San Jose 'Burbs
393 Lincoln Ave, San Jose, 408.292.3445
Hours: Mon-Sat 10am-1am
Crowd Age: Mid-20s to late 30s
Décor: It's a strip club
Dancing: Not by the patrons
Games/Amenities: Video games, full bar, half-naked women
Ambience: Of all the bikini bars in the South Bay, AJ's consistently offers the hottest dancers. For $5, a bloke can sit on center stage (with hands behind the back) and get a closer look at his favorite girl for a couple of minutes. The bar is pricey (a bottle of Bud hovers near $5), but then, so is everything else in Silicon Valley.
Alberto's Mexican Food
956 Park Ave, San Jose 408.288.5928
Hours: Sun-Thu 10am-10pm, Fri-Sat 10am-10:30pm
Crowd Age: 30s-50s
Music: Jukebox--Country & Western and Spanish; Mexican Trio on Friday evenings
Décor: South of the Border, down to the tablecloths and signs in Spanish (and English for gringos)
Signature Drink: Margarita
Games/Amenities: Lotto game machines. Happy Hour Mon-Thu 2pm-4pm, free appetizers Tue-Wed 4pm-6pm
Ambience: Mexican neighborhood cantina/restaurant with a classy wooden bar, located down at the dusty end of Park Avenue. Full service (except for no draft beer) with killer margaritas. The restaurant offers traditional Mexican food that is irresistible. On the bar, a decorative Plexiglas tube of water, electrified to produce bubbles, and shot with colored lights, has been filled with plastic fish that appear to swim. It is very hypnotic, especially after the second margarita. The crowd is mixed and the mood neighborly.
Alex's 49er Inn
2214 Business Circle, San Jose 408.279.9737
Crowd Age: Older, mixed crowd
Signature Drink: Two-ounce shots
Ambience: Not for the suit-and-tie kind of guy, Alex's 49er Inn seems to attract the diamonds in the rough. No matter, this place is quite famous for at least one thing--the potent shots that could lead one's butt from the bar stool to the floor. This joint serves up whopping 2-ounce shots to its patrons. Do not enter without a high tolerance.
Almaden Feed & Fuel
18950 Almaden Rd, San Jose 408.268.8950
Hours: Sun-Wed 11am-midnight, Thu-Sat 11am-2am
Crowd Age: Over 30
Music: Bands on weekends, and whoever shows up on weeknights
Décor: Dark wood, bar kitsch
Signature Drink: "Most people here order beer"
Ambience: This may be the closest thing to the mullet capital of the valley. On a recent weekend afternoon, six of the famed sho-lo hairstyles were spotted in a one-hour period. And indeed, all hairstyles are welcome at what feels like the last stop for a break, out at the valley's end of the earth. Almaden Feed & Fuel sits right on Almaden Expressway, past the strip malls and the dense neighborhoods, at the turnoff to New Almaden. Pay no attention to the motorcycles in the parking lot. This is not just a biker bar. In fact, all kinds of people stop in here on their way home to the far reaches of the valley or after a day of hiking around the trails of New Almaden.
American Pizza & Sports Bar
1070 Leigh Ave, San Jose 408.292.1662
Hours: Sun-Thu 10am-10pm, Fri-Sat 10am-1:30am
Crowd Age: 25-35+ in bar, rug rats and older in game area
Music: Jukebox--varied selection
Décor: Sports, with heavy accent on Red & Gold and Silver & Black
Signature Drink: No (but think beer)
Games/Amenities: Large game room with two pool tables (tournaments on Friday), video games, big-screen TV, Lotto "scratcher" at the bar and abundant TVs
Ambience: Sandwiched between Bob & Louie's Cutting Club Hair Styling and a liquor store, this joint is brimming with sporting regalia and odd knick-knacks--whether it be Niners or Raiders flotsam, photos of Hollywood stars (Tippi Hedren) or collectable key chains--including one of Gumby. But make no mistake--this is a Raiders bar. There are nine flavors of draft beer and pizza to munch on as you watch the latest gutting of the Niners. There is no shortage of autographed photos of gridiron heroes--even some Niners for the whiners. Feels very much like a lunch counter converted to sports bar, with poolroom in the back. Children's crayon renderings hung in the game room indicate a good-hearted joint.
