Antonio's Nut House
321 California Ave, Palo Alto 650.321.2550
Hours: Daily 9:30am-2am
Crowd Age: 21-35
Décor: Faded crepe paper decorations and peanut shells on the floor
Signature Drink: Purple Hooter
Games/Amenities: Pool tables, big-screen TVs, video games, darts, pinball, lottery ticket dispenser
Ambience: In a town that has suddenly adopted a nightly dress-up-to-go-out code, the discarded peanut shells on the floor of Antonio's are a fabulous equalizer. No one gives a doo-doo about where anyone works, got laid off or how much that Kate Spade purse cost at Neiman's. Here, it's chill mode. How pretentious can a place be with a caged mechanical gorilla (Watch the moving arm before grabbing the peanuts!), ceiling tiles decorated by patrons (there's one with an Afro'd woman holding a large peanut in front of her breasts), or a clothesline above the bar with soiled XXXL underwear emblazoned with "stinky but deadly"?
Blue Chalk Café
630 Ramona St, Palo Alto 650.326.1020
Hours: Mo-Fri 11:30am-1am, Sat 5pm-10pm
Crowd Age: 20s-30s
Décor: Artsy coffeehouse style
Signature Drink: Whatever's "in" that night
Games/Amenities: Pool tables, shuffleboard, darts
Ambience: This is a place to go hang out for grad/law/med students who like crowds but not dressing up. The large space gives patrons the opportunity to sit at a table without being bumped by drunks every two seconds, but also allows the mobile crowd to walk around. There are places to sit almost everywhere, so sitting or standing really becomes a matter of choice. The billiard room presents a good opportunity for students to prove they can make it in more than just academia.
La Bodeguita del Medio
463 California Ave, Palo Alto 650.326.7762
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-11pm
Crowd Age: 30ish
Music: Only the Latin backdrop
Décor: Casual but clean California-Havana fusion
Signature Drink: Mojito
Games/Amenities: Cigar room
Ambience: In tropical Havana, La Bodeguita del Medio symbolizes three things: Ernest Hemingway (who frequented the bar for two decades), cigars and sugary mojito cocktails. While less exotic, its California sister also boasts three features: a casual atmosphere, an extensive list of alcohol and a cozy cigar humidor, where patrons can savor fat, hand-rolled cigars despite California's ban on indoor smoking. While the restaurant sees more action during the lunchtime peak, the bar picks up around 9pm. The atmosphere here is friendly and the small bar is a great escape from Palo Alto's larger, student-drawn watering holes.
The British Bankers Club
1090 El Camino Real, Menlo Park 650.327.8769
Hours: Daily 11am-2am
Crowd Age: 35-60
Music: Live music
Décor: Upscale antique shop
Signature Drink: Capt. Morgan and Coke
Games/Amenities: Cigar Room
Ambience: The BBC is like a sanitized Disneyland version of an English pub. It's got so much antique furniture, burnished wood and authentic British bric-a-brac that Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson would look right at home on the dance floor, where local yuppies try to get down and, with equally poor results, get laid.
1010 El Camino Real, Menlo Park 650.327.0830
Hours: Mon-Thu 8am-11pm, Fri-Sat 8am-12am, Sun 7am-5pm
Crowd Age: Varies
Music: Live music by Dixieland jazz band or a Latin duet, which performs occasionally
Décor: Hardwood floors and local art
Signature Drink: Frosted mocha
Ambience: Now that the days are getting warmer, Cafe Borrone is perfect for enjoying the sun with the cafe's famous Frosted Mocha. There's plenty of outdoor seating and a grand selection of mouth-watering cakes and pastries. Every Friday night, from 8 to 11pm, The Clint Baker New Orleans Jazz Band does Dixieland jazz.
