[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Editors' Choice


Metro writers on the valley's best arts and entertainment

Best Indie Music Store

Radio Free Records
2626 Union Ave., SJ

Tucked into a nondescript strip mall between a shoe repair shop and a secondhand shop simply called "The Thrift Store" is Radio Free Records. Focusing on hard-to-find new and used indie, indie-pop, punk, garage rock, ambient and electronic records and CDs, zines and videos, this music store is perfect for those whose tastes run far outside the commercial. Housed just off the strip (the series of blocks along Bascom where Rasputin Music, Tower Records and Streetlight Records draw avid music shoppers), the sparse interior is dedicated exclusively to music and decorated with band paraphernalia and memorabilia. About twice a week, indie, emo punk and other types of bands perform live and plugged-in at the rear of the store. All shows are free and all-ages. Visit www.radiofreerecords.com for a list of upcoming bands.
Sarah Quelland

Capitol Drive-In
The Last Outdoor Picture Show: The only place left in the Valley where you can catch a flick under the stars, Capitol Drive-In is a bargain: two movies and your own sound system for $5.75.

Best Place To See Stars On The Screen And In The Sky

Capitol Drive-In
Near Capitol Expressway and Snell, San Jose

Once a novelty, the drive-in theater has become the subject of modern nostalgia. Santa Clara County once had five drive-ins. Now it only has one: the Capitol Drive-In in lovely, temperate south San Jose. During the daytime, the space is occupied by flea market vendors and bargain hunters. But come dusk the cars start lining up to pay a mere $5.75 to catch a double feature on one of the drive-in's six screens. Repeat: $5.75 for two--yes, two--movies. And one of those films is always a fresh, first-run feature, not some molding old flick just about to hit video. Between the low prices and the comfortable seats, it's the best deal in town.
Will Harper

Best Place To Visit Cannery Row Before All That Touristy Stuff Took Over

Steinbeck Center
San Jose State University
316 Wahlquist Library North

While Oakland enthusiastically embraces Jack London the socialist, almost-local author John Steinbeck (Salinas and Monterey) still has trouble getting his props in the valley. San Jose State's excellent Steinbeck Center is a welcome exception. The author of such American classics as Of Mice And Men, Cannery Row, East of Eden, and The Grapes of Wrath, Steinbeck was a voice for the farmworkers and small-town folk whose hard work built the wealth of the valley and the central coast long before the chippies invaded. How many other authors had actors like James Dean, Henry Fonda and Burgess Meredith lining up to portray their characters in movies? The 30,000 items in the center's collection (including manuscripts, photographs, film and changing displays) provide a picture of the California that our present-day society is built upon.
Jesse Taylor

Best Place To Observe The White Man's Overbite

The British Bankers Club
1090 El Camino Real,
Menlo Park

Amid the English bric-a-brac and antique furniture at the BBC, a not-so-rare breed of wealthy male Caucasian regularly engages in a bizarre and somewhat distasteful mating ritual. It's known as dancing without rhythm in a shameless attempt to pick up younger females. On Friday and Saturday nights, Silicon Valley's finest hit the crowded dance floor and prove that money can't buy coordination. If biting your lower lip while searching for that ever-elusive beat constituted an acceptable dance move, these hapless entrepreneurs would have it made. Scientists speculate that their PalmPilots, cell phones and wallets may be throwing off their sense of balance. It's a disturbing scene. But like the mating ritual of the banana slug, it's so repellent you can't help but watch.
Mick Normington

Best (Real) Poetry Reading

Cafe Rouge
42 Elm St., LG

Those who've attained a certain level of proficiency at appreciating poetry have probably discovered that most stand-up poetry ... doesn't stand up. Literati can cultivate that sense of elitism at Cafe Rouge in Los Gatos, where a lot of the stuff being read through the mic will someday be printed on the pages of literary journals across the country. Not coincidentally, these folks also make an attentive, perceptive audience. The bonus is the cafe itself, an intimate, acoustically sound gathering place where the management actually turns off the espresso machine during the reading. Readings are 7:30pm the first Wednesday of each month; featured reader followed by open mic.
Michael J. Vaughn

