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Bars & Clubs

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Cocktail Lounges

Agenda Lounge
399 S. First St., San Jose (408/287-4087)
Along with numerous architectural amenities, this swank supper club leans to the sophisticated side of music: jazz, acoustic acts, swing, acid jazz, reggae and the occasional showboating movie star. Downstairs is the Cellar, a literally underground dance club where Fil Maresca sets the turntables on '80s hits on Fridays and DJ Jesse goes funky disco on Saturdays. The main floor houses a linen-tablecloth restaurant. The cover charge for the bands upstairs rarely exceeds $3. Open nightly, 5pm­2am.

Bamboo 7
162 Jackson St., San Jose (no phone)
For an upclose peek at East-West relations, step inside this no-frills dive in Japantown across from San Jose Tofu. On a good night, the karaoke machine works overtime, with soused Americans and Japanese wrapped in each other's arms, soaking up drinks and massacring drippy pop songs in their respective tongues. If only the United States and Japanese governments could work together so smoothly. No cover; open nightly.

Bella Mia
58 S. First St., San Jose (408/280-1993)
Having drinks at Bella Mia is making a statement: "I'm urban, sophisticated and going places." And though it keeps distinctly restaurant hours, the bar at Bella Mia is hot after work and before the opera, symphony or Sharks' games. Bella Mia's proximity to the Fairmont Hotel and the convention center assures a healthy circulation of name tags. "There aren't any strangers here," says manager Chris Casel, "only friends who haven't met yet." True to its California roots, Bella Mia is elegant but unpretentious.

Bellino
95 S. Market St., #210, San Jose (408/277-0690)
Suit jackets magically disappear the minute the downtown work force hits this second-story pit-stop squarely at 5:15pm. The scene here is yuppros (hip, young professionals) sporting Donna Karan knockoffs and Italian ties. The tiny bar offers a quartet of high tables, plus some cozy spots for meaningful eye-contact along the far wall. The bar sports 15 wines by the glass, but most of the crowd goes for beer and the mixed hard stuff. The scene spills out onto the terrace during warm weather--all the better to soak up the view.

Big Basin Bistro
14480 Big Basin Way, Saratoga (408/867-1764)
The wines have to share the spotlight with several fine beers and tasty tapas plates, but it's really no contest. Four hundred wines, all on display in a wine room, certainly are the main attraction. Casual atmosphere, for Saratoga. Nonalcoholic drinks available. Last call 11pm Wednesday, Friday­Saturday; 9pm Saturday; 6pm Thursday; closed Monday­Tuesday.

Birk's
3955 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara (408/980-6400)
The only thing wrong with Birk's is that it isn't downtown, but then, for its loyal clientele, that's probably one of the many things that's right with it. The bar is attached to one of Silicon Valley's premier business and pleasure restaurants, and attracts 49ers from the nearby training camp (is that a plus or a minus?). There's a mouth-watering shelf of single-malt scotches, all the better labels of spirits, boutique wines and beers, gourmet appetizers that could easily take the place of a light dinner, and a pleasant, upscale environment. Of course, all that charming ambiance don't come cheap, nor should it.

Black Angus Fun Bar
1011 Blossom Hill Road, San Jose (408/266-6602)
The Fun Bar chain is going through a transition and shutting down its dance clubs during a nationwide restructuring. The former Almaden Valley babe magnet closed its dance floor last October. The bar is still open for a quiet drink until 11pm on weekends.

Black Angus Fun Bar
380 S. Kiely Blvd., San Jose (408/261-6900)
It used to be that one could enter any Black Angus around the country and find a dance floor. Not at the Kiely location. It became off limits the weekend before Valentine's Day. "There's a dance floor, but we don't use it," said a bartender. "It became too much of a liability. We just use it to lay out the happy-hour food." The bartender wouldn't elaborate on the dance-floor mystery but was happy to divulge the happy hour (4­7pm) menu--sandwiches, veggies and chicken wings, $1 Millers, $2 draft beers, well drinks and house wines. Open Monday­Thursday, 11am­11pm; Friday­Saturday, 11am­midnight; Sunday, noon­11pm.

Blake's
17 N. San Pedro Square, San Jose (408/298-9221)
Maybe the ghosts of the old Phoenix coffeehouse and poetry hangout still occupy these premises--at any rate, there's something unpindownably hip about this swank flesh and spirits room. Steak-o-vours waiting to rip their teeth through one of Blake's juicy slabs of meat are advised to whet their appetites on the grilled artichoke appetizer, which would also make an impressive bar snack for that special date or an elegant accompaniment to a silvery martini. Salty goldfish and pretzels are also available, gratis. Open till 10 most nights.

Blue Pheasant
22100 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino (408/255-3300)
Located on the green near Blackberry Farm, the Blue Pheasant Bar and Grill attracts the golfing crowd. The bar fairly reflects the majority of the players teeing off--mostly middle-aged and older men--although with golf becoming a fad among rock groups, there have been a few sightings of Gen-Xers downing beers before proceeding to the greens. Blue Pheasant barflies are receptive to banter, especially if it's about Tiger Woods. On weekend nights, nongolfers as well as friends of golfers crowd the house to make things a little more happening. Open for lunch and dinner; closes about 10pm, except Monday when it doesn't open at all.

