The Best of Silicon Valley 2011

Music & Nightlife | Reader Picks

Dirtbag Dan Dirtbag Dan
Dirtbag Dan

Looks like Dirtbag Dan's hometown has finally discovered what it was missing. The longtime local MC built an international following while traveling from country to country smoking the competition in a series of Internet-broadcast rap battles with monster views on YouTube, but his bearded antics never seemed to catch on at home, until now. The Dirtbag has officially arrived.



Best Local Band

Picture Atlantic

Santa Clara alt-rockers Picture Atlantic put themselves on the map around here when they won Live 105's local band contest in 2008 and got a chance to open for Coldplay at HP Pavilion. Clearly, Picture Atlantic has built on that opportunity, taking its first Best of Silicon Valley award on the heels of last year's EP, Dolce Et Decorum Est. Not bad for a band originally formed by a folk singer, a punk guitarist and a metal drummer.

Corpus Callosum

Good Hustle

Whiskey Avengers

Best Cover Band or Tribute Band

Joe Sharino Band

Sharino is not just a repeat award hoarder; around here, he's an institution. He got his start moonlighting while a student at San Jose State in 1974, built a reputation for high-energy live shows and never missed that broadcasting degree. After almost four decades in the party-music business, if there's a song he hasn't played for the dance floor, maybe it doesn't belong there.

Full Throttle

Black Pearl

Ben Henderson Ben Henderson

Best Singer/Songwriter

Ben Henderson

Many fans know Henderson by way of his postmodern funk band, Good Hustle. But since the release of his first CD, Dirty Birdies, in 2008, Henderson's been gaining a following for his solo music, which trades funk for chunks of acoustic guitar riffs and puts a haunting lyrical and vocal spin on his songwriting vision.

David Knight


Best Gentleman's Club

Pink Poodle

328 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.292.3685. The alpha and omega of old-school adult entertainment in Silicone Valley, the Pink Poodle still has to be seen to be believed. It never jumped on the decades-long trend of upscale, upscale, upscale, and having made its name in the fast and loose days of the '70s and '80s, the PC chill of the '90s just passed it right by.

Brass Rail 160 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale; 408.734.1454

Cheetah's 907 E. Arques Ave., Sunnyvale; 408.733.2628

Grapevine The Grapevine

Best Wine Bar

The Grapevine

1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.293.7574. Though they treat their vino with both veritas and gravitas, there's a fun vibe to this cozy Willow Glen wine shop that seems to attract wine lovers of all stripes. Part of that is the unpretentious vibe and the easy-to-understand tasting menus. There's also regular live entertainment, including the popular weekly hootenanny.

Cin-Cin 368 Village Lane, Los Gatos; 408.354.8006

A Perfect Finish 55 S. First St., San Jose; 408.288.6000

Best Gay or Lesbian Bar


349 S. First St., San Jose; 408.947.1975. Hunter's was a fantastic spot, and it didn't look good for gay clubbing when it closed. But even with new ownership, Brix has managed to pick up right where its predecessor left off. It's the best LGBT-friendly party in town, for sure—loud, bright and hot, with a back patio that's still perfect for chatting it up when something clicks on the dance floor.

A Tinker's Dam 46 N. Saratoga Ave., Santa Clara; 408.243.4595

Renegades 501 W. Taylor St., San Jose; 408.275.9902

Best Hotel Bar or Restaurant

Hedley Club

Hotel De Anza, 233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.1000. The South Bay has a crowded field of classy hotel bars, but since Paragon left, the Hedley Club has been the top spot for cocktails in a swank cosmopolitan atmosphere. From the mashup of modernism and art deco to the weekly live jazz, the Hedley makes San Jose seem citified again. V Bar Hotel Valencia, 355 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.551.0010.