544 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.326.6082
Hours: Lunch Tue-Fri 11:30am-2pm; Dinner Mon-Sat 5:30pm-11:30pm, closed Sun
Crowd Age: Mixed
Music: Live music six days a week
Décor: White tablecloth and Art Deco
Signature Drink: Martinis
Ambience: Owner Fred Maddalena couldn't have said it better: Cafe Fino is "a blast from the past with class." With its classic movie posters--on loan from cafe regular and Stanford Theater operator David Packard--nightly jazz offerings and single malt scotches, Cafe Fino is intimate and smoky, in a Bergman-Bogart kind of way. Monday evening it's jazz pianist Neil Adler; Tuesday and Wednesday a jazz trio deluxe plays alongside singer Margie Baker, who belts out Ella Fitzgerald hits, and from Thursday to Saturday singer Nancy Gilliland plays Cole Porter and George Gershwin standards. Maddalena is a star himself, greeting patrons with his trademark ease and cool, culled from his days at Club Indigo, the Toronto club he once ran with Bugsy Siegel's nephew Al. There's a parade of stars on the wall from the club's heyday, including Mel Torme, former Indigo emcee Bob Newhart and one-time regular Sarah Vaughn--before everyone went Vegas.
518 Bryant St, Palo Alto 650.327.8954
Hours: Mon-Wed 7am-11pm, Thu 7am-midnight, Fri-Sat 7am-1am
Crowd Age: 25-60
Music: Live music Thu, Fri, Sat
Décor: Continental street cafe
Signature Drink: Cosmopolitan
Dancing: If there's room
Ambience: The cafe has casual elegance that makes for great conversations (read: dates). The crowd, though older for the most part, is mellow. Add some funky jazz to the mix, and Circadia comes up as an excellent choice if folks are not in the mood for wild partying, and prefer to discuss Proust over a fine wine or cocktail. The new chef plans to keep the kitchen open later, while serving fine cuisine with a California twist.
3567 Alameda De Las Pulgas, Menlo Park 650.854.3245
Hours: Sun-Tue 11am-midnight, Wed-Sat 11am-2am
Crowd Age: 21-40
Signature Drink: Beer
Ambience: The Dutch Goose isn't what you'd call a trendy bar. It probably looks a lot like it did 20 or 30 years ago. Stanford kids can feel like they're slumming here, and alumni can bask in the glory of their younger days while the jukebox blares away. Locals, including some guy named Joe Montana, have been known to show up and play a little pool.
Empire Grill and Tap Room
651 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.321.3030
Hours: Mon-Fri 11:30am-10:30pm, Sat 11am-10:30pm, Sun 11-9:30pm
Crowd Age: 25+
Music: Jazz CDs
Décor: Traditional New York elegance
Signature Drink: Martinis and Manhattans
Games/Amenities: Garden patio
Ambience: The Empire Grill and Tap Room would be a classy big-city bar if it were not located in the heart of Palo Alto. The tap room houses a 45-foot-long mahogany bar, making it feel like the sort of place to blow into after a weekday on Wall Street or Fifth Avenue. The room has back east charm with a touch of warm, casual elegance. While the long bar is a good place to nurse a drink in solitude, it is the garden patio that ties together the best of both coasts. Heat lamps, twinkling Christmas lights and a wealth of foliage make for better mingling on chilly spring evenings or warm summer nights. The menu of hearty California cuisine--a mix of American, French and Italian dishes with regional influences, and a weekend a la carte brunch--is further proof that the Empire Grill and Tap Room is a suitable spot in all moods and situations.
Fanny and Alexander's
412 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.326.7183
Hours: Tues-Sat 4pm-last call, closed Sun-Mon
Crowd Age: 25-35
Music: Live cover bands Thu-Sat 10pm-1:10am
Signature Drink: Cosmopolitans
Games/Amenities: big-screen TVs
Ambience: Fanny and Alexander's--F&A's, for short--is a sausage party. We're talking men, ladies. Everywhere. Shake your fanny near the stage while the band covers Third Eye Blind or Everclear, or sit your fanny outside in the patio area and wait for the swarm of hunky techies and Stanford grads. Watch what you drink, though--there's a thin line between geek and chic.
640 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.323.7723
Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-10:30pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-midnight
Crowd Age: 20s to 30s
Music: No live music
Décor: Large brewpub
Signature Drink: The seasonal beer (presently the Maibock)
Games/Amenities: Lots of TVs for patrons' viewing pleasures
Ambience: The original Bay Area microbrew, Gordon Biersch knows what its customers want: good beer and plenty of it. They also keep a fully stocked bar for visitors who might not be in the mood for a yeasty beverage. The large space doesn't put on any pretense, perfect for the merry consumption of well-crafted beer served by a friendly staff.
