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Photograph by Eric Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

Patty's Inn

By Eric A. Carlson

"Take 8 percent beer--why, you're spending your dough for 92 percent water and color and hops and stuff like that ..."

--Mack, Cannery Row

WHILE TAKING a photograph of the three-little-pigs sign at Stephen's Meat Products on South Montgomery Street, I met a VTA bus driver who ambled over to chat. Jim's bus was queued up with others adjacent to the San Jose Train Station awaiting specific times to continue their routes. As we admired the neon-outlined pigs, Jim pointed down the block to the corner of South Montgomery and San Fernando streets and reverently intoned, "Now there is a classic neighborhood tavern."

Oddly, I hadn't noticed Patty's Inn before--ever. It is possible that Patty's can't be seen until one is spiritually in tune. The tavern is located in an elephant's-graveyard section of downtown San Jose--south of the "Arena formerly known as Compaq," west of highway 87 and nigh onto the Guadalupe River, where the homeless emerge like trolls. I walked across the street to talk to the owner, Ken Solis.

Opening the door to Patty's Inn, I found Ken tending bar and simultaneously engaged in an animated, albeit friendly, political discussion with two regulars. (As in all dialogue, the conversation ended with nobody's mind being changed an iota.) Ken purchased Patty's Inn a year ago and has been working hard ever since. "All we have been doing is cleaning and more cleaning," he told me, as he took me on a tour. It shows. Without compromising the ancient character of the building, Ken has made changes that include a separate--and legal--"smokers" area and a refurbished small kitchen to serve sandwiches. He is awaiting city approval on the kitchen.

Ken brought out a photo album that included moments of revelry at Patty's, family-member portraits and images of two ultraphotogenic Bud Girls. A patron offered that there are actually three Bud Girls, but only two go to a location at a time. Imagine stopping by Patty's for a nip and finding two voluptuous Bud Girls in attendance. Patty's Inn is choicely located, a block from the train depot and three blocks from the ex-San Jose Arena. It once served as an oasis for FMC Canning Machinery Division plant workers. A friend reminisces, "Patty's Inn was one of the bars my father hit on his way up Montgomery to Julian, where he worked at FMC. There were several ramshackle little bars along that path."

The Patty's Inn building and property are owned by Roy Krickeberg, whose father was the original Patty. The history of the establishment goes back to 1933. I did some research in the California Room at the San Jose library, poring over old telephone directories to pinpoint the goings-on at 102 S. Montgomery St. The first reference to a business is in the 1934 directory that lists "O'Neill & Krickeberg Soft Drinks." In 1935, "Soft Drinks" became "Beer." In 1937, "Beer" gave way to "Liquors." The Corda family purchased the business in 1945, and it was renamed Corda's Tavern and Restaurant. In 1962, it was sold and became Johnny's Place Tavern. In 1965, it changed to "Depot Inn Tavern"--listing Guberovitch Goyko as proprietor. And finally, in 1971, it became Patty's Inn--harkening back to the Krickeberg line.

It is, as Jim the VTA driver said, a classic neighborhood tavern. Patty's--and the surrounding neighborhood--should be protected and supported by the city of San Jose--a city that is in need of all the local color and history it can muster.

Final Note: Returning to my car from the California Room, I walked down the Paseo de San Antonio Walkway, between the Fairmont Hotel and its Annex, and was accosted by a panhandler. I almost had time to make a run for it, but our eyes locked, and he knew he had me. "I am from India, and no one is giving me money!" he said angrily. Well, no one is giving me money either. I seem inexorably caught up in a system that requires labor prior to payment. I gave him 50 cents, and he snarled with contempt and loathing, and strode off in search of other marks in the direction of the Plaza de Cesar E. Chavez.

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From the July 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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