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Annual Metro Santa Cruz Bars & Clubs Issue

From Boulder Creek to Watsonville, we visited 80 bars so you won't have to.

Aiming and framing by Carlie Statsky
Sampling and scribbling by Craig Gawlick, Darya Gilani, Alex Gilrane, Steve Hahn, Traci Hukill, Alyson Jones, Brian Kennedy, Lacy Pitman, Denise Vivar and Garrett Wheeler

Every few years we at Metro Santa Cruz hold a very important secret meeting, draw up an extremely complex plan and scatter to all corners of the county, intent on one thing: bringing back as much information about Santa Cruz nightlife as we possibly can without incurring undue bodily harm or damage to our collective reputation. The result of our latest travails is this guide, which, although not comprehensive (and what is comprehensive in this Google-glutted world, anyway?), represents a pretty respectable picture of our area's bars, clubs and music venues. Read it in good health and remember: we did it all for you.

99 Bottles of Beer On the Wall
110 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.459.9999.

The 99 different beers to choose from (half of them on tap) and the glossary of beer terms in the menu proves they're serious about beer. If you are too, try the famed quest of drinking all 99 to get a plaque on the wall among the rest of the faithful. Karaoke, live music and trivia nights are all big draws at this downtown Santa Cruz pub. (AJ)

515 Kitchen and Cocktails
515 Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.425.5051.

Imagine an upscale Red Room, or an intimate, quieter Red. Apparently, that's what the owners of those two ultra-hip night spots did when they designed 515. In the upstairs cocktail lounge, comfy chairs encircle small tables, a perfect arrangement for hanging out with friends. The featured fare includes a dozen newfangled cocktails made with old-fashioned exotic liquors, and the bartenders make a mean manhattan, too. (AG)

1116 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz, California. 831.426.7588

Without the Garage Bar on Front Street, the need for a Monday night hang is being met by this Pacific Avenue restaurant/bar. The appetizers and flavorful beverages make it a good spot to catch a game or just play the field on a Friday night. (DG)

The Asti
715 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.7337.

Conveniently located downtown, this dive bar has a reputation as the punk's hangout. In reality, anyone is welcome as long as they can stomach the cigarette smoke and loud street people who wander in from Pacific. Pool sharks swim around the rec room, as cheap stiff drinks, with names like TKO, are served up by friendly bartenders. (SH)

The Attic
931 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.460.1800

Perched above the Blue Lagoon, the Attic offers the best in folk, Americana, indie, jazz and countless eclectic live music acts almost every night. There's also a full tea bar and restaurant menu that includes real buffalo burgers and fresh fish. Its walls are covered with works by local artists and photographers, making the Attic a unique downtown spot. (BK)

The Avenue
11 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.426.3434

The last bar at the southern end of downtown features two pool tables and a back patio with afternoon barbecues. One of downtown's most popular dives, The Avenue attracts locals and students who would rather watch the game and share a few pitchers of Bud after work instead of discussing politics over a martini. (BK)

Bay Bar and Grill
209 Esplanade, Capitola. 831.477.0749.

Aside from a laid-back atmosphere and above-average bar fare, the main attraction at Bay Bar and Grill is the set of pool tables. The younger crowd that frequents this spot is here for the pool and the standard pitchers of relatively cheap beer needed to maintain a not-so-steady hand with the cue stick. (CG)

Bittersweet Bistro
787 Rio Del Mar Blvd, Aptos. 831.662.9799.

James Bond preferred his martini shaken, not stirred, but you can have it as you wish at Bittersweet, and on Martini Mondays you can have one of the house specialties for half-price. Bring a friend or two by for a leisurely happy hour 3-6pm any day of the week and get two pizzas for the price of one. (DV)

Blue Lagoon
923 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.7117.

Goth rock, hip-hop, '80s music and an array of sounds from local bands draw a different crowd to the Blue's two-room-wide dance floor nearly every night. Of course the dirt-cheap drinks—$1 Pabst on Wednesdays and $1 well drinks on Tuesdays—will get just about anyone out to this (not really) gay bar. The atmosphere screams for patrons of all sexual inclinations to up and shake their moneymaker. (SH)

Bluewater Steakhouse
110 Monterey Ave, Capitola. 831.464.2583.