Angeleno's Arena Cafe
11 Race St, San Jose, 408.295.7765
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-2am, Fri-Sat 11am-midnight
Crowd Age: 21-81
Music: Live music
Décor: Knowledgeable sports bar
Games/Amenities: Pool table
Ambience: SCENE: Inside Angeleno's dimly lit sports bar at the corner of Race and Alameda. A framed picture of a young Mike Tyson hangs next to the cash register.
Bartender: "Hey, Johnny, what year did the Giants come to Califor--"
Johnny, glass of red wine in hand: "1958."
Bartender: "You sure? It wasn't 1959?"
Johnny: "Please. It was '58."
Bartender: "OK, OK--'58. Just like I thought."
Bay 101, The Dolphin Lounge
1801 Bering Dr, San Jose 408.451.8888
Hours: Thu-Sun 8pm-12am
Crowd Age: 25 and up--way up
Music: Live, superlative lounge/ballroom dance music covering the gamut from waltz to country to golden oldies
Décor: Faux colonial, with a hint of noir and a nonrotating disco ball thrown in for good measure
Dancing: Oh yes. Fri-Sun, slow dance, waltz, samba, tango, other (the Fred Astaire dance club shows up from time to time to glide across the parquet)
Games/Amenities: No time for games here, we got real music and dancing going on
Ambience: On the surface only a ballroom dance floor surrounded by tables, but when the lights are turned down low on Friday night, and Black Pearl croons "Key Largo," the experience becomes far greater than the sum of the tables and disco ball. Also known as The Dolphin Café, The Dolphin Lounge is located inside Bay 101 Casino and shares a wall with Sutter's Sports Bar--a sliding wall that sometimes opens to create one really big room. The entrance is a doozy, past spouting-dolphin water fountains and into a foyer that suggests a Las Vegas den of iniquity--gamblers to the left; gamblers to the right. But go straight ahead--into the Dolphin Lounge. There you will be safe.
Bay 101, Sutter's Sports Bar
1801 Bering Dr, San Jose 408.451.8888
Hours: Daily 6am-2am
Crowd Age: 21 and up
Music: None, though music drifts in, ethereally, from the Dolphin Lounge
Décor: Chic streamlined sports (only notable jerseys need apply)
Dancing: None, but the Bay 101 Dolphin Lounge is next door--samba on over
Games/Amenities: Big-screen TV and well-placed small ones. During football season, seven games are displayed simultaneously.
Ambience: Sutter's Sports Bar is located within the Casino confines, smack dab between two palatial card rooms filled with colorful tables and eager players. (There are 137 cameras tied to VCRs focused on the parking lot and casino interior. This is probably the safest place in San Jose.) Sutter's displays very high-end sports paraphernalia under glass--a basketball signed by Rick Barry, a lithograph of Joe Montana, a Steve Young jersey, and a placard signed by the SF Giants. San Jose Sharks material is being readied to go up soon. Unbeatable Happy Hour specials change daily--for food and beer. This is a user-friendly, professionally manned (and womaned) sports bar located in the eye of the storm. Free parking and plenty of it.
1800 Barber Lane, Milpitas 408.432.6311
Hours: Mon-Sat 11:30 am-midnight, Sun 11:30 am-10pm
Crowd Age: Late 30s and up
Décor: Sports and elegance, combined
Games/Amenities: TVs, pool table
Ambience: Loosen up that necktie and unbutton that collar when entering the door into this post-work zone. Talk about work or, instead, talk about which beer will fill that soon-to-be empty glass next. Anxiety-filled workdays come to an end after a few gulps of cold beer or glass of wine. If happy hour is just not enough of a distraction, pool tables and plenty of TVs for sports fans can also help take the edge off.
1116 Branham Lane, San Jose 408.265.5525
Hours: Daily 9am-1am
Crowd Age: At the bar: 35 and up. The rest: 35 and under.
Décor: Red room lounge with warm fire-pit.
Ambience: There was a time when the Branham Lounge was a cozy cave for the neighborhood old-timers who dropped by, sipped a few drops of dark bourbon and moseyed on down the road. No one knows exactly when the youngsters started showing up, but someone said something about the movie Swingers, the New Economy and the lack of good bars south of downtown. Pretty soon, the hipsters filled in the lounge and nicknamed the place the "B.L." Now, the old-timers still saddle up to the bar, but they let the whippersnappers party at their backs--and it's still a cozy cave.