Brandon's
1800 Barber Lane, Milpitas (408/432-6311)
Big-account clients, VIPs and prospective fathers-in-law are good candidates for a few fingers of premium scotch at this ritzy lounge adjoining the Beverly Heritage Hotel. Dark wood, brass and posh upholstery impart an old-boys'-club feel. Marathon power lunches and negotiations can be heard over clinking snifters of fine brandy. The food is exceptional, and the list of libations is long and refined. In all respects, Brandon's molds itself as the place to manage pow-wows with upper management.

Cafe Fino
544 Emerson St., Palo Alto (415/326-6082)
For putting on the ritz, there's no place like Fino. Though the bar has no dress code, it would be nearly impossible to be overdressed for a night on the town sipping impeccably mixed martinis beneath Fino's vaulted ceiling adorned with art deco frescoes. The menu features single-malt scotches, vintage port and other upper-regions libations served by the tuxedoed bartender from central casting. A bar menu of selections from Fino's sister establishment, Mia Maddalena, is available. Classic jazz provides the background sounds Mondays through Saturdays; weekends feature a three-piece combo including a chanteuse with a Marlene Dietrich voice and Bette Davis eyes. Open till 10:30pm, later on weekends; closed Sunday.

Cafe Marcella
368 Village Lane, Los Gatos (408/354-8006)
The beer and wine bar at this upscale Italian bistro has a clean, bold decor with excellent cuisine. Local wines and relatively rare European imports are not only offered by the glass and the bottle but also sold in the market next door. Open Tuesday­Saturday, 11:30am­2:30pm, 4:30­9:30pm; Friday­Saturday till 10:30pm; Sunday, 4:30­9:30pm; closed Monday.

Camelot
275 E. Dunne Ave., Morgan Hill (408/782-2525)
Fair damsels and brave knights enjoy spirits and hearty fare in the area's only medieval establishment. The 12th-century decor merges with the modern (karaoke on Tuesday nights, video games and darts) for a unique place for a drink (pass the mead, please). Neither the menu nor the bar offer Dark Age dishes, but employees do dress appropriately. Full menu available at the bar. Measured shots. Local draft microbrews. Live bands Friday and Saturday nights. Smoking/cigars in lounge.

Cardinal Lounge
3197 Meridian Ave., San Jose (408/269-7891)
From the glittery candy-apple-red upholstery in its many booths to the substantial scarlet candles on tables, this cavernous cocktail lounge does its avian namesake proud. Not everything's coming up roses here, though--the dominant hue is complimented with mostly black walls and lots of mirrors and torch lamps straight out of the '80s. A slightly older crowd enjoys the laid-back atmosphere and live R&B, blues and '50s-'60s tunes seven nights a week.

Carry Nation's
8 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-1771)
Born in the heyday of the Pet Rock, Carry Nation's has survived earthquakes, retrofitting and a Brazilian invasion to remain Los Gatos' quintessential lounge. Two decades later, it remains a popular address for bonding, romancing and celebrating. Check out the "House Round" wall, commemorating everything from divorces to boat launches. Open daily, noon­2am.

Chart House
115 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-1737)
This converted mortuary along North Santa Cruz Avenue sits quietly set back from the bustle of Los Gatos' main drag. The plushly appointed mansion features vintage decor and provides a pleasant backdrop for business or social conversation. The bar doesn't have a set closing time but winds down when things get slow--around 11:30pm on weekends.

Cielito Lindo
195 E. Taylor St., San Jose (408/995-3447)
Longtime locals will remember the location as the Taylor Street Bar & Grill, but it's been Cielito Lindo for four years now. The pleasant bar, set off from the dining room by a wall partition, serves a full range of liquors plus a good selection of beer, which runs about half American, half Mexican. The margarita is tops, made to order and served with chips and salsa. Both karaoke and live music are offered in the evenings. Limited hours, though: 11am­9pm Monday­Thursday; 11am­10pm Friday; 11am­9pm Saturday.

City Bar and Grill
Hilton and Towers, 300 Almaden Blvd., San Jose (408/947-4444)
Travelers and conventioneers frequent this tidy lounge tucked into the Hilton and Towers hotel dining room. It's a surprisingly intimate spot, considering the large room it overlooks. The bartenders and waiters are efficient but unpretentious, adding a just-folks feel to an otherwise daunting space. Open daily, 6­10pm.

Clocktower Bar & Grill
Toll House Hotel, 140 S. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/395-7070)
Filled with chairs and couches and lined with rich, dark wood, the Clocktower Bar & Grill looks more like an elegantly furnished living room than a hotel lounge. The two TVs appear almost painfully out of place next to the marble fireplace and baby grand piano. Because of the hotel's location at the end of South Santa Cruz Avenue, the Clocktower also tends to be rather low-key compared to most of the Los Gatos hot spots. The occasional musical celebrity pops in for a drink or a jam when Paul Masson headliners bed down at the Toll House. Happy-hour hors d'oeuvres are served Mondays through Fridays, 4:30­6pm. No cover; generally open till 1:30am.

