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[whitespace] Bini's Sign
Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Sayonara Bini's And Other Musings

By Eric A. Carlson

All change is for the worse.--Dave Hickey

Veering off the Guadalupe Expressway into sacrosanct downtown San Jose, evidence of malfeasance hit me over the head with the subtlety of a parrot mimicking a duck. I thought our good city fathers had resolved the "giant signs atop buildings" controversy by nixing any new ones. Guess not. City-sized "Earthlink" letters project from the rooftop of one of San Jose's larger boxes. Did Earthlink buy San Jose? Is Micatin next? Sad notes rain down. The delicate scroll of the De Anza Hotel's crimson neon sign is now lost in the looming façade of a nearby skyscraper. The Park View Motel diving dame is gone--along with the motel. Bini's Grille, a San Jose landmark for the last 68 years, is no more. Mom-and-pop businesses have been replaced with the House of Blues and their ilk. Welcome to town, stranger; step right over that small business corpse and help yourself to a tax break.

At the corner of Post and South Almaden streets, I bellied up to the bar at Fuel, a chi-chi oasis frequented by downtown workers and weekend urban sybarites. The décor, clientele and preband music yield a Twin Peaks-like ambience, as if Twin Peaks and San Jose Magazine had a baby together. John Olson, a registered preservationist, was there and offered choice comments on the closing of Bini's Grille. John dined at Bini's on a regular basis and has fond memories of the place--and is more than a little irked at its closing. Someone spoke of small businesses being forced to toe the line or perish, while larger, cash cow, out-of-town behemoths are gifted with get-out-of-taxes-free cards.

A little over a hundred years ago, when Post Street was named El Dorado, the block Fuel holds down, and several surrounding blocks, were home to some very seedy houses of prostitution and rag-tag bars you would do well to avoid. On the plus side, the street also hosted small wagons selling "Three in One Texas Tamales" for five cents. Post Street has never completely shed its bad reputation, despite big shiny buildings and a name change. And it is still somewhat seedy in spots. (Just nice-to-know information.)

The day after Bini's Grille closed, I drove to 655 N. Sixth St. to take some photos of the chained doors and darkened windows. As I snapped, Beryl drove up with her camera. As luck would have it she knew the owners, Dale and Vicki Yoshihara. Dale was just around the corner at the farmers market, and was gracious enough to let us into the building for photos and reminiscing. It was my first time there--on the first day of closure--so I had nothing to reminisce about. But I did feel privileged to be allowed in, and could tell the place had character and a shot of pizzazz. Dale said it was the people who frequented Bini's that brought it to life. Leigh Weimers was a frequenter and impressed Dale in that he never came in with pencil and paper . . . yet always remembered every word of their conversations. As Dale gave his short tour, he spoke of his customers more than anything else. A large blue sailfish was displayed on one wall, caught by Dale--a fine accoutrement for a dining room. Empty bottles of champagne lined the lunch counter; several limp balloons dangled from the wall--it was very quiet indeed. The Bini's Grille sign was leaning in a corner, next to a table and chairs. When I asked Dale why he and his family closed Bini's, he stated simply, "We closed because we couldn't wait any longer." I left it at that. He had the look of a man who had, as they say, been through the mill. "Tomorrow I'm playing golf," he said.

Final Note: I had the chutzpah to ask Dale for a menu before I left, and he had the grace to give me one.

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From the February 15-21, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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