If you're torn between watching the sun set over the ocean or the Warriors rout the Cavaliers, head over to the Bluewater Steak House down in Capitola Village and have both. Happy hour is from 4 to 7pm Monday through Thursday at this casually cosmopolitan bar and steakhouse, where they serve up surf and turf with style against the backdrop of the mighty Pacific Ocean. (DV)

Bocci's Cellar
140 Encinal St, Santa Cruz. 831.427.1795.

With free bocce ball, cheap brews, live music nearly every night and some of the friendliest bartenders around, Bocci's Cellar has become a popular neighborhood hangout. There's also a full restaurant serving lunch and dinner. Dart tournaments and weekly karaoke also attract a diverse crowd who come regularly. Just get there early to claim a court. (BK)

Boulder Creek Brewery
Highway 9, Boulder Creek. 831.338.7882.

A warm and comforting roadhouse stop for anyone traversing windy, mountainous Highway 9, the Boulder Creek Brewery also happens to be a top-notch brewery with a dozen distinctive beers on tap, from the signature Redwood Ale to the award-winning Mudslide Stout. The capable kitchen turns out pub grub and comfort food ranging from enchiladas to burgers, making for an all-purpose, all-around destination bar. (AG)

Britannia Arms
8017 Soquel Drive, Aptos. 831.688.1233.

An authentic English pub with the beer list to prove it, Britannia Arms is a comfy, no-nonsense bar with friendly service and a laid-back atmosphere. Located in Aptos, the Brit is a popular hangout for football and soccer fans thanks to numerous televisions and a full menu for both lunch and dinner. Catch the game, have a pint, and relax—it's a not just a European thing. (GW)

Brookdale Lodge
11570 Hwy 9, Brookdale. 831.338.6433.

A creek runs through the middle of the dining room. One of "America's Sexiest Bartenders" (according to Playboy magazine) works here. A ghost haunts the halls. And even without all that, this old hotel in the redwoods would still have character to spare. To top it off, the Lodge is a regular stop for touring tribute bands like Pink Freud and Riders on the Storm.Totally awesome. (AG)

Cafe Cruz
2621 41st Ave, Soquel. 831.476.3801.

This epicurean gem is hidden in plain sight, in a banal commercial strip on 41st Avenue. When the front door closes behind you, blotting out the fluorescent glare and traffic, it's almost a shock to find a woody, casually elegant dining room. The bar in the back with its cozy fireplace is a hangout for locals in the know, and beyond that is a perfect patio for after-cocktail alfresco dining. (AG)

Cafe Limelight
1016 Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.425.7873.

Was there ever a better excuse for afternoon drinking than Cafe Limelight's glass front, extensive cheese selection and carefully chosen wine list? With fresh sandwiches for lunch and flights of wine to encourage oenological adventuring, Cafe Limelight is a treat not to be missed at any time of the day or night. (TH)

Caffe Lucio
381 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.427.0164.

This bar might be a glorified waiting area for the restaurant if not for the atmosphere created by well-known chef Lucio Fanni. Moved to this location in spring 2007, this fully stocked bar with a decent wine list draws not only draws patrons waiting for a table, but the chance to see chef Fanni chatting up everyone who comes in the door. (CG)

507 Water St, Santa Cruz. 831.427.3119.

Callahan's is the place to be around Market Street after going for a long motorcycle ride down Highway 9 back into Santa Cruz. Free pool and great happy hour prices also make it a nice break from the craziness of downtown on a Friday or Saturday night. It's just far enough off Pacific to avoid all the crowds, and just close enough to walk back and catch a late bus home if the Hog's still in the garage. (BK)

3623 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz,. 831.462.1319.

Pleasure Point is the neighborhood that sets the tone for this neighborhood bar. That explains the wall-mounted surfboards, and should serve as a warning that the good-looking crowd is here to par-tay. A makeover a few years back replaced the ratty carpets with hardwood floors and added a couple of pool tables; thankfully, the famous fish tanks are still here. (AG)

1011 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.1338.