Bamboo Lounge at Pagoda Fairmont Hotel, 170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.998.3937

Best Happy Hour

Rock Bottom

Pruneyard Shopping Center, 1875 S. Bascom Ave. #700, Campbell; 408.377.0707. Happy-hour deals abound these days, so what makes Rock Bottom Brewery so special? Well, first off, they double dip, offering one happy hour from 3 to 6pm, and then another one from 10pm until closing time. Then there's the fact that they don't skimp on the appetizer portions during this sacred time of great value, making it cheap to nosh while enjoying $3.50 premium well drinks or beer and wine for $3.25.

McCormick & Schmick's 170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.283.7200

Firehouse Grill 1765 E. Bayshore Road #A, East Palo Alto, 650.326.9700; 111 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408.773.9500

Best Dance Club

The Blank Club

44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.292.5265. First making its mark as a hotspot for local and touring rock acts, it was the Atomic and Club Satori nights that put the Blank on the dance-club map. But the club actually draws quite a bit of other DJ talent, as well—you might arrive on a night the Bang is playing and find guitarist Derek See spinning, or catch house favorite DJ Basura opening for Passion Pit.

Cardiff Lounge 260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.7477

Saddle Rack 42011 Boscell Road, Fremont; 510.979.0477

Double Ds Double D's

Best Sports Bar

Double D's

354 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.6882. Great food, flat-screens beaming games from around the globe and excellent service add up to Hall of Fame status for Double D's

Britannia Arms San Jose 173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400

Britannia Arms Almaden 5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose; 408.266.0550

Best Club DJ


After more than 15 years of DJing—including what is arguably the most successful club night in recent South Bay history, Atomic—it's not surprising that DJ Basura (a.k.a. Michael Boada) is best known for ruling the dance floor.



7 Bamboo 7 Bamboo

Best Karaoke

7 Bamboo

162 Jackson St., San Jose; 408.279.9937

It doesn't take a parody or a cute kid singing an inappropriately grown-up pop song to make a YouTube music star anymore. There's a cottage industry's worth of 7 Bamboo karaoke performances posted there now, bringing a lasting star quality to what was once a fleeting fame. 7 Bamboo continues to be the top place to seek it, and you still can't beat the live energy of the crowd there.

Goosetown Lounge 1172 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.292.4835

Effie's 331 E. Hacienda Ave., Campbell; 408.374.3400

Best Pre-Sharks Game Spot

Henry's Hi-Life

301 W. St. John St., San Jose; 408.295.5414. It's not always going to be easy to get a drink, but that's kind of the point. Pre-gaming for the Sharks is about being around other people and Henry's is basically hockey's version of tailgating in San Jose.

Poor House Bistro 91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

Britannia Arms, San Jose 173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400

Best Jazz/Blues Club

JJ's Blues

3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.243.6441. Despite a lot of changes over the last couple of decades, JJ's is still the South Bay's favorite spot for blues. Part of it is their relentless quest for the live-music version of pitching a perfect game—that is, offering live music every night of the year. They fall only a few short of 365, which in practical terms means one can find a show at JJ's when everyone else has gone dark.

Poor House Bistro 91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

Hedley Club Lounge Hotel De Anza,233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.1000

Best Latin Music Club


71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.293.8482. The live acts swing, but what really makes Azucar feel like the real-deal Latin music experience is the vibe. It's so packed there's usually barely any room to squeeze between the band and the crowd. And there's so much dancing breaking out in every available nook that you have to constantly be on guard for whirling dervishes.

Sabor Tapas Bar and Lounge 72 N. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.287.1737

Miami Beach Club 417 S. First St., San Jose; 408.971.6646

Best British Pub

Britannia Arms Downtown San Jose

173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400. The Brit is now best known for pre-HP hang time and a place to watch the game, earning itself an assist in an area where finding quality sports bars is a challenge. But its Anglophile credentials are still in order. The beers check out, and English types say the bangers and mash are spot on.

