What’s cooler than an anchor tattoo on a hipster’s neck? A tipple at Swell, the corner bar at Lincoln Avenue and Stanton Street that is the lovechild of Jon-Michael Freese, 37, and Gray Harris, 35. Yes, that used to be McGrath’s, but the life partners bought it a year or so ago and spent the past months redecorating and tearing down the ugly back room (it’s now a mighty fine outdoor patio). Traditional tattoo motifs and nautical notes (like the mermaid prow) decorate inside and out, as do upcycled speedboat sections that Freese remade into elegant tables and benches. And they never closed up for a single day during the rehab. A city grant for façade improvement made all the difference outside, according to Harris.
“It’s a neighborhood bar,” as it’s always been, says Freese. Nothing too fancy, because “I don’t think drinks should cost that much.” But everything is top-shelf-tasty, and a handful of drinks specials will make you smile (God Shave the Queen, aka The Shaver, is a house favorite.) Also try the Dark and Stormy or a wee dram of Jamesons.
Freese is a contractor as well as one of the barkeeps; Harris teaches the third grade at Otis, but is president of the teachers’ union this year. They both work the pub but have learned (the hard way) not to let it take over their lives. They have two children together and like to be home for dinner. Evenings is when Swell kicks into gear, offering grownup versions of Bingo, holiday-themed drinks and parties, and events like the grown-up Prom or an Ugly Sweater contest. Swell is the keynote here: as in “good,” as in “the waves on the ocean,” as in fun for all. “It’s all about the neighborhood,” Freese says. “We just want to make sure everyone has a good time.”
Swell, 1539 Lincoln Ave., (510) 522-6263, www.swellbaralameda.com