Most people know the Catalyst primarily as a music venue, but Santa Cruz bar-goers know it's much more than that. Upstairs there's actually a solid dive bar with six pool tables, a jukebox and even a few arcade games. The hazy lounge is not for the weak of lung, but the cheap Budweisers and multiple pool tables sure make it a good late-night option. (GW)

Cayuga Vault
1100 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.421.9471.

A historically preserved bank building constructed in 1915, the Cayuga Vault's hardwood floors and high ceilings provide a distinct ambience for the diverse spectrum of musical acts that grace its stage. The nonalcoholic venue draws performers from across the world, so check the listings to find a unique musical experience the whole family would enjoy. (GW)

1 Chaminade Lane, Santa Cruz. 831.475.5600.

Complimentary valet parking is just one perk this miniresort has to offer. Tucked in the eucalyptus groves of the Soquel hills, Chaminade affords views of Westside and Eastside Santa Cruz all at once. With live dinner music and a bar that has a well most dives would kill for, this place guarantees you a classy time. (DG)

1934 Main St, Watsonville. 831.761.2161.

Let's be frank: If a Mexican restaurant makes a good margarita, the patrons will be happy. Add consistently good chips, salsa and enchiladas to the mix and they'll be overjoyed. Cilantro's does both food and drink and does them well, which is why it, like its sister restaurant El Palomar in downtown Santa Cruz, has become the last word in margaritas and Mexican. (AG)

Clouds Downtown
110 Church St, Santa Cruz. 831.429.2000.

Known for its impressive martini list, including the sinfully delicious Caramel Apple Martini, this upscale bar also has a satisfying beer and wine list. You can also find tasty appetizers to please your late-night munchie craving. Come dance while DJs spin on Wednesday and Thursday nights. (AJ)

Club Dakota
1209 Pacific Ave, 831.454.9030

The friendly staff here are always ready to help the diverse patrons of Pacific's Rainbow Flag bar. Known to have a lively and packed dance floor, drag shows and energetic DJs, Dakota is a happenin' joint with a fresh twist. (DG)

Club Octane
321-D Alvarado St, Monterey. 831.646.9244.

Monterey's favorite dance club is actually three—one upstairs spinning old school, a second devoted to techno and the Lava Lounge downstairs with its firm commitment to really loud rock & roll. You might catch a DJ like Doc Martin, you might find an old master like Tone-Loc, but you'll never be bored. (AG)

Crepe Place
1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.429.6994.

What's better than this great little neighborhood bar and landing spot after a Rio Theatre show? Its newly expanded bar, of course. And if it's Thursday, or a busy night, or a band is playing on the patio, the outside garden bar opens as well. Check the board for the clever and creative nightly drink specials. Happy hour is 5-7pm, Monday through Friday. (DV)

Crow's Nest
2218 E Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 831.476.4560.

Perched at the mouth of the Santa Cruz Harbor, the Crow's Nest flaunts a view that dares to be outdone. Happy Hour at the Nest offers great deals on drinks and delicious appetizers. Live comedy on Sunday nights, Monday Night Football parties and live music Wednesday through Saturday nights. (AJ)

Davenport Roadhouse
1 Davenport Ave, Davenport. 831.426.8801, ext. 100.

Once a whaling village and more recently a mill town, this tiny community still possesses a funky North Coast charm. Find it here every Tuesday, when fish tacos and draft beers are two bucks each, and the still-colorful locals are joined by adventurous visitors from as far away as Bonny Doon and Santa Cruz. On weekends, the place gets a little wild, as befits its surroundings. (AG)

Don Quixote's
6275 Hwy 9, Felton. 831.603.2294.

Don Quixote's is a Mexican restaurant, a music venue and a bar, so it's no wonder the place is a favorite hangout for Felton's over-21 crowd. Drawing musical acts from across the nation, as well as hosting the area's best local bands, DQ's offers great entertainment in an up-close-and-personal environment. Sound good? Now add chips and salsa. (GW)

El Palomar
1336 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.425.7575.

The Palomar is a temple of a particular brand of California lifestyle. Well-made margaritas (available in a big pitcher, if you're so inclined). A bar menu that features genuinely good food (including world-class tacos, made next door at Jose's). A lively crowd of youthful and attractive locals (of all ages). And carefully placed televisions tuned to the Giants, A's, 'Niners, Raiders or Sharks. That California lifestyle. (AG)

Fast Eddy's Pool Hall
4300 Capitola Rd, Capitola. 831.462.1882.

