Best of Silicon Valley 2006:
Intro | The Short List | Campbell | Cupertino | Gilroy and Morgan Hill | Los Gatos | Milpitas | Mountain View | Palo Alto and Menlo Park | San Jose | Santa Clara | Saratoga | Sunnyvale | Willow Glen | Readers' Choice—Food & Sustenance | Readers' Choice—Love & Romance | Readers' Choice—Arts & Culture | Readers' Choice—Shopping & Services
The fake owls protect 5-Spot's classic sign from pigeons.
Best of Silicon Valley 2006
Best of San Jose
Rosicrucian Museum. 1342 Naglee Ave., San Jose 408.947.3636. You put a Lincoln Cent into the machine. A roller rolls over the copper coin and imprints either a cat or the symbol of the museum onto the coin while squishing it even flatter. And you can keep it. There are two of these machines at Rosicrucian Park. One sits inside the Egyptian Museum and the other sits inside the Planetarium. You walk away with a bent penny, a symbol of your visit to the only museum of its kind on the West Coast. And that's why there are now smashed pennies all over San Jose.
5-Spot Drive-In. 869 S. First St., San Jose. Always the best rundown roadhouse slop-filled diner from heaven, the 5-Spot will soon reopen as the 5-Spot Chivas Grill. No, you won't be able to slug horrendous coffee and partake in $2 breakfasts like the old days, as they've cleaned up the building and will offer a somewhat different fare. And you won't be able to drive up to it, but they've maintained the funky truck-stop architecture of the place and repolished it quite well. And most importantly, the sign is still there—a great preservation of classic San Jose history. There's nothing like '50s drive-in architecture, and the 5-spot is a San Jose institution.
San Jose Razorclaws. www.Shamrockmartialarts.com. Yes, a mixed martial arts entourage actually sets up shop in Japantown. Frank Shamrock leads the San Jose Razorclaws, and they will be seen competing on Fox Sports in the near future. Shamrock's website opens with a blistering display of him donning a few title belts while Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger" blares in the background. The image then focuses on Shamrock's right eyeball and vamps from there on. Shamrock, five-time undefeated UFC Champion and former King of Pancrase, also runs a training camp where you "stay just one block from historic Japantown in the heart of downtown San Jose at the Shamrock Fighter House." He offers training for all martial arts skill levels.
Oakland A's/Major League Soccer. Paseo de San Antonio, San Jose. One can easily lampoon the amount of empty office space in downtown San Jose. The stats are all there. Here's one example: A few years back, the Montgomery Hotel was moved a few hundred feet down the road in order to accommodate an addition to the Fairmont. At the ground level, we've seen several empty office spaces ever since. Now, the Oakland A's are opening up a new space right on Paseo de San Antonio. They seem to be committed to finding a way to bring Major League Soccer back to the Bay Area. Currently, a giant A's logo, along with a soccer ball, graces the window. Keep your toes crossed.
Bring your fez to the Elks Lodge.
Elks Lodge No. 522. 444 W. Alma Ave., San Jose 408.298.3880. What do a lot of old-timers with lots of money do to have fun? They go to the Elks Lodge No. 522 and sit around and drink $2 Bloody Marys all day. Every day. It's a good old-fashioned social drinking club that is in dire need of new blood. Hey folks—every '50s custom has already come back: bowling, Hawaiian shirts, tiki bars. We keep wondering why no one thinks of reviving lodges. Get your fez ready just in case. Although the rundown décor of the place rocks in a throwback sense, they need more dues-paying folks to hop on board. There are many potential Elks out there. Buck up!
Anno Domini. 366 S. First St., San Jose 408.271.5155. For one gallery to have made so much of an impact on the San Jose arts community is amazing. Anno Domini single-handedly changed the SoFA district by instigating a First Friday gallery hop that now brings folks from all over the place to downtown San Jose. Bands play in the parking lot and people migrate from gallery to gallery, all down South First Street. Anno Domini consistently searches out cutting-edge artists who actually do end up selling their work at Anno Domini's shows. If there was ever an award for "best use of an empty movie theater," they would win it. They have brought several different countercultures to the forefront of the San Jose art scene and they've given the beatniks somewhere to hang out.
Gordon Biersch. 33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose 408.294.6785 There's nothing like local beer, but don't ask what kind of ales they have. G.B. specializes in lagers instead. The Märzen is their amber Oktoberfest-style brew, their biggest-selling concoction. But definitely try the Blonde Bock. Those are the rocking brews that sneak up on you before you know it. About five times a year, G.B. also produces a seasonal brew and holds tapping parties to celebrate each release. The Winter Bock is their supreme-commando potion that you can chew on, and boy do those things add up. Holy Toledo. The point is that you should support local beer, and at G.B. the stuff is made right there. You can see the tanks off to the side of the bar. The regulars even have their own steins with their names carved into the top—a kind gesture from the powers that be. Now that's a beer-lover's establishment.
Cash is king at Cinebar.
