[Best of the Santa Clara Valley 1998

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Funky town

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[Arts & Entertainment]

We live in the capital of the future. For a time, however, it seemed the valley's cultural life lagged behind its world-leading financial sector. Jealous scribes, writing from the fog-bound City by the Bay and other former centers of industry, have spilled an ocean of ink hurling charges that Silicon Valley was inhabited by a bunch of nouveau riche workaholics.

If that were ever true, it is no longer, according to Metro's cultural critics. Wandering Silicon Valley's highways at night, our writers found fancy nightclubs and down-home bars as well as infotainment for the whole family. A half-dozen cultural heritages were found in celebration, and bikers were seen partying down the street from software engineers. This may not be Utopia yet, but the valley's top fun spots offer hope.

Best Bar to Smoke Indoors, Legally
There is something about a working-class bar located in a strip mall that makes the rest of Silicon Valley seem so irrelevant. It is in these watering holes, far removed from the swanky bars of downtown San Jose, where one can find the people who use their hands to keep the so-called "economic engine" of the country fine-tuned. The men in Beefy's Cabin do not wear security badges around their necks as a fashion statement. The women do not skip to the bathroom hand in hand. The bartenders do not look confused when someone rolls in from a long day of work and orders a tequila with a Bud back. Most of all, the city-issued certificate of exemption clearly states that any person at Beefy's Cabin can enjoy a cigarette inside the premises if he or she so chooses. Which goes to prove that relevance can be found in a strip mall.
1028 W. Washington Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/736-7141

Best Two-Block Pub Crawl
Who needs March 17 as an excuse to be Irish for a day? A leisurely stroll through the two blocks of South Murphy Avenue that mark Sunnyvale's downtown area makes every day St. Paddy's: no fewer than three Irish pubs have opened their doors on this quaint main street, making for perhaps the most efficient pub crawl ever. But although it's Erin Go Bragh all the way, each pub has its own unmistakable personality, from the polished Guinness-colored wood of Scruffy Murphy's to the etched-glass soccer club emblems at Fibbar Magee's to the array of dollar bills dangling from the ceiling of Murphy's Law.
Fibbar Magee's, 156 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/749-8373

Murphy's Law, 135 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/736-3822

Scruffy Murphy's, 187 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408/735-7394

Best Last Call
Officially, last call is 1:30am. But you know how it is. The dirty looks from the uptight barstaff start around 1:15. Some even resort to turning up the lights and putting some heinous show tune on the sound system. Despair not. There is still Rudy's, officially the last last call in Palo Alto. Like other, lesser joints, Rudy's last call is technically at 1:30. But the bartenders there like to think of that milestone as a beginning rather than an ending, and they will pour a drink with a smile all the way until 1:44:59am. The bartenders also take a liberal interpretation to the "No Smoking" sign. That is, smoking is welcome, if not encouraged. This, just a few doors down from a shop with a sign posted "No smoking within 20 feet of the door." Who would have guessed that in a world of niche bars, all that was needed was a better attitude?
117 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650/329-0922

Best Beat in the Valley
Got the need to shake to the beat of an African drum but not quite sure what moves to make? Oriki Theater & Dance of Mountain View can teach the basics and beyond. Founded in 1992 and consisting of dancers, drummers, actors and musicians from the African continent and the African Diaspora, Oriki provides classes and workshops throughout the valley. Too pooped to pop and just want to watch? That's OK, too. Oriki members' big annual event of song, dance and theater is Buwa '98 at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts on Oct. 9. But be warned: Oriki performances are interactive. When the drumming gets going good, you might not be able to fight that feeling.
2066 Old Middlefield Way, Suite B16, Mountain View, 650/390-0520