Best Place To Be Under 21 And Hungry On A Saturday Night

The Fishbowl (a.k.a. Le Boulanger Bakery)
305 N. Mathilda Ave., Sunnyvale

Named for the fishbowl effect of the glass bricks that set the stage for this teens-only space, the Fishbowl (housed within the walls of Le Boulanger bakery) debuted last October as a safe and secure environment open exclusively to teenagers with ID for socializing, listening to music and munching on baked goods at discount prices. Spearheaded by the City of Sunnyvale Teen Advisory Council and Sunnyvale city staffers, the pilot program exceeded expectations as young local music promoter Eric Fanali (of Grand Fanali Presents) was brought on board to book live bands. The weekly series, held on Saturday nights, served as a showcase for young up-and-coming local and small touring punk and ska bands. After proving its value to the community by successfully packing the place on a regular basis, the Fishbowl just kicked off its second season with the first show, a triple CD release for Jeffries Fan Club, Dr. Rocket and the Moon Patrol, and Products of Suburbia.
Sarah Quelland

Best Movie Theater Popcorn

Camera One Theater
66 S. First St., SJ

Making popcorn is an exercise in generosity. Popcorn should be chewy and slimy from butter saturation, and exceedingly salty. Ticket takers at the Camera One has mastered this culinary art. They make a mean bag of popcorn--mean enough to induce a heart attack before the opening credits have faded from the screen. It's pure buttery goodness in every bite. Napkins are a necessity, however, as neither fingertips nor laps are safe from the grease. It's an old theater staple at its finest--popcorn so thoroughly soaked in lard that sleep is impossible for at least three hours after consumption. But morning light erases all memories of that discomfort and--guaranteed--the cravings will start up again by noon.
Jessica Lyons

Best Place To Catch A Classic

The Stanford Theater
221 University Ave., PA

Just 10 years since it was reopened by philanthropist David Packard Jr., the Stanford Theater in downtown Palo Alto is now the highest grossing repertory movie house in the United States. Refurbished to its original 1925 style, the Stanford Theater has entertained and enlightened movie fans with hundreds of films, from honored classics to forgotten works by master filmmakers. Packard and his foundation have spent millions not just on the theater, but also on the restoration and preservation of American movies. To see a John Wayne western, an elegant Lubitsch romance, a Buster Keaton comedy or a Bogart melodrama on the Stanford's screen is to understand what's made these films last. Thanks to Packard, now many of these films will last long enough for your children to see them.
Richard von Busack

Best Place For Theosophical Meditation

Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum
Park & Naglee avenues, SJ

For kids growing up in San Jose, it's almost a rite of passage to make a field trip to the Rosicrucian Egyptian Museum and get creeped out by the mummies and sarcophagi. One of San Jose's most underrated claims to fame is that this Art Deco temple serves as the largest collection of Egyptian art on the West Coast and the world headquarters of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC--a system of study based on the wisdom of ancient Egypt. Just how in the heck did pharaohs arrive in the valley of prunes? In 1927, Dr. H. Spencer Lewis (a philosopher and businessman in charge of introducing the mystical teachings to Protestant America) moved his vast Egyptian art collection and the newly incorporated Order from New York City to San Jose. Today, more than 200,000 people worldwide subscribe to the Order's non-religious teachings of meditation, ancient philosophy and the sciences.
Sarah Gaffney