3197 Meridian Ave, San Jose 408.269.7891
Hours: Daily 11am-2am (restaurant open 24 hours)
Crowd Age: 35+
Music: Live pop, rock and disco music and karaoke
Games/Amenities: Jukebox, cable TV
Ambience: A real change of pace, this established restaurant and lounge hearkens back to another era with its '50s noir décor. While restaurant diners kick back in shiny, candy-apple-red, vinyl booths, the dark, mirrored lounge kicks with live music and karaoke seven nights a week. Though the hipster joint generally attracts a more mature crowd, younger patrons are frequently drawn into the inviting atmosphere of this cool watering hole--particularly in those hungry, early morning hours when the sky turns that peculiar shade of blue signaling that dawn is on its way.
Doubletree Hotel 2050 Gateway Place, San Jose 408.453.4000
Hours: Daily 4:30pm-1:30am
Crowd Age: Boomers
Music: Karaoke, Top 40 bands
Décor: Casual classy
Games/Amenities: Two big-screen TVs, pool tables
Ambience: There's a cover charge on weekends, but those who can convince bouncers they are guests of the hotel can slide by the $10 rite of passage fee. Either way, there are live Top 40-type bands on the weekends, and music, so patrons could find themselves dancing to Britney Spears' newest single. On Wednesdays, hotel guests can embarrass themselves in front of strangers with a bit of karaoke. Big-screen TVs entertain sports fans, too.
Dave & Buster's
940 Great Mall Dr, Milpitas 408.957.9215
Hours: Sun-Tue 11am-midnight, Wed-Thu 11am-1am, Fri-Sat 11am-2am
Crowd Age: 20s to early 40s
Décor: Chuck E. Cheese during a rolling blackout
Games/Amenities: Pool tables, TVs, shuffleboard, video games
Ambience: Where else can one play ski ball without having to fight off toddlers and adolescents? Located inside The Great Mall, adults can act like kids here and enjoy a full bar among 200 video games, more than a dozen pool tables and four, yes four, shuffleboards. A night here is a night to remember, no matter how many adult beverages one has consumed.
402 Toyon Ave, San Jose 408.272.1512
Hours: Daily 11:30am-1:30am
Crowd Age: 30 and up
Music: Live bands
Signature Drink: Long Island Iced Tea
Ambience: This old-time East San Jose favorite, tucked under the foothills, never loses its flavor for locals. The bar lights up on Friday and Saturday nights when regulars strain their vocal chords with karaoke microphone in hand. Friendly bartenders have even been known to pick up the mic once in a while, too. Bartenders also insist that, while the Long Island is a popular beverage, they don't serve anything special. To make up for that minor faux pas, bartenders insist they'll make up any old concoction their patrons desire.
235 S. Milpitas Blvd, Milpitas 408.942.9500
Hours: Mon-Thu 11am-2am, Fri and Sat. 11 am-4am, Sun noon-2 am
Crowd Age: Mixed crowd of pool sharks
Décor: Pool hall
Games/Amenities: Pool, billiard and snooker tables
Ambience: Pool sharks chalk up their sticks at this billiards club near Milpitas' Great Mall. Edgie's attracts pool players of all levels--from the professional to the wary beginner--at more than 22 pool, billiards and snooker tables. Players call up their tunes of choice at a jukebox while the anti-pool players spend quarters on video games.
814 S. Bascom Ave, San Jose 408.298.0808
Hours: Mon-Wed 8am-9pm, Thu-Fri 8am-11pm, Sat 7pm-11pm
Crowd Age: Old enough to drink coffee
Music: Every night but Sunday.
Décor: Florence meets strip mall
Signature Drink: Almond Moo
Games/Amenities: Board games
Ambience: Walking in from the noise and congestion of Bascom Avenue, one is greeted with Hunter fans, a beautiful trompe l'oeil interior and, most nights, live music. It's a welcome--and calming--respite from the urban blues and offers plenty of hot and cold drinks, including wine and beer for the stressed and distressed. The Garden also offers a nice line of luscious munchies for the sweet tooth, as well as light meals.