This all-ages pool joint has fun for the whole family. A copious selection of pool tables (obviously), pinball machines, sports games on TV and video games lets everyone in a party find their niche entertainment selection. No liquor is served here, but the modest beer and wine selection keeps players properly lubed for carnally understanding vector physics. (SH)

Fog Bank Bar & Grille
211 Esplanade, Capitola. 831.462.1881.

The frequent live music brings in a mixed crowd, with younger people on the patio overlooking the beach smoking and drinking, while the decidedly older crowd inside boogies, either with someone or solo, channeling their past festival dance performances, all flailing arms and flowing skirts. A fun place to watch people and hear live tunes, with ample bar offerings. (CG)

Green Valley Grill
40 Penny Lane, Watsonville. 831.726.0644.

A Pajaro Valley institution for almost 20 years, the Green Valley Grill is the perfect place to enjoy a Manhattan or martini and a rich, decadent appetizer like the bacon-wrapped prawns, baby back ribs or homemade potato chips. Just be sure and time your visit for optimal appetite. (AG)

Henfling's Tavern
9450 Hwy 9, Ben Lomond. 831.336.9318.

Though it has earned a reputation over the years for being a rough 'n' tumble biker bar, Henfling's Tavern is actually a pretty mellow place to grab a drink should you find yourself in Ben Lomond. The roadhouse vibe is complemented by a wraparound porch complete with heaters. Local rock bands roll into the bar a few times a week, so check the listings for upcoming gigs. (GW)

Hindquarter Bar and Grill
303 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.426.7770.

For a restaurant focused on meat, the Hindquarter Bar and Grill pays pretty close attention to its liquor. With a full bar, happy hour every weekday from 4:30 to 6pm, and Monday night specials, this friendly bar is a great place to bring family for dinner or meet friends for drinks. (LP)

Hula's Island Grille
221 Cathcart St, Santa Cruz. 831.426.4852.

The theme here is Hawaii and surf. That's been done before, but Hula's puts a refreshing spin on it. Beyond the surf flicks looping silently on a flat screen, and tastefully kitschy décor, Hula's bar features island-themed cocktails, from the classic (Zombie, Mai Tai, etc.) to the inventive (the Dr. Funk and the Pink Bikini Martini). (AG)

Ideal Bar and Grill
106 Beach St, Santa Cruz. 831.423.5271.

Refreshing drinks and sunny afternoons on the large open-air deck overlooking the beach must be how this bar and grill got its name. The outdoor tiki bar offers karaoke on Saturday afternoons. After night falls, head inside to enjoy Monday Night Football parties, karaoke on Friday nights and live music on Saturday nights. (AJ)

JJ's Saloon
4714 Soquel Drive, Soquel. 831.462.1631.

Back in the day, JJ's gave away matchbooks emblazoned with that great old saw: "You're only a stranger once." In fact, settling in for a couple of cocktails here generally means making some friends. Still a classic neighborhood sports bar, JJ's has caught on with the retro-hipsters, but they haven't ruined the place—it's a friendly bunch. Bonus: shuffleboard table. (AG)

Johnny's Harborside Cafe
493 Lake Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.479.3430.

Located at the upper harbor, Johnny's Harborside Café offers the freshest seafood and an extensive drink menu, including a selection of specialty vodkas. It's a great place to end up after a day of whale watching or kayaking around the bay and share some stories of the deep while chowing down on some freshly caught fish. Weekday happy hours from 3 to 6pm include $3 selected drinks and various food specials. (BK)

1100 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.469.4400.

Surrounded by a classy Italian restaurant that caters mainly to families and the growing yuppie population, the bar here is one of the safer ones to visit downtown. They can't serve anything over 40 proof, but the portions are big and the food is fabulous. A great wine selection and big TV sets perfect for catching up on the football season add to the refined sports bar ambience of this clean and respectable bar. (SH)

Kuumbwa Jazz Center
320-2 Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.427.2227.