Il Fornaio Cafe
Garden City Hotel 520 Cowper St, Palo Alto 650.853.3888
Hours: Mon-Thu 7am-11pm, Fri 7am-midnight, Sat 8am-midnight, Sun 8am-11pm
Crowd Age: 27-60
Décor: Modern, contemporary
Signature Drink: Bellini (Prosecco and peach juice in a champagne flute)
Ambience: This is a solid choice, be it a first date, business dinner or time to catch up with an old friend. Il Fornaio offers a moderate option to "fine" dining made better with their sampler of homemade ciabatta or focaccia breads. The atmosphere is light and inviting, having the feel of a luxury hotel lobby complete with large mirrors and oversized plants. The dining area is small enough to beg that reservations be made, but there are a few cafe tables outside and a small, classy bar to start with the first glass of wine.
4141 El Camino Real, Palo Alto 650.493.9020
Hours: Daily 7pm-2am
Crowd Age: 30 and way up
Music: Jukebox, occasional live bluegrass, blues or oldies
Signature Drink: Budweiser
Ambience: This is the bar that will make first-timers think that they are no longer in California, but in the Midwest. There are "no smoking" signs throughout, but they can be hard to read through the blue haze. Faux wood paneling gives the Island a distinctly '70s rec-room feel (minus the bumper pool). The bar itself cuts a wide arc along the wall, and cushy padding for the elbows makes this the perfect place for hunched-over barflies who cannot support the weight of their own torsos. Those with an appetite can order $1 corn dogs or $1.50 hot pockets.
Left at Albuquerque
445 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.326.1011
Hours: Sun-Thu 11:30am-10pm, Fri-Sat 11:30am-2am
Crowd Age: 25-35
Music: Mix of alternative, pop and blues; no live music
Signature Drink: Margaritas
Ambience: This Tex-Mex restaurant an bar is a weekend hot spot for today's younger generation of well-dressed yuppies-with-toys, as well as a great excuse to grab co-workers by the elbow and let loose over lunch or after work. The atmosphere is nothing short of festive and the zesty plates and large margaritas keep the conversation humming. With an open ceiling supported by large wooden beams, it's got a town-hall feel for mingling, and the buzz of conversation and laughter spills out the door, promising a ready-made party upon entrance.
635 Santa Cruz Ave, Menlo Park 650.473.6543
Hours: Daily lunch 11:30am-5pm; dinner Sun-Mon 5pm-10pm, Tues-Sat 5pm-11pm
Crowd Age: 21-50
Décor: French cafe
Signature Drink: Rive Gauche Cosmopolitan or the Louis Malle, a combination of vodka, Alizet and French lemonade
Games/Amenities: Outdoor seating, seating in bar area, private dining upstairs
Ambience: Get a taste of Paris dining by stringing along a significant other to this French hot spot. Younger and older business crowds make up a large part of the crowd in this casually elegant setting of white tablecloths and vintage posters. From June 21 to 24, Left Bank presents "A Day in Burgundy," specializing in meals from the Burgundy region of France.
Los Altos Bar & Grill
169 Main St, Los Altos 650.948.4332
Hours: Tue-Sat until 2am (serving lunch and dinner); Sun-Mon 10am-9pm
Crowd Age: 28-58
Music: Live on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
Signature Drink: Wine
Games/Amenities: Big banquet room upstairs
Ambience: Word from the guitarist of Mumblefinger is that the Los Altos Bar & Grill is "a good, hot, sweaty place to hear some blues." He should know--he plays there every Thursday night. It would take a big crowd to fill LAB&G--guests can sit outside on Los Altos' pleasant, if stale, Main Street or at the booths inside, and there is plenty of space for boozing and dancing. The high ceilings and low light make it a perfect atmosphere for late-night hookups with Chardonnay-soaked people pushing 40. Hops fans beware: There's no draft beer to be found here.