Britannia Arms Almaden 5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose; 408.266.0550

Trials Pub 265 N. First St., San Jose; 408.947.0497

Best Irish Pub


25 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.947.8007. O'Flaherty's is so Irish through and through they have a countdown timer to St. Patrick's Day. They follow the Irish Rugby league. They serve Guinness stew.

Katie Blooms 369 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.379.9687

C.B. Hannegan's 208 Bachman Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.1233

Cardiff CARDIFF Rick Preston holds forth at the DJ stand at the Cardiff Lounge, the Best Underground Music Spot.

Best Underground Music Spot

Cardiff Lounge

260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.7477. Long before electronic music got big again in 2009, Cardiff Lounge was keeping the faith, supporting DJ culture and giving the tight-knit South Bay dance music community a home. From house to glitch to electroclash to dubstep, this place has seen all the trends come and go, and come back again.

X Bar, Homestead Lanes 20990 Homestead Road, Cupertino; 408.255.5700

Nickel City 1711 Branham Lane, San Jose; 408.448.3323

Best Martinis

Original Joe's

301 S. First St., San Jose; 408.292.7030Dessication plus kick equals winner. In other words, OJ's makes one powder keg of a martini. It's a beautiful thing, and Metro readers love it.

Grill on the Alley 172 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.294.2244

Singlebarrel 43 W. San Salvador St., San Jose; 408.792.7356

Azucar Azucar

Best Mojitos


71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.293.8482. Just on sheer selection alone, Azucar towers above the mojito competition. Most bartenders still find a pomegranate mojito exotic, but these guys don't blink an eye at blood orange, kiwi strawberry or pink guava. The mixology at work is impressive, too, walking the line between mint and fruit and never letting the alcohol overwhelm the flavor.

El Jardin Tequila Bar 368 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.246.1744

Cascal 400 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.940.9500

Best Live Music Club

The Blank Club

44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.292.5265. The Blank has stayed on top of the local rock scene by staying on top of the local rock scene. That is to say, it holds on to its rep as the South Bay's No. 1 club for rock shows by giving the most talented bands in the area a shot on a stage that might have been occupied the night before by the Buzzcocks, Passion Pit or the Heavy.

JJ's Blues 3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose; 408.243.6441

Avalon 777 Lawrence Expwy., Santa Clara; 408.241.0777

Best Margaritas


Multiple locations. Still the top place to get buzzed, South of the Border style, Aqui is Silicon Valley's leading cause of temporary brain freezes.

Mezcal 25 W. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.283.9595

Pedro's 316 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, 408.354.7570; 3935 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, 408.496.6777

Best Place to Play Pool

South First Billiards

420 S. First St., San Jose; 408.294.7800. South First Billiards reinvents its look every few years, but the source of its unequaled popularity among the cue-chalking crowd continues to be a vast landscape of tables and an unexpectedly hip vibe.

Santa Clara Billiards 4525 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.296.3333

Cinebar 69 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.292.9562

Cinebar CINEBAR Andrew Pejack makes time with some shots at the valley's favorite dive bar.

Best Dive Bar


69 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.292.9562. First-timers might walk into Cinebar, see the classy faces from vintage Hollywood on the back wall, and be prepping themselves for cocktail snoot. They will quickly be disabused of such notions, however—Cinebar is straight-up primo dive bar. They claim to have been in business since Roosevelt's first term, back when people really knew how to drown their sorrows.

Caravan 98 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.995.6220

Black Watch 141 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2200

Best Bowling Alley

300 San Jose

5420 Thornwood Dr., San Jose; 408.578.8500 300's swank, ultramodern spin on bowling won't help terrible bowlers improve their score, but it does give them the opportunity to devour their opponent's share of the Asian Chicken Skewers while he or she is making ridiculous fist-pumping displays on the way to a perfect game.

Fourth Street Bowl 1441 N. Fourth St., San Jose; 408.453.5555

Cambrian Bowl 14900 Camden Ave., San Jose; 408.377.2354