The best little jazz club in central California isn't really a place you'd go to eat, although the kitchen does serve up a nice bowl of chili before shows, and it isn't really a place you'd go to drink, although it does pour a number of excellent Central Coast wines and locally brewed beers. It is the place to hear jazz acts of unparalleled quality, from venerable masters like pianist Marian McPartland to funkified young turks like bassist Christian McBride. It's a gem, and it's ours. (AG)

Jury Room
712 Ocean St, Santa Cruz. 831.426.7120.

The tiny central Santa Cruz bar earns its name from its close proximity to the Courthouse, but it's doubtful you'll see any lawmen there having drinks. Tailored to a younger crowd of boisterous partiers, the Jury Room is also home to the local punk rock scene. If you're into cheap beer and loud music, it's well worth a visit. (GW)

La Mission
1719 Mission St, Santa Cruz. 831.426.3564.

Huge glistening mugs filled to the brim with margarita mix three times the normal portion have been seen on the short bar section of this sit-down Mexican restaurant. The oversize drinks have generous quantities of triple sec and tequila included, but run at the high cost of $15. For those not pledging in a frat, the normal margarita ration costs only $3.50. A small variety of wines and Mexican beers are also available. (SH)

Mainsail Restaurant And Bar
175 West Cliff Drive, Santa Cruz. 831.426.4330.

Located in the Coast Hotel above Cowell's Beach, the Mainsail restaurant boasts a beautiful ocean view. The adjoining bar has a funkier feel. Although the only beer is bottled, the full bar will satisfy your craving for a cocktail. Afterward, you can stumble down the stairs for a beach stroll. (AJ)

221 Esplanade, Capitola. 831.476.2263.

One of the few places in the area with live DJs on the weekend, Margaritaville attracts a wide range of people looking for stiff drinks and a good view by day and loud music and a good time by night. The actual bar is on the small side, but once tables are moved, there is plenty of room for dancing. (CG)

265 Center St, Aptos. 831.688.7004.

Though this popular Aptos bar is called the Mediterranean, it actually serves up a tasty mix of American Mexican food. In addition to the fine dining, the neighborhood hot-spot also provides plenty of entertainment like darts, video games and a well-stocked jukebox. If that's not enough, there's always the weekday happy hour from 4:30 to 6:30pm. (GW)

Moe's Alley
1535 Commercial Way, Santa Cruz. 831.479.1854.

Santa Cruz's hidden gem, Moe's Alley manages to pull in some top-notch music acts from every genre. Blues, jazz, reggae—you name it, they get it. With a fully stocked bar and a spacious outdoor patio, Moe's Alley is the perfect place to listen to some great live music while soaking the suds. (GW)

One Double Oh Seven
1007 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. 831.425.9589.

The sign says "Smokers Lounge"—welcome words to a particular slice of the population. And as it happens, that demographic includes a lot of fun people. Outside the Plexiglas wall that defines the smokers' section (and includes the bar itself), health-conscious drinkers can choose among several pool tables, as well as foosball and even pinball (!). The idea seems to be: Life may be short, so enjoy it. (AG)

Over the Hill Gang Saloon
3530 Portola Drive, Santa Cruz. 831.476.3679.

If the wooden saloon doors don't tip you off to the Wild West theme, then perhaps the innumerable items of kitsch will—including cowboy and Indian mannequins, a bison head and stuffed rattlesnakes. The darts and video poker should keep the game-player amused, while the jukebox keeps the patrons two-steppin'. Just don't try to pay with plastic, it ain't that kind of place. (AJ)

Peachwood's at Pasatiempo Inn
Highway 17 and Pasatiempo Drive, Santa Cruz. 831.426.6333.

Peachwood's at Pasatiempo Inn is located at the bottom of the beautiful Santa Cruz Mountains off Highway 17. Here you can enjoy a cocktail before dining at Peachwood's Steakhouse. With wonderful views and a weekday happy hour from 11:30am to 5pm, Peachwood's offers both comfort and sophistication to its visitors and guests at the Inn. (LP)

Pearl Alley Bistro
110 Pearl Alley, Santa Cruz. 831.429.8070.

There's something about climbing the narrow, dark-paneled stairs to Pearl Alley that says the destination is going to be worth it. And it is. A beautifully lit room with a dark bar and gleaming brass accents welcomes regulars and newcomers alike. The full-service bar pours all manner of cocktails, but the selection of French and Italian wines here demands attention. (AG)

Poet and Patriot
320 Cedar St #E, Santa Cruz. 831.426.8620.

