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Editors' Picks: Bars & Clubs

Best Scene to be Seen
Hotel Valencia, Third Floor, 355 Santana Row, San Jose 408.551.0010
In most big cities, a hotel bar is the place to meet for a quick drink before moving on to a real nightclub. But Vbar, the sexy spot on the third floor of Hotel Valencia at Santana Row, has taken off as a destination in its own right, with lines of wanna-Vs coursing out onto the street. Vbar comes off as the upscale hotel's stylish living room. A valet helps you into the elevator that drops you at the third floor. Take a right out of the elevator and another quick right down a hallway, and there it is. Segmented by beaded dividers, the 155-seat lounge gleams with dark-wood columns, leather couches, marble-tiled tables and an impressive selection of elixirs, wine and bubbly. A discreet sound system pipes in house music, and an open-air courtyard and balcony overlooking Santana Row makes it possible to grab an intimate conversation. (TI)

Best DJ Bar
Johnny V's
31 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose 408.947.8470
When it comes to DJs, downtown's Johnny V's is a sure thing every single night of the week. Owner Johnny Van Wyk says he took his cue from big cities like New York and San Francisco. There, he expounds, "DJ bars are getting to be more popular than nightclubs." He thinks people are responding to smaller, quieter places where it's more about socializing than dancing, an intimate dynamic that works well for the cozy size of his pub. With hip-hop DJs so popular around town, he says he's offering "something different, a little bit more underground." That most of his DJs are familiar local names and faces is a big selling point for him (check the website for the current schedule). Occasionally, Van Wyk warns, "I like to get behind the decks myself." He calls himself the Great White Hype and boasts that it's a good thing he has his own bar. "I'm the only one that will let me play," he laughs. (SQ)

Best Club Night for Soul Rebels
Thursdays at 9pm, Agenda Lounge, 399 S. First St., San Jose 408.380.3042
Since the demise of Fuel and the glory days of Ajax Lounge, the discerning hip-hop head has had limited options. When Tommy Aguilar saw KRS-One and Black Eyed Peas at other local venues, the hip-hop vibe wasn't there, so he co-founded Stank in May 2003. Since then, Stank has drawn fans who love every aspect of hip-hop--DJs, graffiti art, popping and locking, breakdancing--not just fashion and rapping. Rhyme ciphers and breakdance circles open up as DJs flip vintage funk, soul and classic hip-hop tracks. The dress code is as loose as a pair of baggy jeans, and the cover charge is reasonable. Now that word is getting around, Stank has attracted special guests like Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, the Breakestra, Dudley Perkins, DJ Jazzy Jeff, DJ Smash and the Beat Junkies, as well as a solid list of residents, including Stank's co-founder DJ Fuse One and Philthy. "We wanted to present artists, but also the overall atmosphere was going to be in line with what the music was about," Aguilar says. That means positive sounds and attitudes, a concept that Stank nails on a weekly basis. Look for copycat nights soon. (TI)

Best Dive Bar Dinner for Freeloaders
Happy Hour at the Caravan
98 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose 408.995.6220
"You have to drink when you're here, though," says tattooed bartender goddess Megan at the Caravan, downtown San Jose's infamous dive bar. "Even if you want water, we'll charge you for it." Read as: You're expected to imbibe heavily while you gorge on the free chow during the Caravan's happy hour. Sure, one or two folks will manage to sneak in, grab a plate and leave, but if they get caught, they're in trouble. Somewhere around 4:30pm, the food rolls out, and at times it's not bad. Just a few weeks ago, they whipped up a surprisingly edible tray of cooked pork and potatoes. The food changes every day--sometimes you'll find egg salad sandwiches, other times tacos or hot dogs. And it all goes fast, except for the spaghetti, which, according to bartender Jason, never gets finished. Maybe it's too much work for the barflies. "What's a Freeloader Dinner?" a drunk person asks at 4:30pm. Not waiting for an answer, he exclaims, "A Bohemian Buffet," and laughs with subtle hedonism. (GS)

Best Cheap Beer Fix
Peanuts Deluxe Cafe
275 E. San Fernando St., San Jose 408.998.9778
While trendy bars offer cheap drinks during happy hour or $1 beers now and again, Peanuts Deluxe Cafe across from SJSU offers $4.95 pitchers of Budweiser all the time. Well, except between 2 and 4am, when the price drops to $4.35. Down on draft beer? No problem: A bottle of Bud sets runs $1.85, and a glass of Burgundy straight out of the box is $1.75. Want more volume? A whopping liter of burgundy or chablis prices out at $6.95. That's pocket change, for crying out loud. Which is precisely why students, staff and sometimes faculty have imbibed heavily at Peanuts for more than 20 years running. And, of course, let's not forget the locals who spend every afternoon perched at Peanuts' bar watching Jerry Springer. (GS)

Best Place to Catch a Rock Show on a School Night
The Edge Nightclub
260 S. California Ave., Palo Alto 650.289.0222
Weekends are too short. It's a bitter fact of life. There's no way to make up for all the fun missed during the week when prevailing circumstances require camping out in the library with trail mix and Red Bull agonizing over research papers. The good news is that the best all-ages rock club in the South Bay, the Edge Nightclub in Palo Alto, hosts live bands throughout the week. Other all-ages clubs, like the Outhouse and the Gaslighter, sometimes have shows on weeknights, but the Edge is the only all-ages venue that's a "real" club, with pro light, sound, etc. It also books Fillmore and Slim's quality major-label artists--recently, Ozma, the Human League, Divided, Hanson, Reverend Horton Heat and Strung Out have rocked the stage on a weeknight. Doors generally open at 7pm, with the first band going on at 8pm. For high school teens, this means shows usually end in time to make it home before curfew. College students well adapted to sleep deprivation will find there's still time to hit the books after the last chord fades away. Hey, if anyone asks, just call it a study break. (SQ)

Best Place to Pony Up
The saddle bar-stools at Sangria Restaurant
721 Willow St., San Jose 408.287.9777
Drinking every night to forget the miserable economy and embarrassing state of international relations can become mundane. By extension, it's crucial to mix things up. That means finding ways to complicate the process of intoxifying. Sangria Restaurant owner Javier Ponce provides one South Bay solution: bar stools with saddles on them. These slippery saddles, which Ponce imported from Mexico, where drunks are clearly a lot more dexterous than they are in saddle-stool-less countries, make drinking even more fun by increasingly resembling--as one drinks--mechanical bucking broncos. That and approximately five fruity Sangrias turn an everyday drinking experience into an exciting and kind of dangerous exercise. Wheeee! (AG)

Best Place to Study the Mating Rituals of College Students
The Hut
3200 The Alameda, Santa Clara 408.296.6024
Observe the males, adorned almost exclusively in ritual clothing of the Abercrombie & Fitch variety, lubricating their courage with traditional alcohols. Note the females, clad in garments characterized by a general tightness and a uniformity of labels similar to their male counterparts. The females imbibe copious amounts of alcohol, gesture and laugh with increasing frequency, while shouting group signifiers such as "Oh, my God!" and "Get out!" The males either feign disinterest or adopt a false persona of friendliness and sincere interest in the female's auditory ejaculations. Coupling begins around 11pm and frequency increases on a steep upward curve as closing time approaches. (AM)

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From the September 25-October 1, 2003 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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