Club Max
DoubleTree Inn, 2050 Gateway Pl., San Jose (408/453-4000)
Most hotel bars are no better than 1970s airport lounges. Not Club Max. This large and inviting spot opens things up even more with plenty of brass and glass. Guests stoop to karaoke on Wednesdays. Otherwise, DJs spin the latest hits and misses on weekends to a large, dedicated following. Open till 2am.

Coleman Still
1240 Coleman Ave., Santa Clara (408/727-4670)
Back in the '70s, when theme-park restaurants didn't have to be ethnic, the Coleman Still was born. Decorated with frosted-glass panels, Tiffany lamps and a patchwork of weathered planks from the farmhouse of San Jose's Kimmey family, the Coleman Still is a living snapshot from the days when pants resembled isosceles triangles and Rhoda reigned supreme. The bar is famous for its pool-sized margaritas (17 ounces for $3.50), generous salad bar and the steak-house charm of other defunct mainstays such as Rueben's Plankhouse and the Grog and Sirloin. "People come in for the memories," confirms owner Bill Tam, who bought the place in 1990 and has done his best to preserve it as a memorable spot for "eatin' and drinkin'," which it is. Open Monday­Thursday, 9am­10pm; Friday­Saturday, 9am­11pm; Sunday, 9am­9pm.

Crazy Horse Bistro
The Plumed Horse, 14555 Big Basin Way, Saratoga (408/867-4711)
The one small TV blaring from the corner of this opulent bar seems an affront. Why watch the idiot box when there's a fire crackling in the corner and a killer view (now slightly obscured by condos) of the Saratoga foothills out the back windows? The bar itself is a breathtaking creation of carved cherry wood and mirrors, and since most of the Plumed Horse's patrons are older couples obviously out for a romantic evening, chances are they're not going to care too much what's on the tube. A jazz band plays Fridays and Saturdays, when these happy couples can be seen sipping cocktails and tripping the light fantastic on the tiny dance floor. Open 4pm­2am (closes earlier on weekdays).

The Drying Shed
402 Toyon Ave., San Jose (408/272-1512)
Out on the true edge of town, the Drying Shed is one of those restaurant pubs where everyone knows your name--or will know it in a minute or two. The decor is lounge-modern, and baseball banners adorn the walls, but the real atmosphere comes from the gregarious bartenders and cocktail servers and a cadre of friendly local drinkers of all ages. Conversation is paramount here; even when the oldies cover bands are playing on the weekends, customers can still hear themselves think. And since the bar is attached to a full-service restaurant, sustenance is but a few steps away. Open Sunday­Thursday, 11am­11pm; Friday­Saturday, 11am­2am.

The Echo
1579 Miramonte Ave., Los Altos (415/967-0969)
Any place that wears a cocked martini glass on its sign can't be all bad. And the Echo of Los Altos shows the staying power of the 1940s, like the photos on the wall of Bob Hope and Mickey Rooney with former owner John Bikakis. There's no shouting at the Echo, not counting occasional outbursts to Wheel of Fortune. There's a tasty snack mix made by longtime patron Lucy, and at 8pm, live piano. Sunday is C&W night, with a modest line-dancing scene. ("But the men are too old for you," Lucy appraises honestly.) With decent drinks by bartender Gilley and stained-glass depictions of wild birds, the Echo is a place to pretend that life is still simple and believe it for a few hours. Open for lunch and dinner.

Effie's
331 Hacienda Ave., Campbell (408/374-3400)
"Annie is my favorite bartender," says Dave the contractor, a regular at this pleasantly Victorian neighborhood restaurant lounge. No wonder. Annie, a 10-year Effie's veteran, runs a friendly, smooth bar, pouring the latest specialty liquors as well as nonalcoholic drinks. Thursday­Saturday, starting at 8pm, a wandering troubadour sings pop favorites to the middle-aged couples and business folk. TV sports watching when big stuff is on. Open 10:30am­midnight (1am Fri­Saturday). Happy hour 4­7pm seven days.

Eight Forty North First
840 N. First St., San Jose (408/282-0840)
During the week, most of the chardonnay-sippers in the bar are just waiting to get a table and tear into a honey sambal prawn appetizer, but this small cocktail lounge does generate some lively happy-hour traffic on Thursdays and Fridays. A TV lets patrons keep an eye on the season's sporting events, and the list of 18 by-the-glass wines offers many rewards to oenophiles. A popular home away from home for the pols and civil servants from city hall, located across the light-rail tracks. No smoking. Monday­Friday, 11:30am­10pm; Saturday, 5­10pm; closed Sunday.

El Torito
10330 N. Wolfe Rd., Cupertino (408/255-5747)
Easy access from Interstate 280 makes this cantina a certain stop for partiers on the way up or down the Peninsula. El Torito is a chain restaurant featuring fiesta-style regalia. Happy hour (4­8pm) features reduced-price food, $2.50 margaritas and specially priced well drinks. No dance floor, but the bar is open until midnight on weekends, sometimes until 2am if it's really busy.