Best Crosscultural Immersion
The motto of the Museum of Vietnamese American Arts, Culture and History is "Drink the water, remember the source." The lily and lotus pond may be above ground, but the museum has otherwise put down roots in the shadow of the Mariani water tower until a permanent home can be built on Senter Road. Museum keeper Luyen Tran is justifiably proud to guide visitors past walls hung with traditional instruments to the gem of the collection holding court amid colorful pennants, flags and embroidered umbrellas--Kieu Bat Ngoc Lo, a red lacquer eight-man carriage ornately carved with gilded dragons. Shipped in pieces from Vietnam, the litter that once carried imperial orders and proclamations of the Hung Dynasty now honors not only members of that royal family, but all ancestors, Vietnamese national heroes, those killed in the Vietnam War, and boat people who didn't survive a voyage from the homeland in such glorious fashion. The shrine to Dao Mau, the Way of Our Mother--an ancient belief in the righteousness of a natural way of life--beckons all to put down the cell phone and bang a gong.
599 N. Ninth St., San Jose, 408/280-7480

Solid Grooves
Christopher Gardner

Bust a Groove: At Solid Grooves in San Jose, hip is second nature. Just follow the helpful staff's musical and fashion recommendations (they're DJs), and the rest is easy.

Best Place to Get Your Groove On
Solid Grooves record shop may be tiny, but it's of Goliath importance to any San Jose DJ's world. With sections devoted to trip-hop, disco, house, ambient-trance and DJ mix tapes, the store offers old-school, cutting-edge and every underground dance music style in between. Young local DJs own and operate Solid Grooves, making them the most helpful and knowledgeable music store staff in the metropolitan area. Most vinyl selections can be tested on store turntables, and the CD and tape offerings seem to multiply with every trip to the one-stop shop. A limited clothing section offers raver-gear essentials, and the shop is a fashion show of huge baggy pants and Hello Kitty backpacks. Solid Grooves is the place for the serious or aspiring DJ--or anybody who just wants to look like one.
368 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose, 408/999-0259

Universal Child Best Artistic Contradiction
There's certainly no faulting the intention behind a work of art promoting world peace, so although form may not exactly follow function in the unmistakably missile-shaped "Universal Child" sculpture dedicated to global harmony, it's hard not to admire the sentiment behind it. Built in 1965 of mosaic tiles and steel, the sculpture looms over the Santa Clara Civic Center, a towering rendering of a child shaped like a rocket, whose ostensible head tapers to a sharp point, its enormous blue eyes peeking out at the world from a round face near the sculpture's peak. At the "feet" of this mammoth pointy-headed tot are mosaic representations of children from around the globe. It's a small world after all, all right: not only is this statue a fun relic of the public art from that song's era, but it's also a pointed reminder of the tune's more timeless ideal.
Corner of Warburton Avenue and Lincoln Street, Santa Clara

Best Place to Abandon Pretense
The Cardiff Lounge is too rootsy, raw and neighborhood-oriented to be mistaken for an outgrowth of the current "lounge" trend. It's a lounge without the quote marks. The drinks are strong, the prices are right, and the chairs are comfy--even if they're a little torn up. Patrons mostly include the gang from the 'hood, with the occasional carload of hipsters dropping by--perhaps to enjoy the loose enforcement of smoke-free-workplace laws. And on Tuesdays, the heavy-metal crowds show up to bang heads with each other and several local almost-signed bands. So the next time a trend-addict in polyester suggests "cocktails," out-cool her by suggesting off-night at the metal bar. Or dig out the leather and go rock out.
260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell, 408/866-6345


Urban Survival Tip #3.


Best Contribution to Neighborly Relations
In this housing market, having a garage at all, let alone one that can double as a rehearsal space, is far from a given. Figure in the relative odds between a neighbor speed-dialing the cops or dedicating a Web page to the band, and it's a wonder there's any Next Big Thing. There's one ray of hope, though. The Practice Place has been renting rehearsal studios to up-and-comers like Korea Girl and Red Shift for years now. While two hours of pushing broom might not get an 8-by-12 room, when split between bandmates the rents seem downright affordable once those gigs start coming--or for as long as the day job lasts. Heavy steel bars reinforce windows lined with black plastic, and the manager's five-gallon jar of double-key deadbolts ready for quick changes would seem to rule out inside jobs by has-been wannabes more likely to do time than hit the big time.
1707 N. Fourth St., San Jose, 408/441-8175