Mackie's Supper Club
541 Ramona St, Palo Alto 650.326.1446
Hours: Sun-Mon 5pm-10pm, Tue-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-12am
Crowd Age: Mid-20s and up
Music: Top 40 and '80s CD mix
Décor: Cosmic lounge
Signature Drink: Lemon Drops
Games/Amenities: Outside patio opens this month, TVs
Ambience: The leopard-print tablecloths, stools and lamps are all signs that having a funkin' good time is on the horizon. The club gets busy Thursday to Saturday, so it's best to make reservations. Otherwise, walk-in patrons can enjoy a seat at the bar and order a martini with a side appetizer of oysters, filet mignon skewers or steak bites.
140 University Ave, Palo Alto 650.323.9449
Hours: Daily 11:30am-10pm
Crowd Age: 21-35
Music: Japanese house music
Décor: Sushi bar, flashing lights and smoke machine
Signature Drink: Sake Bomb
Dancing: On chairs
Games/Amenities: Waiters who do sake bombs with the customers
Ambience: In a word, Miyake is madness. On weekend nights, Stanford and Santa Clara University students and a few brave locals pack the place for its sake bombs and sushi--some named after Silicon Valley heavyweights Apple, IBM and Chelsea Clinton. To partake in getting bombed, order a round of sake and Sapporo beer for the table. Get the waiter's attention, ask him to count you off in Japanese and to turn down the lights. Stand on a chair and let the waiter shout, "Ichi, ni, san, sake bomb!" Then, drop the shot of sake into the glass of Sapporo and chug. Hard. For the birthday boy or girl, order the dreaded Tower of Death, which involves multiple shots of sake. One tip for the kamikaze crew: Arrive early with the entire party present. Miyake does not take reservations.
241 El Camino Real, Menlo Park 650.326.8896
Hours: Daily 11am-2am
Crowd Age: 5-75
Décor: Low-key pizza joint
Signature Drink: Beer
Games/Amenities: Video games
Ambience: At a time when most bars cater to a very specific crowd--boomers, hipsters or venture capitalists--it's nice to find a place with a varied clientele. The Oasis is usually home to a passel of kids intent on pizza and video games. They mix well with softball teams celebrating after a game, sports fans catching the action on TV and students looking to carve their initials into the aging wood tables.
The Old Pro
2865 El Camino Real, Palo Alto 650.325.2070
Hours: Mon-Fri 11am-11:30pm, Sat-Sun 9am-11:30pm
Crowd Age: 21-40
Signature Drink: Pitcher of beer
Games/Amenities: Wide-screen TV
Ambience: It takes more than a few TVs to make a sports bar. It's the little touches that count. Case in point: The Old Pro steps up to the plate by painting football schedules on the outside of the establishment, which happens to be an old metal Quonset hut with the utilitarian feel of an army barracks. A place that lets drivers on El Camino know who Notre Dame plays next week has its priorities straight.
Printer's Inc. Cafe
320 California Ave, Palo Alto 650.323.3347
Hours: Mon-Fri 7am-10:30pm; Sat-Sun 8am-10:30pm
Crowd Age: 18-30
Décor: Airy interior, outside patio
Ambience: Printer's reigns supreme for its tasty delectables, namely its entrees, such as chicken enchilada, sandwiches, salads, soups and pastries. There are plenty of bright lights overhead for diving headfirst into Tolstoy or scribbling working titles for the next Great American Novel.
Q Café and Billiards
529 Alma Street, Palo Alto 650.322.3311
Hours: Daily 11am-2am
Crowd Age: 21-35
Music: DJ beats
Décor: Old brick warehouse
Signature Drink: Sex with the Bartender
Dancing: Oui, oui
Games/Amenities: Several pool tables and TVs
Ambience: Walking into PA's hottest party spot is like stepping into a steam room. The mass of writhing bodies on the dance floor generates enough heat to turn the whole cavernous warehouse into a sauna. No one seems to notice, and everyone keeps on dancing. The Q offers people two options: go and shake it on the dance floor, or chill and shoot some stick in the pool section. Either way, people dress to be noticed.
Rose and Crown
547 Emerson St, Palo Alto 650.327.7673