When local hero Chris Matthews, an honest-to-God working-class Irishman from New Jersey, built this place, he infused it with honest-to-God working-class Irish-American heart, and defied the laws of time and space. There's Guinness and Murphy's on tap (room-temp or cold), three always-active dartboards and acoustic music on weekends—it feels just like Jersey (or maybe Dublin). Plus a convivial bunch who somehow look a lot like the folks who hung out there 30 years ago. (AG)

Red Restaurant and Bar
1003 Cedar St (upstairs), Santa Cruz. 831.425.1913.

Swanky doesn't even begin to describe this ultrahip hangout. Located downtown in the historic Santa Cruz Hotel, Red oozes class with its plush velvet couches, large wooden bar, deep red mood lighting and cozy fireplace. With a great beer selection and skilled bartenders (try the Ginger Thai martini), Red will put you in a sophisticated frame of mind. (AJ)

Red Room
1003 Cedar St, Santa Cruz. 831.426.2994.

The polarity between this humble local spot and its upstairs ab-fab counterpart is clearest on your way out. From the dark and leathery Red Room, a cloud of American Spirit smoke lingers around you, burned into your being; whereas descending the stairs of the Red, you are usually followed by a pack of randy socialites. (DG)

Rio Theatre
1205 Soquel Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.8209.

Some of the best acts to hit town play the stage of the Rio, a gracious theater built in 1946 to house a new 3-D Cyclorama movie screen. Nothing more complicated is on tap than popcorn, snacks and a few soft drinks, but since being retooled into a live performance venue in the early Oughts, the Rio has become an important part of Santa Cruz nightlife. (TH)

Ristorante Italiano
555 Soquel Ave #150, Santa Cruz. 831.458.2321.

This detailed and festive establishment is not your local college Hangout. It's more of a family-style bar where everyone knows your name, and your flavor. The house draft, Birra Moretti, is a smooth lager that, combined with the warmth of Ristorante's spacious sun room, transports you to a cozy Tuscan veranda. (DG)

Rosie McCann's
1220 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.426.9930.

A more upscale establishment than most Irish pubs, this restaurant/bar has a tucked-away dance floor where revelers can shake out their worries without disturbing diners in the main room. A long list of mixed drinks, including the Naughty Olivia and always-pleasurable Irish Car Bomb, provides a wealth of choices for the thirsty. (SH)

Rumble Fish
4727 Scotts Valley Drive, Scotts Valley. 831.440.9240.

Rumble Fish is modest in exterior, but it's outstanding as a fresh sushi bar and Japanese restaurant. Its small selection of wine and beer will get the job done, but the pride of Rumble Fish is the sake, which is unfiltered and served in a traditional sake box. For delicious fresh fish and drinks that won't break the bank, Rumble Fish is more than worth the trip to Scotts Valley. (LP)

The Rush Inn
113 Knight St, Santa Cruz. 831.425.9673.

This bar is a bit out of the way, tucked behind the clock tower off Pacific. Simply put, it is a gamer's delight, with pinball and video game machines lining the walls. Since it's off the beaten path, the drinks are not as overpriced as other bars downtown. (SH)

Sanderling's at Seascape Resort
1 Seascape Resort Drive, Aptos. 800.929.7727.

Don't let the elegance of this resort lounge make you shy. Everyone here is in party mode. Jet-setters letting their hair down after the power meeting, visiting weekend warriors and locals alike rub elbows and swill uptown cocktails and bottled brews with an impressive tripartisan alliance. Live music Friday and Saturday nights. (DV)

Seabright Brewery
519 Seabright Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.426.2739.

There's so much to love about the Seabright Brewery, starting with the garlic fries—crisp, tossed with cheddar and mozzarella and loaded up with fresh garlic. The biggest decision is which clean, cold, house-brewed beer to order with it? The locally famous Pelican Pale? The Castle Rock E.S.B.? Or the high-octane (9.4 percent alcohol) barleywine? At this local institution, it's a good set of problems to have. (AG)

655 Capitola Rd, Santa Cruz. 831.479.0200.

Named after our Italian seaside sister city, Sestri offers a convenient midtown respite from the day's labors. Happy hour is every night from 5 to 7pm, and hump day is Wine Down Wednesday. For just $10 you get all the featured wine you care to drink, plus live music and sweet deals on appetizers. (DV)

Severino's Bar and Grill
7500 Old Dominion Court, Aptos. 831.688.7300.

