Club owner Esther Mabry once described 7th Street as “the only place anyone would ever want to go.” Esther’s Orbit Room was one of the reasons. Founded in the 1960s by Esther and her husband William, Esther’s Orbit Room was a nightclub, bar and restaurant. Though it didn’t feature some of the big names that headlined at neighboring Slim Jenkin’s Place, the Orbit Room had its own array of world-class acts. The club’s longevity was also impressive. It was the last holdout long after other 7th Street nightclubs and businesses went under or were snapped up by developers.
Known as Esther’s Breakfast Club until the Mabrys got a liquor license in 1960, the club had a friendly, down-home atmosphere. Patrons entered Esther’s Orbit Room through a side door or walked up to the hat check room and bought their tickets at an adjacent table.
Among the blues and jazz greats who performed or practiced at the club were Al Green, T-Bone Walker, Big Joe Turner, Tom Bowden, Aretha Franklin, Jay Payton, Tina Turner, Etta James, Lou Rawls, Pee Wee Crayton, and Lowell Fulson.
Fulson once said that he preferred the Orbit Room’s cozier style to the “over-dressed” audience at Slim Jenkins’ Place.
In the club’s prime, taxicabs lined up on both sides of the street until 2 a.m., packed with would-be patrons eager to hear the latest headliner at Esther’s Orbit Room or one of the other clubs. The “A” train brought people from downtown Oakland to 7th Street where they traveled from bar to bar enjoying the company, food and drink. Esther even welcomed illustrious visitors to her club, like Martin Luther King Jr., and Ethel Kennedy, who thanked her for contributing to the campaign of her husband, Robert F. Kennedy.
By the early ’70s, few of the old clubs remained. The original Esther’s Orbit Room succumbed to development and expansion pressures as the BART trains rumbled past and the U.S. Post Office expanded a facility that would eventually dominate the south side of the street. In 1973, the Mabrys sold Esther’s Orbit Room to the encroaching postal facility. They moved the club across the street where it remains today, a lone reminder of 7th Street’s illustrious past. Though it no longer hosts musicians, Esther’s Orbit Room is still lively and continues to serve down-home cooking and drink to a devoted clientele.