Bars & Clubs 2017: Introduction

Metro's 2017 Guide to Bars & Clubs

A guide to drinking well this summer

Introduction | Craft Cocktails | Craft Beer | Wine | Music & Dance

Bartender Rob Hayes at The Catamount's La Rinconada Bar.

Silicon Valley is imbibing better than in times past, thanks to a host of new establishments and our region's early adoption of the craft drink revolution. Every spring for the past three decades, Metro's editorial team has treated the epicenter of global technology as its personal liquid theme park and faithfully reported the findings. It's a tough way to make a living.

Local cocktail historians credit Cache Bouren with bringing the craft movement to town with Single Barrel in 2010, the speakeasy where patrons were admonished not to chew gum or speak loudly and forced to wait in line.Thankfully, Cache rebranded his bar as Haberdasher and toned down the attitude.

Within a few years, Paper Plane, Orchard City Kitchen, The Table, Jack Rose and others followed, along with a host of places with ampersands in their names: see Santana Row's Roots & Rye, Los Gatos' Oak & Rye and Redwood City's Timber & Salt. Today, one is never more than a short Uber or Lyft ride away from a place that marinates its own cherries and has an elderflower cocktail on the menu.

The area's cocktail culture has even attracted the attention to such cultural arbiters as Vanity Fair, New York magazine and Business Insider, which zeroed in on the cougars and venture capitalists (and later, rumored escorts) at the valley's first Los Angeles-style beautiful people scene at the Rosewood Sand Hill each Thursday night. The party survived the notoriety and the fancy cars remain, though the billionaire you chatted with is probably just a portfolio manager at Merrill Lynch.

Of even more note is the embrace of cocktail culture by the local culinary community. Alexander's and the Plumed Horse established themselves as destinations in the mid aughts, and the famed Manresa jumped in with its own cocktail lounge six years ago. There's an open seat on most nights and it's the insider's way to experience a Michelin three-star restaurant for under $50.

The latest entry into the high-end cocktail circuit is Los Gatos' Catamount, which features a 35-foot long Bianco Carrara marble bar populated by various aromatics and fruits. Opened just last month by San Francisco restaurateur Ray Tang, it's become a Hoover for established valley restaurant talent, including former Alexander's manager Derek Schuette and Jason Seele, who developed Jack Rose's cocktail program.

A champion of the cocktail revival, Seele is happy to participate in the revival of a once-redundant craft. "Bartending was a profession that was looked upon with respect. When Prohibition came about, it ruined that. People either quit the industry or they went to London or they went to Cuba. When Prohibition ended in 1932, no one came back, and it was like this big Dark Age." (Except perhaps at Original Joe's, and later Grill on the Alley, which kept martinis alive during this dark period.)

Seele credits New York speakeasies Milk & Honey and Angel's Share with launching the modern cocktail revolution, as well as Bay Area entrepreneurs who lobbied for the 2011 reform of an anachronistic state law that prohibited creating infusions, bitters and tinctures.

Owner-chef Tang hopes people will come for the "entire experience," not just the bar, though the same attention to detail that infuses the kitchen spills out into the lounge. "Some of the guys come in at 10 in the morning and start preparing their juices and infusions and syrups," Tang says. Sliced fruits are dehydrated in $30,000 programmable Combi ovens.

Clearly our drinking culture has entered a new era. There are still hazards like salted beer, bacon-infused vodka and cinnamon whiskey to avoid, but it's heartening to know there are now alternatives that are high in antioxidants as well.