Empire Tap Room
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto (415/321-3030)
This Palo Alto watering hole, clad generously in wood and subtle safari prints, achieved landmark status in writer Po Bronson's novel The First 20 Million. Though the sports channel overhead and khaki-shorts-wearing, mostly male crowd makes it look more like a frat-house reunion than the dealmaking spot of the '90s Internet boom (fashion tip: wear a Netscape T-shirt if you want to look like a 20-something decamillionnaire), the liquor selection immediately belies any suggestion that this is a budget-conscious keg-beer or fruit-drink crowd. An ample selection of single-malt scotches keeps company with a deep roster of grappas, French brandies, ports, agaves and microbrews. Oh, and did we mention cigars? Although they were out of our first three requests--Havana Club rum, a 1964 Armagnac and a Honduran Romeo and Julieta stogie--the Empire builders deserve credit for having them on the list. Open weekdays 11am­10pm and weekends 11am­10:30pm.

Eulipia
374 S. First St., San Jose (408/280-6161)
A curved bar, a separate cocktail island and 13 barstools complete this pretty picture of dignified sipping located in the heart of downtown San Jose's SoFA District. When the hustle and bustle of the clubs gets you down, slip in here for a nice quiet drink; it's worth the risk of a jaywalking ticket. By the way, it's still one of the valley's premier culinary destinations. Open for lunch and dinner (Tuesday­Saturday until 10pm; Sunday until 9pm).

The Fairmont
170 S. Market St., San Jose (408/998-1900)
Like a set from a 1930s screwball comedy about society swells, the Fairmont Lobby Lounge is the place to sip cocktails and impress important clients. On a recent Friday night, a jazz quartet noodled away in front of the main bar while tourists milled about, trying to decompress from the latest shift of meetings and seminars. The deep, plush chairs and tall, refined columns make for a relaxing oasis in the heart of downtown. Last call between 10:30 and 11pm.

Fanny and Alexander
412 Emerson St., Palo Alto, (415/326-7183
"People get fired up!" says one fellow outside the intractably trendy Fanny and Alexander, which lures an energetic, youthful and very large crowd to its airy outdoor patio and indoor dance floor. That crowd is somewhat homogeneous--mostly of students and younger techies--but varies too: from the Teva-wearing Bermuda-shorts set to dazed-looking Silicon Valley engineers and pretty women in minidresses and oh-so-'90s Friends haircuts. Part wild frat party, part upscale, alfresco cocktail reception, Fanny's is cigar-friendly (on the patio) and excellent for people-watching and -meeting.

Gasthaus Adler
1380 S. Main St., Milpitas (408/946-6141)
The odd kinks in the road give Gasthaus Adler, a sprawling ranch-style establishment, a timeless, immovable feel. The dark wood interior, Bavarian styled, is worn smooth in spots, and the staff exudes a veteran easy confidence. On most nights, a blue-collar crowd mixes with a few suits around three billiard tables while the jukebox pumps out country tunes. It is a place where men like to take their bockwurst and Spaten at the cushioned bar and parry wits with a sassy barmaid.

Hardy's Bavaria
111 W. Evelyn St., Sunnyvale (408/720-1531)
South German cuisine is the attraction at this mid-sized restaurant; there's also a small bar serving liquor, wine, iced coffee mit Schlag and various Deutschlander beers. I took a turn for the wurst ($6.95 for the platter, with two kinds of mustard, horseradish, sauerkraut and some first-rate German potato salad). During my visit, the back patio was serenaded with very low-volume recorded music: some unidentified vocalist of the Roger Whittaker school, singing "Jamaica Farewell" and "Home on the Range" in German. Lunch Tuesday­Friday, 11am on; dinner Tuesday­Saturday, 5pm­on.

Hedley Club
Hotel De Anza, 233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose (408/286-1000)
Located in the restored Hotel De Anza, this lounge de luxe recalls the more elaborate tastes of Roaring Twenties with its hints of Moorish architecture and design, including a lavishly painted ceiling and a towering fireplace. A broad range of business people, hotel guests and Sharks fans en route to a game stop here to chat in a shadowy, flora-filled corner or on the airy patio--and, Wednesdays through Saturdays, to enjoy live jazz and R&B. Noon­12:30am weekdays, 4pm­1:30am weekends.

Henry's World-Famous Hi-Life
301 W. Saint John St., San Jose (408/295-5414)
Barry Bonds was drawing a walk on the pair of overhead TVs when we ambled into the soft light of this venerable establishment. We asked for something refreshing and were pleased to receive a frosty pint of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale ($3.50). A handful of friendly folks gabbed about this, that and the other over cold drinks and the occasional soda pop, while the aroma of baking potatoes drifted in from the shadowy dining room. Justifiably "world-famous" as a steak-and-ribs joint, Henry's boasts carnivorous delights ranging from the relatively demure chicken dinner ($10.25) to the belly-stretching porterhouse steak ($20.95). But Henry's glory remains its potatorium, where the high and mighty rub elbows with the meek and modest--literally so at dinnertime, when the room gets stand-on-tiptoes crowded. Open 11:30am­11pm.