Best Way to Ponder Your Insignificance
What better way to feel utterly alone and insignificant than to marvel at the vast universe burning in the night sky? Two or three nights a month, about 40 astronomy buffs meet in one of four parks in the south end of the county to get a closer look at the heavens. Peering through a dozen different telescopes, members of the San Jose Astronomical Association get an up-close look at distant galaxies, waning nebulae and the finer details of lunar craters. Most star parties are open to the public. The group meets at Hogue Park near Campbell, Fremont Peak South of San Juan Bautista, Grant Ranch near Lick Observatory on Mount Hamilton, and at Henry Coe State Park east of Morgan Hill. If you do decide to crash a star party, remember, the worst enemy of a man stooped over a telescope shooting a picture of a distant galaxy is another man who's forgotten to turn off the headlights.

Best Painless Tequila Shot
Remember that icky tequila expression? Squinting eyes, wrinkled nose and the shudder--oooh, the shudder. Our spy looked around the bar at Left at Albuquerque and didn't see it once. The bar boasts more than 160 varieties of tequila, and the bartenders use the lexicon of vintners in describing their unique attributes. Before our emissary went to Left at Albuquerque we classified tequila only as With or Without the Worm. Now it can be told that there are three classes based on age: Silver tequila comes straight from the still. Reposados are aged in wooden barrels for at least 2 months. Añejos are aged in wooden barrels for at least a year. Some of the smokier, richer tequila is aged in whiskey barrels. The finer varieties are smooth and can come in subtle flavors like orange, lemon and coffee. Most popular with the kitchen staff are the "tequila infusions" marinated with lemon and jalepeños--a gut-searing concoction perhaps best left to native Albuquerqueños and their 'querque tastes.
445 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650/326-1011, and The Pruneyard, 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell, 408/558-1680

Best Cure for Teen Angst
As if the pimples and insatiable urges aren't enough, the teenage landscape also suffers from the blight of boredom--partly because the little scamps are just too young to get into grownup bars. Recognizing this flaw in the system, Gaslighter's Music Hall is a small venue with one very important thing going for it: its shows are consistently all-ages. Affiliated with the Gaslighter Theater in Campbell, which often features all-ages punk and ska shows in addition to its theater productions, Gaslighter's Music Hall generally hosts heavier musical acts, and recently popular local bands Insolence and Tribal Disco Noise took the stage there. A modest building set unobtrusively on Monterey Street in downtown Gilroy, Gaslighter's Music Hall positively jumps on the weekends. Starting at 8:30pm, the club features country music and line dancing every Friday and live rock, alternative and hip hop music and DJs every Saturday.
7430 Monterey St., Gilroy, 408/848-3488

Best Place to Get Drunk Cheap
When a man offers you a beer for 50 cents and you are not standing inside the city limits of Prague, ask him, "What's the catch?" The only "catch" on Monday nights at Cluck U. Chicken Co. is that swill is still king (Bud or Coors Light) and the scent of collegiate hubris can hit you like a sudden whiff of Drakkar Noir. But turn it around, and it all becomes a masterfully cheap way of getting drunk and doing a lot of "get-a-load-of-that-guy" people-watching. With its fire-hot chicken wings and greasy french fries, Cluck U. could easily be the best place to lose sight of your toes. No longer will it be the best place to sneak in without ID, though. Shortly before press time, a doorman showed up on the hopping Monday nights and broke a lot of underage hearts. Santa Clara, you're no Prague.
2603 The Alameda, Santa Clara, 408/241-2582

New Guinea Sculpture Garden
Christopher Gardner

Tricky Brick: Squint real hard and this clay head, found in the New Guinea Sculpture Garden at Stanford, starts to resemble Richard Nixon. Any advice for Clinton, old buddy?

