ethnically and economically diverse. It's awesome.

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