Hochburg Von Germania
261 N. Second St., San Jose (408/295-4484)
The Hochburg is more Gasthaus than Bierhall, with the restaurant's snowy tablecloths and gleaming glassware taking precedence over barstools and beer steins. A cooler offers half-liter bottles of various German brews. This rambling complex is the undisputed center of German culture in the South Bay. But at times the yodels and accordions of the Bavarian dance music (Wednesdays and Sundays; dancing most Saturdays with a $5 cover, half price with dinner) that echo down the hallway can get downright eerie, an interesting effect compounded by the medieval Schwartzwald relics lining the upper walls.

Il Fornaio
520 Cowper St., Palo Alto (415/853-3888)
Young professionals pack the matte-steel cafe tables at this intersection of Euro-style and the California good life. True to its roots in Italian cuisine, Il Fornaio emphasizes wines by the glass at the bar. Glassed-in wine bins form the bar's backdrop. Il Fornaio has even begun bottling Napa wines under its own label to supply its various locations. Bellinis and negronis are specialties of the house, and a 24-recipe martini menu was recently added to accommodate changing tastes. Nonalcoholic choices include a true limonata (fresh Italian lemonade) and a mixed fruit-juice concoction called portofino.

Jose's Caribbean Nightclub
2275 El Camino Real, Palo Alto (415/326-6522)
There are very few places in the valley where you can eat Cuban food and dance to live reggae till 2am. Jose's Caribbean Nightclub and Restaurant is one such place. With bright pink and blue place mats on the tables and a well-stocked indoor tiki bar, Jose's attracts an eclectic clientele--mostly dancers--from Latinos to yuppies to youths. At Jose's, you can munch on fried plantains and Creole alligator, wash that down with a pink Hawaiian Hurricane, polish your meal off with a smooth Cuban coffee and then hit the floor for salsa classes. (A little Dramamine might be in order, first.) Call for the somewhat erratic schedule at Jose's ahead of time, and then be prepared for something entirely new. Open till 2am weekends.

La Hacienda
18840 Saratoga-Los Gatos Rd., Monte Sereno (408/354-6669)
A sign out front says the former roadhouse contains "the nicest people in the world" and there wouldn't be much point in arguing, especially with bartender Burt, who is a bit hard of hearing, has been there 25 years and knows most of the people the sign is referring to by name. He can also make an absolutely perfect martini and no one can argue with that. La Hacienda has gone from being a teahouse (1910), a stagecoach stop (1920­30), and allegedly even a cathouse before settling into its present incarnation as a Mediterranean-style inn, restaurant and lounge stuck in a '40s time warp. Open till 1am nightly.

Left at Albuquerque
445 Emerson St., Palo Alto (415/326-1011)
Loud, lively and gorgeous, this colorful homage to the Route 66 of the imagination has become an instant shrine. Small wonder. The finger food--real salsas, inventive border grub and impeccable garnishing--tastes amazingly fresh and vibrant. All the better to match with a selection of more than 120 tequilas and mescals, displayed along one entire wall. A dozen fine brews grace the house tap as well. Gleaming hubcaps and roadhouse signage provide an amusing backdrop for displays of attitude and designer flirting. The kitchen stays open till around 10pm; the bar closes at 2am. Second location recently opened at the Pruneyard, #550, 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell (408/558-1680)

Left at Albuquerque
The PruneYard, #550, 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell (408/558-1680)
Maybe their sense of direction is skewed, because the founders of this small chain of Cal-Mex tequila havens seem to have been taking right turns ever since they opened Palo Alto's Blue Chalk Cafe. Only recently opened, this commodious addition to the group of five restaurants was already packed on the weeknight we visited, full of diners who were taking in the '90s Southwest-roadside ephemera adorning the walls and downing a wide variety of margaritas. Lunch and dinner; open till 10pm weekdays, till 11pm weekends.

The Lion and Compass
1023 N. Fair Oaks Ave., Sunnyvale (408/745-1260)
A compass might be helpful in getting to this remote corner of Sunnyvale, but the journey is worth it just for a sip of the bar's specialty: the Brazilian Daiquiri, four kinds of rum, pineapple and vanilla beans--so potent that it easily accounts for the other half of the establishment's name. The business crowd gathers here during the week, the locals on weekends. The pristine modern decor--and a stock-market ticker-tape display--recalls 1980s conspicuous consumption. Open 5:30­9pm.

Los Gatos Bar and Grill
15 1/2 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/399-5424)
This is a casual '90s hangout on the top floor of one of downtown Los Gatos' historical brick buildings. The decor is classical, but that's no reason to be uptight. Dress is casual (in a calculated way, of course). Crowds pack in shoulder-to-shoulder Friday and Saturday nights--the perfect excuse to trip over a smoldering woman or fall ("oops") into the arms of a large-chested man. Other attractions: full bar, grill menu, electronic darts and billiards. Open 5­10:30pm Monday­Wednesday; 5­11:30pm Thursday and Sunday; and 5pm­12:30am Friday­Saturday.

