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Notes from the Underbelly

Campbell Observed

By Eric A. Carlson

"God made the country, and man made the town."

-William Cowper

In 1851, Benjamin Campbell acquired 160 acres of land that would become downtown Campbell proper. In 1877, he sold some of the land for a depot stop to be used by the South Coast Railroad Company; soon after, he began selling subdivision lots for future residents. A community grounded firmly in the prune and apricot industry was thusly born.

The exceptional Moon Handbook on Silicon Valley by Martin Cheek, a tome even more useful than the Junior Woodchuck Manual is to ducks, notes of Benjamin: "In order to dissuade a rougher class of people from becoming citizens of his growing community, he inserted a rigid clause in the town deeds prohibiting the construction of saloons and the sale of alcohol." At some point, the clause must have petered out, as there is a glistening history of tavernry in Campbell stretching back decades. Remember Gilbert Zapps? The Bodega? The Garrett? The Parlor? I don't. But they were there. Stoddard's, Khartoum, Rock Bottom Brewery, the Cardiff Lounge and countless other Campbell watering holes now grace genteel avenues. Bars nestle in the Pruneyard Shopping Center and are tucked into downtown niches.

The Coffee Orchard Valley and Internet Cafe coffee shop--a large room resonating with clatter and chatter--is a purveyor of fine coffee and succulent cheese omelettes. Stop here for breakfast before exploring Campbell and its myriad taverns. (An ominous Starbucks has claim-jumped close by, snatching innocents from the sidewalk. Do not be decoyed.)

In Khartoum, a perfect bloody mary appeared before me as if in a beautiful dream, served by a severely taciturn gentleman. Khartoum is distinguished by having stuffed heads of animals and stained-glass windows. Stuffed ibex heads blend in with shining panels of glass, creating a virile ambience with a soupçon of safari spirituality. Black Jack Shellac, the meanest man in the Yukon, would be comfortable sitting at the end of the bar. Cigars should be issued as one walks in.

Khartoum is historically important in that Nolan Bushnell, founder of Atari and inventor of Pong, met the former Nancy Nino, a cocktail waitress working there, and married her. A longtime Campbell resident remembers Khartoum as the first "fern" bar in the area. (This same resident told me that Peggy Fleming gets her hair done in a salon on Campbell Avenue next to Gargoyle's tattoo parlor.)

The Cardiff Lounge was once called the Bee Hive, oh so many years ago. It is a friendly neighborhood stopover where Pop Pork Rinds can be purchased in regular, hot or spicy. Cardiff passes the Primal Rule of Dive Bars--one can imagine a German shepherd dog named Radar running around inside chasing a ball and crashing into chairs and tables, delighting all and sundry, including the dog. (I did not see this at Cardiff, but the ambience simply suggests a level of comfort and unpretentiousness where such a event might occur.) The drink special at Cardiff on a recent Saturday was Cranberry Kamikaze. The Cardiff Lounge sign is also noteworthy--funny letters in that madcap, insouciant 1960s zeitgeist.

Venturing out from the genteel prim core of Campbell, I found other amazing signs and businesses: Rasputin Music, with a statue sign of a life-size Rasputin playing an electric guitar--wild-eyed at that. Also wild-eyed are the penguins advertising Pacific Hand Wash--a carwash. Two sets of penguins appear to be waving at each other. I know it's crazy, but I associate penguins with clean cars. Near Campbell Park--which ties into Los Gatos Creek Parkway--the Paul Del Grande Auto Parts/Machine Shop Service displays a spectacularly faded blue sign. Fades right into the blue sky.

A Cambellian told me of a huge green rock in a park next to Campbell Avenue named after some guy. Very green and the size of a treasure chest. I went looking for it but found only prosaic rocks.

Final Note: In 1952, fearing annexation by the dreaded San Jose, Campbell incorporated. Some claim the town is straining mightily to be a Willow Glen. I believe it is a bit too grumpy and blue-collar at heart to make the complete transition.

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From the June 6-12, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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