1373 Kooser Rd, San Jose 408.265.7033
Hours: Daily 11am-2am
Crowd Age: Late 20s and up
Music: Live bands
Décor: Sports-fan wet dream
Signature Drink: Bud Light
Games/Amenities: Big-screen TV, video games, pool table, darts
Ambience: The fifth quarter, first down or top of the ninth inning, it doesn't make a difference here. Whatever the score, whatever the game may be, there are definitely sports fans here cheering and booing, yelping and, yes, screaming obscenities. When sports scores aren't flickering across a big- screen TV, live bands jam on the weekends.
360 Saratoga Ave, San Jose 408.244.4443
Hours: 24 hours, but the drinking stops at 2am
Crowd Age: 30s and up
Music: Live piano, jazz
Décor: Viva Las Vegas
Signature Drink: Martini, nothing but
Games/Amenities: Card room
Ambience: In Las Vegas, the lights are bright, the drinks are bottomless and cigarette smoke rings seem to float above heads like halos. But this isn't Vegas, this is San Jose, and Garden City may just be the next best thing. Sure, the drinking stops at 2am, but the card games go on. And though it may not be the signature drink here, most everyone should be caught sipping a martini with a green olive submerged. Inside this 24-hour nonstop card room, the crackle of cards being shuffled seems somehow louder than the live jazz music.
Gasthaus Steak and Stein
1380 S. Main St, Milpitas 408.946.6141
Hours: Mon-Sat 11am-2am, Sun 11am-7pm
Crowd Age: Swingin' 40s
Music: Rhythm and Blues, karaoke
Signature Drink: Spaten, of course
Games/Amenities: Shuffleboard, pool tables and video games
Ambience: Lounge lizards love slithering their way into the dimly lit lounge at Gasthaus. Yet there's more to this joint than getting sauced up over a juicy steak. Aside from the German restaurant, there's a sports center where fans can cheer and high-five one another under TV screens. Live rhythm and blues bands play while regulars keep their taste buds moist with Spaten beer.
1180 Lincoln Ave, San Jose 408.288.9422
Hours: Sun-Thu 5pm-11pm, Fri-Sat 5pm-midnight.
Crowd Age: 21-35
Music: Cover band on Saturdays
Décor: Ski lodge with fireplaces and saltwater fish tanks
Signature Drink: Microbrews and cosmos
Dancing: Saturday nights after 9pm
Games/Amenities: Pool tables with burgundy felt, 12 large-screen televisions with satellite hookups
Ambience: On the Saturday night before Mother's Day, The Glen closed early to prepare for Willow Glen's brunching moms and their devoted offspring. The night before Father's Day, when we paid a repeat visit, it was hosting the bacchanalian frat-party-style aftermath of Willow Glen's annual street fair. Dress leaned toward Hawaiian shirts and shorts, with tennies and sports caps. The aroma of barbecued meats wafted from buffet tables, and kegs lined the wall. It's not like this every night, but visitors can count on a strong selection of microbrews and beers by the glass, surrounded by colorful carpet, comfortable upholstery, stone fireplaces and TV sports. God bless America!
1072 Lincoln Ave, San Jose 408.292.4835
Hours: Daily 10am-2pm
Crowd Age: 27-50
Music: Karaoke, sports announcer
Décor: Oak-trimmed family den with fireplace
Signature Drink: Bud
Dancing: Sure, why not?
Games/Amenities: Projection television
Ambience: Next door to the Café Adriatic, an off-key Madonna wannabe swoons beneath a spinning mirror ball and gyrating laser light projection. The bar's top shelf features liqueurs in every color. During the week, it's a quiet neighborhood bar for Willow Glen regulars. On Fridays and Saturdays, it's a karaoke lounge. Founded four years ago by former casino manager Gary Rovai, who's been in the hospitality business since age 15, Goosetown takes its name from a one-time ethnic slur for the part of San Jose inhabited by Italian immigrants where the poultry ran loose. The San Jose native honored his heritage with the historical reference, though he admits, "Some of the old-timers still get offended by the name."
Hard Work Cafe
1620 Old Almaden Rd, San Jose 408.289.9675
Hours: Mon 11am-2am, Tue-Thu 6am-2am, Sat-Sun 7am-2am.
Crowd Age: 20s to 30s
Music: Techno, Latin, funk
Décor: Casual, post-work
Signature Drink: Anything goes
Dancing: Or else