Los Gatos Lodge
50 Los Gatos­Saratoga Road, Los Gatos (408/354-3300)
Red mood lights, live cover bands and vinyl chairs are key features of this swinging motel lounge. Unlike its hipper cousins dominating the retro bar scene, the Los Gatos Lodge doesn't traffic in faux nostalgia: the fake crystal candleholders, padded bar and fake rock decor are all authentic kitsch. In true lounge fashion, the drinks are strong and the prices reasonable. Weekends are packed with guests and conference/reunion attendees. A mid-'80s upgrade to a big-screen projection TV provides customers with weekday sports. Live oldies on Fridays and Saturdays. No cover. Open 11am­2am.

Lou's Village
1465 W. San Carlos St., San Jose (408/293-4570)
In the '40s, Lou's Village was an elegant spot that demanded nothing less than a dinner jacket. Despite the scads of sports memorabilia now decking the walls, the bar retains a sense of respectability. Our microbrew-sipping crew glimpsed the mostly 50-and-up clientele flirting over Manhattans. Nonplussed, we turned our attention to the big-screen TV and applied ourselves to the happy-hour grinds and wondered whose surfboards are hanging from the ceiling. (They're the owner's.) Yea to cigarettes; nay to cigars.

MacArthur Park
27 University Ave., Palo Alto (415/321-9990)
Casual comfort is the hallmark of MacArthur Park. The restaurant and bar are housed in a landmark building designed by California architect Julia Morgan during WWI, when it was used as a YWCA "hostess house" for servicemen and their wives. The influence of the California Arts and Crafts style is evident in the building's spare but welcoming interior. The bar is flanked by half a dozen seating groups. Piano music provides a low-key backdrop daily from 6pm until closing. The bar selections aim to please everyone, with microbrews on tap, wines by the glass and all manner of premium liquors up to a Remy Martin Louis XIII cognac at $98 a glass. Weekday happy hour, 5­7pm, features a variety of complimentary hors d'oeuvres. Open till 10 or 11pm.

Mac's American Grill
325 Main St., Los Altos (415/941-0234)
"Oh, you mean Mac's Tea Room?" is the standard response when most people hear about Mac's American Grill in Los Altos, testament to its 50 years along the town's main drag as a diner/restaurant/ speakeasy and local hangout. The story goes that the "tea room" identity was an inside joke among the volunteer fire department of the late 1940s, who liked to slip over to Mac's after their exercises, but only with their wives' permission. Today, the 40s-era decor lives on, with a beautifully restored white oak bar and Jägermeister on tap. Wednesday is C&W night; jazz is heard on Thursdays. Open for lunch and dinner till around 9pm.

Original Joe's
301 S. First St., San Jose (408/292-7030)
Like the long tracking scene of the Copa in GoodFellas, Original Joe's radiates that wise-guy feel. It's a good place to get the ceremonial 21st-birthday drink with dad. Cocktails strong enough to part your hair are served in the dimly lighted lounge attached to the meat-first restaurant. The bartenders all know the score: who's pitching, his ERA and if the roast beef is tasty tonight. Open 11am­1:30am.

Outback Steakhouse
20630 Valley Green Dr., Cupertino (408/255-4400)
Silicon Dundees make tracks to the Outback after a long day bushwhacking the keyboards. Icy Fosters beers are the standard refreshers at the wrap-around bar that has two tiny TVs with bad reception. During happy hour, the booths and bar stools fill up fairly fast. Men are in the majority here, perhaps because this place hires very attractive, friendly and professional bartenders and waitstaff. And the food isn't bad either. Open only during the evening, Outback serves some pretty mean Aussie steaks in addition to liquid bread. Open weekends till 11pm, weekdays till 10pm. Second location: 1887 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell (408/371-5384).

Paolo's
333 W. San Carlos St., San Jose (408/294-2558)
The saloon at this upscale eatery seems almost an afterthought. The decor, shall we say, is modernistically sparse. But cast your eyes up to those sparkling top shelves. There awaits a staggering selection of very special old cognacs, the peatiest single-malt scotches and the mellowest vintage ports. Premium cigars are available as well, although rope-burning is allowed only on the terrace, where the high quality of Paolo's soundproofing becomes apparent--it is only when outdoors that one realizes that the bar lies in the approach path to San Jose International Airport.

Pedro's Cabo Grill
316 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-7570)
Normally a fern bar and holding pen for dinner guests of Pedro's restaurant, the cantina holds up well as a destination in its own right. Pedro's grinds up ice, sweet and sour, triple sec and tequila something fierce, then dumps the mix into a wide, salt-rimmed glass. With a sidecar of warm tortilla chips and fresh salsa, Pedro's makes for more than just another air-conditioned pit stop along bustling North Santa Cruz Avenue. The bar is open until 11pm on weekends.

The Peppermill
10690 N. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino (408/996-7750)
The bar at the Peppermill is what every kid growing up in the '70s thought being an adult was all about. Blue and red neon tubes run around mirrored walls, and the ceiling is festooned with silk cherry blossoms. The pièce de résistance is a gas-powered fireplace-cum-bubbling fountain in a sunken circle nestled in the center of the bar. Couples snuggle around this unnatural mix of the elements, sipping from mixed-drink fishbowls and, on weeknights, noshing on free appetizers. The regulars, meanwhile, warm their barstools on the other side of the room, drinking domestic beer and seemingly unmoved by the whole spectacle. Opens at 7am daily.

