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Movin' On Up

Don't look now, but downtown San Jose kind of ... rocks


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FOR CHIC socialites and suburban hipsters, things are looking up in downtown San Jose for the first time since Biter can remember. Many new restaurant projects are in the works, including the minxy Paragon eatery in the newly refurbished Montgomery Hotel, which is already open with valet parking.

Since Biter downed the last pint of Guinness at Katie Bloom's Irish pub the night it closed--right across the street--we had to try and snag the first drink at Paragon's modish Vodka bar when it opened at 4pm on a recent Friday. We arrived at 4:10pm, only to find out three guys had beaten us to the punch. Paragon features more than 40 kinds of vodka, a gunmetal bar and employees decked out in black. If you want vodka from Chile, go to Paragon.

Heaving distance away, the Grill on the Alley held a VIP reception the same night heralding its new outdoor patio. VIPs pounded Moët & Chandon at granite tables underneath black umbrellas. The patio's designer railing features iron cityscapes from San Jose, San Francisco and Seattle. It looks much better than the god-awful tacky displays in the Fairmont Annex windows across the walkway.

Biter wasn't formally invited, so we crashed both the Grill's VIP reception and the grand opening of Paragon in order to contemplate the ever-changing landscape of downtown San Jose. New restaurants are popping up everywhere. A Melting Pot fondue restaurant will open up just north of Plum Spa, and Zyng Asian Grill will take over the former location of Casa Castillo, which got shafted to facilitate the TWOHY Building renovation. Capers will move in next door to P.F. Chang's, and Ei8ht Bar & Restaurant opens at Third and San Fernando streets.

Continuing the upscaling of downtown, one finds Pete Escovedo's sizzling new Latin Jazz Club at the former location of Spy, the Usual, F/X and the Pussycat porno theater. Needless to say, the opening night at Pete's brought out the A-list, in clothing as shiny as the club's Miami Nice interior.

And just when you thought there was no hope for downtown's empty storefronts, it now looks like the Redevelopment Agency has finally come to agreements with property owners to renovate and seismically retrofit seven dead buildings. The decrepit heaps along urine-soaked Fountain Alley, as well as the dumps at 28-40 E. Santa Clara St. right behind them, are slated to begin the retrofit process next spring. The empty buildings at 83-91 S. First St. will also begin renovation at that time.

This is extremely welcome news. Police complain about the drug dealers inhabiting Santa Clara Street on weekends. What attracts the crackheads is the blight--just like flies on cow dung. If you renovate the buildings, fix the facades and restore everything, the crackheads will probably go away, or at least their numbers will dwindle somewhat. Santa Clara Street will rise above the cruising, gangster mecca that it is now.

But on the flip side, there's still nowhere to see original rock music except at the Blank Club and once in a while at Waves. Every speck of alternative culture has been thoroughly and deliberately decimated. San Jose is a constantly changing place--we all know that--but the bohemian types now have hardly anywhere to go. San Jose just doesn't want them.

Biter's suggestions: Put a soundproofed music club in the Genuity building at the southeast corner of Second and San Carlos streets. Flatten the McDonald's next door and put up a three-story independent bookstore instead. Turn the Camera One building into a thriving all-night alternative art gallery/cafe of some sort. Put Amoeba Records in the Dimensions building. Bring back Katie Bloom's and Marsugi's. Make downtown everything that Santana Row isn't.

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From the August 11-17, 2004 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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