Best Place to Contemplate the Creation of the Universe
Four years ago, 10 master carvers from Papua New Guinea visited Stanford and created one of the most extraordinary sculpture gardens in the country. Carved tree trunks rise like disembodied giraffe necks in a grove of oak and cedar trees in front of Roble Dormitory in the New Guinea Sculpture Garden. The intricately patterned poles depict birds with crocodile tails, turtles, snakes, fish, tree spirits and figures from New Guinea creation myth. There are also works in stone with grinning faces (even its creator admitted that one resembles Nixon) and entangled limbs. After visiting the neighboring Rodin sculpture garden, one carver sniffed, "This is nothing. We can do better than that." His version of Rodin's Thinker, called "Yerakdu," is a figure from New Guinea mythology who sits with head in hands, pondering the fragments of clay scattered at his feet that represent the first failed attempts at creating human beings. Twilight is the best time to visit this magical forest.
Stanford University, Palo Alto

Best Place to Play With Your Organ
OK, you can't actually play with the organ, but you can hear the sonorous pipes of the mighty organ accompanying the Towne Theater's silent film series one Sunday every month. A half-hour before the movie, the audience is treated to a rousing organ concert, and then 84-year-old organist Bob Vaughn gives the old silents a hearty jab of melodrama, melancholy and merriment. Movie features have included swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks Sr. films like The Mark of Zorro, daring Louise Brooks dramas such as Pandora's Box and the legendary horror flicks Nosferatu and The Phantom of the Opera. These feature films are preceded by slapstick comedy shorts or vintage cartoons. A complete schedule of upcoming silent movie classics can be found online.
1433 The Alameda, Santa Clara, 408/287-1433

Best Heavenly-Body Watching
How many times have insomniacs gazed up at the starry night sky and said, "Are you Sirius?" The stars just hang there, silent and mysterious. Viewed through a telescope, the distant dreamy nebulae look almost near enough to touch. A 16-inch Newtonian reflector and a 6-inch refracting telescope make the Foothill Observatory a prime place for viewing celestial objects, from the mountains of the moon to the cloud-banks of Jupiter and beyond into deep space. Writer/amateur astronomer Timothy Ferris best describes the singular pleasures of stargazing: "Nothing is quite like the sight of a galaxy--stately, self-possessed, a murk of mingled stars and gas clouds, so distant that its light is older than the human species, and so commodious as to contain, I should think, more stories than anyone, anywhere, can ever come to know." Foothill Observatory is open for public viewing every cloudless Friday evening from 8:30 to 11pm. Programs are free (it costs $2 to park at the college).
Foothill College, 12345 El Monte Road, Los Altos Hills, 650/949-7334

Best Family Movie Theater
Certain unnamed movie theaters are turning into two-hour sleaze motels for teenagers, and we're blaming it on the bench seats, which are gaining popularity and make sliding over and getting on top of one's date in a smooch lock irresistible to some boys and girlies. And of course there are the bands of terrorists camped out in the balcony launching popcorn projectiles everywhere--when they're not making catcalls at Jennifer Lopez, that is. The Granada Cinemas, an old-fashioned movie theater located in the middle of downtown Morgan Hill, lacks both bench seats (fold-outs only) and an upper balcony--but what it does have is genuine family atmosphere. It's also a cozy place for 40-something sweethearts who just like to share a tub of real butter popcorn or maybe hold hands while they watch a flick, leaving the climaxes to the filmmakers.
17440 Monterey Road, Morgan Hill, 408/779-2992

Best Bar to Get Run Over by a Motorcycle
In the 1954 movie The Wild One, a motorcycle gang takes over the town of Hollister, Calif. At one point a biker roars his chopper through a door and into a bar, rumbling up to the counter to order a beer. We'd like to credit inventive writing for this scene, but the incident actually happened--at Johnny's Bar & Grill on San Benito in Hollister. Johnny's is still there, under new management, with full breakfast and lunch and live music on Saturday nights. Now it's a shrine to '50s biker culture, with the walls plastered with old license plates, vintage photos, movie posters and animal heads. Nobody takes their chopper up the center aisle any more, but it's still a regular biker hangout. And one of the owners, Charisse Tyson, possesses far more star quality than the girl in the movie could have ever hoped to claim.
526 San Benito St., Hollister, 408/637-3683

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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