Riffs
1811 Barber Lane, Milpitas (408/943-1414)
Riffs is one of the most hopping hotel bar and nightclubs on this end of the valley, hosting events practically every day of the week. Mondays are guys' night out; Tuesday, college night; Wednesday, ladies' night; Thursday, cigar night; Friday, bikini show; Saturday, R&B night; Sunday, sports. It's usually slow during the day with mostly suits putting deals together and the bulk of the business going over to Tivoli, the adjoining Italian restaurant.

Santa Barbara Grill
10745 N. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino (408/253-2233)
VUB (Very Urban Bistro) is the atmosphere at the new Santa Barbara Grill, an adult playground occupying the space of the old Sports City Cafe. An island saloon forms the central entertainment spa, encircled with tasteful dining rooms. Computer executives off-duty, couples meeting before dinner, the confident and the tanned--all flock to what amounts to a glamorous freeway roadhouse for the '90s. TVs embedded in dark wood cabinetry help the rotisserie leaguers keep up with their stats, but mostly the scene is about looking good and unwinding with plenty of conversation.

Spiedo
151 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose (408/971-6096)
Spiedo epitomizes a type of restaurant bar that has at long last returned to fashion: classy but not arrogant, airy but not lightweight. The room's casually elegant wood and glass belie its former life as a Sizzler restaurant. The usual well-drinks and bottled beers are available, but in-the-know imbibers spend their time over a glass of Laphroig single-malt or a tulip of vintage port. Open till about 11pm every night but Sunday till 10pm.

Stars Palo Alto
265 Lytton Ave., Palo Alto (415/321-4466)
One of the few bars where women far outnumber men during happy hour, this civilized establishment provides a relaxed environment for three-martini dealmaking or social intercourse. It would be hard to name a premium brand not on the bar list. Drink specialties include the Startini (Boodle's gin and Herradura Anejo), Stargarita (Cuervo Gold tequila, Cointreau, lime juice and Campari) and the Starlite (Absolut Citron vodka with pink lemonade over crushed ice). The bar menu includes a selection of the restaurant's sumptuous offerings. Open 11:30am­midnight.

Steamers
50 University Ave., Los Gatos (408/395-2722)
When Steamer's moved from North Santa Cruz Avenue to a freestanding building on the street side of Old Town more than a decade ago, it captured the 1980s in all its excess. Its rich wood and enclosed, tree-shaded patio are quintessentially Californian, in keeping with the salt-air theme. The bar is cozy and adeptly staffed to cater to a prosperous West Valley crowd. Oysters complement the libations nicely.

Stratta Grill and Cafe
71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose (408/293-1121)
The savvy Stratta entrepreneurs have reinvented the next-door slot in this 100-year-old landmark building, retaining the hardwood floors and exposing the old brick wall, but adding a diagonal bar, overflow dining areas and a growing wine list. Almost everything on the list is by the glass. Once the new San Jose Repertory Theater building is completed, look for a post-play stampede to this romantically hip after-hours fort. Right now the action centers around après-movie wine tasting, dessert and coffee. Soon personal wine lockers will let regulars stash their favorite vintages for easy access.

Teske's Germania
255 N. First St., San Jose (408/292-0291)
Teske's, part Old World beer hall, part good old American neighborhood tavern, is a suds-quaffer's delight. Patrons include suits from the nearby courthouses, expatriate Germans and lovers of honest food and drink. The provender is deceptively simple, but beer is the great joy here. As they used to say in the nearby Manny's Cellar, "Yes, we have no Budweiser." You won't find one soda-pop beer on the premises. Teske's draft selection isn't huge (they stock plenty of lovely bottled beers and German liqueurs, however), but the suds on tap are luscious and creamy. Happy-hour specials include discounted half-liters of selected brews. Don't forget to visit the summertime Biergarten, where there is music and dancing. Opens at 11am; closes at 12:30 or 1am.

TGIFridays
10343 N. Wolfe Rd., Cupertino (408/257-9600)
High-tech employees download into this Cupertino watering hole as if it were Fry's. The ample selection of drinks rivals the inventory at the computer-nerd emporium; bartenders practically need MBAs to work here. Backed by the corporation that trained Tom Cruise for his role in Cocktail, TGIFridays mounts a happy hour that is, predictably, very happy, with dollar-off drinks, 2­7pm and 10pm­midnight.

Three Flames
1547 Meridian Ave., San Jose (408/269-3133)
Well known to natives of the tight-knit Willow Glen community, the lounge at the Three Flames restaurant serves as a place for longtime locals to unwind with friends and a drink. The management and owners (who also own the Flames coffee shops) encourage the neighbor-like atmosphere: "We're on a first-name basis with 70 percent of our customers, especially in the bar," night manager Thomas Moreno explains. A dance floor is nestled in the corner, along with a stage, where a "soft rock" band plays daily except Sundays and Mondays.