Cinebar. 69 E. San Fernando St., San Jose 408.292.9562. Already one of the best bars in downtown San Jose, the Cinebar just got better. They tore down all the silly sports paraphernalia and painted classy black and white silhouettes of celebrities on all the walls, from floor to ceiling. Now one can waltz in and look at Johnny Cash, the Clash, Frankenstein, Marilyn Monroe and others. It's a groovy addition that makes the place look like a real bohemian hangout. It always was to begin with, but the silhouettes complete the package. With all the cookie-cutter meat-market bars and chain restaurants popping up like a rash of neon toadstools, the Cinebar is the quintessential nighttime dissident hangout that every urban environment needs. It would be downright criminal if some greedy landlord swooped in and nuked the place.
KFJC-FM (89.7). www.kfjc.org. For about 45 years now, KFJC has been tweaking everyone's eclectic tastes in music, and they destroy every other college station on Earth. They are constantly light years ahead of everyone else. You never know what's going to come out of your speakers when you spin the dial to 89.7. It could be Japanese noise, Australian surf music, Air Supply covers on tubas, grunge, conspiracy theory, trip-hop or eight hours of death metal. Basically, whatever you won't hear on commercial radio—that's KFJC. They're still plugging away after all these years, and some folks have been spinning at KFJC for two decades. The station has sponsored so many events that it's hard to keep track of it all, but KFJC is home-brewed, free-form radio at its finest. Each DJ brings his or her own bent perspective on it all. There's always something different going down at KFJC and that's what makes them the best.
The Blank Club. 44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose 408.29-BLANK. Sure, there exist other places in San Jose to see bands, but the Blank Club wins hands down. It is the only major rock club left in this town. It is known on both coasts of the United States and the list of bands who've played at the Blank is staggering. Owned and operated by local San Jose veterans of "the scene," the Blank draws on a broad spectrum: rockabilly types, punks, metalheads, greasers, Euro-garage electronica phreaks, barflies, writers, beatniks and who knows what else. Even on the DJ nights, there's usually something kooky going down. But live bands are the thing here. If you long for the days when folks actually cared about original music, then swagger on down to the Blank Club. You'll probably meet someone you haven't seen in years.
Caravan. 98 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose 408.995.6220. Metro readers vote for Caravan year after year after year. In fact, we can't even remember the last time Caravan didn't win the Best Dive Bar award. Even without a longhaired Native American dude throwing money in your face and insulting everybody, this hole remains true to its form. The drinks are strong and cheap, as are many of the regulars. You've got barflies, college students, bikers, an occasional stray from the Greyhound station and just about every shape or size of humanity all falling over each other in this place. At times it gets a little rough, but don't let it bother you. Tell 'em Metro sent you. If that doesn't get you thrown out, nothing will.
Streetlight Records. 980 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose 408.292.1404. Even back in the '80s when Streetlight was housed in, um, a house, it rocked. Then they moved into their current location and the place is huge. The folks who work there don't do it for the money, they do it for the music. Just about every variety of it is available at Streetlight, and they also have a stunning supply of movies. You can even rifle through a few dollar bins for your favorite horrible-on-purpose LPs, if that's your thing. Bands play on Saturday afternoons, bringing in yet more music aficionados.
Santana Row. Olin Avenue at Stevens Creek Boulevard, San Jose. Yes, we all know it's the Las Vegas of San Jose, but Santana Row packs a punch, especially on weekends and at nighttime. Some of the restaurants on the Row are just so sexy, they're irresistible. Night owl hipsters flock to the Row because they know they can hang out without having to deal with the thuggish types who infiltrate downtown on the weekends. The bars at nighttime are packed and people go there to show off the goods, whatever those goods may be. If you've got the dough—and many folks do—the Row is the place to people-watch and be people-watched.
Good Karma. 37 S. First St., San Jose 408.294.2694. Even if you're a carnivore fundamentalist, this place is so cheap and healthy, how can you resist it? It's also the only place downtown to buy KFJC T-shirts. How's that for a side dish? You walk in, point to what you want, and within minutes you're given a plate of rocking vegan fare. They even have acoustic musicians doing their thing sometimes. The vibe of the place can't be beat and Good Karma is a perfect name for it. Whether it's faux chicken or a steaming tofu curry dish, the food brings in a variety of customers, everyone from business types to skate punks. Everybody is getting sick of the chain restaurants, and to see a local business finally getting its hands into the fray is welcome indeed.
Paragon. Hotel Montgomery, 211 S. First St., San Jose 866.443.2814. Outside on the patio at Paragon, it can be like an oasis at times. There are two bocce ball courts—something you don't see too often—and a handful of waterfalls. Soft music emanates from some unidentifiable place inside the bushes. Several tables occupy the main part of the patio and there is even an outdoor bar for the nighttime guests. With the Fairmont extension and the other high-rise looming over the patio, it almost feels like a small paradise among the everyday urban environment—a great place to relax with an exotic drink while lounging under the olive trees. And it's not just for hotel guests. About 90 percent of Paragon's clientele is composed of people from outside the hotel. So soak in the sun and pound a few Mojitos. The patio's all yours.
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