Known for its happy hour and live music five nights a week, Severino's is—surprise!—located in a Best Western motel. The food is excellent, and the bar is more on the upscale side, with an extensive cocktail menu that goes great with the delicious appetizers. (CG)

1750 Wharf Road, Capitola. 831.475.1511.

Happy hour is short and sweet (Friday, 4-6pm) here at this decades-old Capitola institution, but it appears there's a happy crew here every night. Don't miss the Wednesday night wine tastings 5-8pm, which include perfectly paired hors d'oeuvres and great discounts on featured vintners' bottles. (DV)

Sir Froggy's Pub
4771 Soquel Drive, Soquel. 831.476.9802.

Like a cabin in the woods, Sir Froggy's takes you in and warms you up with a crackling fireplace, full bar and even a vacation house-style bookcase. Pool, pinball and the ever-popular Karaoke Thursdays keep patrons well entertained at this rustic haunt in charming Soquel. (AG)

105 Walnut Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.423.2020.

It's pure wine-lover's heaven, but it doesn't require an oenology degree to enjoy Soif thoroughly. The room itself is uniquely cool, with big desiccated vines as modernist wall sculpture. It's staffed by unsnobbish professionals whose knowledge makes it easy to navigate a list that is inspired, not merely extensive. Of course, it's all about the wines—there are always dozens available by the taste or glass. There should be a place like this in every city, but there isn't. (AG)

822 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz. 831.458.2821

Pull up a booth and relax in the cozy lounge at the end of Pacific. A trusted favorite for larger groups of fiesta-seeking patrons, Tampico serves up authentic comida and delicious margaritas to start your night off, or in some cases, end it on a good note. (DG)

Vida Lounge
1222 Pacific Ave, Santa Cruz 831.425.7871.

The owners of the former Costa Brava definitely gave their place a posh makeover. Now coated in shiny leather and featuring an array of cocktails, this spot has turned into a great happy hour-pre-party-people-watching meeting place. (DG)

The Wharf House
1400 Wharf Road, Capitola. 831.476.3534.

Located at the end of the Capitola Wharf, the Wharf House enjoys a hearty bar ambience and live music on the top deck during summers that make it a perennially popular place with locals. Good seafood is available, and the nightly bar crowd skews a bit older. (CG)

The Windjammer
1 Rancho del Mar, Aptos. 831.685.1587.

A tavern wholly devoted to the reveling arts, the Windjammer features a pool table, dart boards, live music on the weekends and TV for sports coverage during the week. Thoughtfully, the proprietors open up at 9am on Saturdays and Sundays to minister to the weekend wounded with Bloody Marys and burgers from the next-door cafe. (AG)

Wicked Lester's Entertainment Lounge
7941 Soquel Dr., Aptos. 831.688.9888 or 831.840.6195.

Remember the Aptos Club? Now imagine it cleaned up and redone in Lounge Supreme, with brilliantly colored walls and a unique metallic floor. When Wicked Lester's opens next month, it will have a stage, dance floor, two pool tables and a VIP lounge for bands, with a smoking patio outside. And, of course, a full bar. (TH)

Ye Olde Watering Hole
2405 Mission St, Santa Cruz. 831.469.4653.

This dive bar has a grungy sense of class that makes it a gloriously homey place to get a drink. The pool table, TV sets and genre-straddling jukebox are the stars here, and the cheap whiskey does improve the entertainment. Things have been known to get out of hand if someone, usually a student, makes a wrong move, but overall this place exhibits the comfort of a working man's living room. (SH)

203 Esplanade, Capitola. 831.475.4900.

The only beachfront deck in Capitola hosts live music outside in the summer that moves inside once the weather turns cold. Along with good food and a great breakfast, Zelda's has a dependable bar crowd and plenty of space, despite not having beer on draft. DJs are the norm for Friday nights. Saturdays are usually live bands. (CG)

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