Tony Roma's
4233 Moorpark Ave., San Jose (408/253-4900)
A Rolls-Royce, a pickup truck, minivans and speedsters--the variety in the parking lot heralds the diversity inside the lounge. Different ages and backgrounds mingle in a rustic (if big-screen TVs can be rustic) atmosphere. Tony Roma's features a full bar and doesn't measure its shots. Three-piece combos play Thursdays through Saturdays. No smoking. Open 11am­midnight; Thursday­Saturday till 2am. Happy hour, 3­6pm, with complimentary buffet.

Towne Oak Supper Club
407 Town and Country Village, Sunnyvale (408/732-5500)
By day, a quiet ivy and brick lunch restaurant with a glassed-in atrium, and a quiet clientele on the other side of 40 munching on the Towne Oak Steak Bomb and the Towne Sizzler. There's a quiet, upscale bar, flanked by portraits of Marilyn Monroe and Mae West, serving Gordon Biersch Märzen, Talisker single-malt and cocktails. On Saturday nights, the Towne Oak comes to life with live salsa, cumbia and merengue with such bands as Orquestra Borinquen and Orquestra Cadencia; free appetizers and CD giveaways are offered to lure in dance fans. Open daily, 11:30am-2am.

Vahl's Restaurant
Living History: Located at the very end of the bay, Vahl's Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge has been serving diners and drinkers since 1941.

Vahl's
1513 El Dorado (near Taylor), San Jose (408/262-0731)
Tagged onto the end of a quiet street in Alviso, homey Vahl's is a swellegant reminder of how our forebears used to live it up. The cocktail lounge and dining room are distinctly Midwestern: a little kooky, in the best sense of the word, but accommodating. It's the kind of place where the hostess will mention that she's been there for 56 years, and it's understood that that's a good thing. Allow plenty of time for dinner as it takes a while to get through the multiple courses. Make a go of it, though, or the motherly waitress might grouse that you didn't clean your plate before she brings dessert. Open 8am­9pm.

Valeriano's
160 W. Main St., Los Gatos (408/354-8108).
One of the loveliest dining spaces in Los Gatos, this Italian restaurant located in a converted bank exudes Mediterranean elegance: plenty of handsome marble and wood furnishings. The u-shaped bar tables provide a comfortable perch for well-dressed martini drinkers in their 30s, 40s and 50s, and the wine list ranges through a diverse selection of Italian and California varietals. No smoking. Open Monday­Thursday, 5­10pm; Friday­Saturday, 5­11pm; and Sunday, 5­9pm.

Villa Felice
15350 Winchester Blvd., Los Gatos (408/395-6711)
Older ballroom-dancing crowd enjoys the full bar and the fantastic view of Lake Vasona at this Italian family restaurant with a cocktail lounge and bar seating. Live music can be heard Fridays and Saturdays. Espresso and nonalcoholic drinks are available. Open daily, 11:30am­2pm (lunch); last call 11pm.

Willow Street Pizza
20 S. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-5566)
The bustling bistro became the pro-Brazil base camp during the '94 World Cup, but the lines of sweaty drummers and half-naked revelers have been replaced by Los Gatos families waiting to be fed. The bar area, located inside the restaurant, is stocked with a long row of Details readers from nearby West Valley College. Appetizers are served in the bar along with Willow's own microbrews. If the waiting list is long, take a seat at the bar and admire the cool artwork lining the walls. Open until 10pm on weekdays, 11pm on weekends.

Wine Cellar
50 University Ave., Los Gatos (408/354-4808)
For years, couples who wanted to fall truly, hopelessly, stupidly in love went to the Wine Cellar and looked deep into one another's eyes. It's worked since the bar opened in 1965. Arranged in the basement of Old Town shopping center, the brick cellar unfolds as a series of small, cozy spaces, perfect for intimate conversations. Countless couples have gone doe-eyed here, feeding one another chocolate fondue or sipping samples from the voluminous wine list. No liquor (the atmosphere is potent enough), but vintage ports and microbrews are available. Open 3­10pm, Monday­Thursday; 3­11pm, Friday­Sunday.

The Wine Galleria
377 S. First St., San Jose (408/298-1386)
No smoking, no dancing, no jukebox, no blaring TV--just 10 to 12 Santa Clara Valley varietals poured in a placid, aesthetically pleasing setting. The choices vary daily, but usually include five whites and five reds; the indecisive can taste three for around $6 or $7. Also, a wide variety of wines are sold by the bottle. Open 11am­midnight.

Zorba's
1350 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose (408/293-7170)
Zorba's specializes in parties Mediterranean style--big parties. Within the rambling edifice, which resembles a Greek temple on the outside and an oversized rabbit warren on the inside, and which has been run by the same family these 30 years and more, there are three rooms that each hold more than 120 revelers. The main room can handle even more. Wedding reception? bar mitzvah? come on down! There's belly dancing five nights a week, and the band is truly international, with singers fluent in languages ranging from Greek to Arabic to Russian. Open 11am to midnight or 2am.

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From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of Metro.

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