Best-Kept Summer Secret

Lick Observatory
Concert Series

Want something groovy to do on a hot San Jose summer night away from the dregs of downtown? Many adventurers have happily become one with nature by heading up the winding 20 miles of Highway 131 to the summit of Mt. Hamilton, where they have found a summer concert series on select nights that benefits the Lick Observatory Visitors Program. There's nothing quite like getting melodic under a starry sky in a phenomenal location with other music-appreciating types to get a body in tune with the heavens. Astronomical talks and question-and-answer sessions follow the concert, as well as a viewing through the observatory's breathtaking 36-inch telescope (weather permitting, of course). Bring additional layers of clothing, since the elevation makes for more wind and chill than the city limits. All this fun does have a catch: reservations must be made well in advance, and most tickets are sold out a year ahead of time.
Liza Fournier

Best Place To See How The Other Half Lives

The Cinebar
69 E. San Fernando, SJ

Barflies traveling with shopping carts are in luck--it's OK to park them outside this dimly lit dive. The scraggly bouncer resembles a retired sea captain, but he's got a good heart. Beer selection is limited, but it just wouldn't be right to drink anything other than a Bud Light in this bar. The regulars are a friendly mix of students and vagabonds, and unkempt hair and missing teeth are must-haves. Shirts and showers are optional. A disco ball hangs from the ceiling and a eclectic mix of disco, punk rock and Top 40 hits blares from the jukebox. It's always easy to find a dance partner in this joint, but don't squeeze him or her too hard--it's likely he has a couple broken ribs from a jailhouse brawl earlier that day. The upside is it's OK to dance like nobody is watching, because chances are nobody is.
Jessica Lyons

Best Place To Spot An Urban Cowboy

The Saddle Rack
1310 Auzerais Ave., SJ

Almost 20 years ago exactly (golly, has it been that long?), a humble little movie starring a babyfaced John Travolta, Debra Winter and Scott Glenn sent the price of Western wear skyrocketing (much to the dismay of real cowboys, who still hold a grudge), convinced hapless barflies that Lone Star was good beer and immortalized the sport of mechanical bull riding. Although Gilley's (the nightclub in Pasadena, Texas, where Urban Cowboy was set) burned down years ago, San Jose has its own expansive honky tonk where sidewalk cowboys and concrete kickers can roam the range and take the bull by the horns, so to speak, as they try their luck on the Saddle Rack's own mechanical bull. Featuring live music, line dancing and karaoke, this indoor prairie brings the country to the valley with one key exception: it serves beer suitable for the refined palates of Northern California urbanites who live where corn don't grow.
Sarah Quelland

Best Sheet Music Store

Music Music Music
60 N. Winchester Blvd.,
Santa Clara

Just as a test, I recently walked into Music Music Music and asked for Bobby Darin's "Beyond the Sea." The salesgirl, Melanie, punched it up on the computer, dashed into the rows of stock and--I swear--handed it to me within 30 seconds of my request. With lyrics in English and the original French (Charles Trenet's 1945 "La Mer Qu'on Voit Danser"). Jackie and Grant Tuttle's store has 50,000 titles in all categories, but it's an especially good resource for classical and jazz musicians, who are not likely to find their selections at Guitar Center. The Tuttles also carry a wide selection of tapes and CDs with "removable vocals"-- just turn off the right speaker and you're a star.

On the way out, I heard a woman requesting a concerto for piano and orchestra and a teenage girl looking for something called "La Vida Loca." I certainly hope they found that concerto.
Michael J. Vaughn

Best Cheapie Film House

Oaks Theater
21275 Stevens Creek Blvd., Cupertino

The odd thing about the Oaks is that it doesn't seem like a second-run theater at all; the interiors are a little too bright and modern, the surrounding Oaks Center a little too bucolic, the employees a little too non-surly. Take a look at the ticket prices, however, and ye shall believe; buy a $2 membership every five months and you'll get weekday flicks for $2 each, Friday-Sunday for $3. For the procrastinating film fan who can't stand the tinyness of video, it's the perfect place for catching up to the crowd--or for finally seeing that summer blockbuster once the hype has worn away.
Michael J. Vaughn

Best Place To Hone Your Carving Skills

The Oasis
241 El Camino Real, Menlo Park

Customers have been carving their initials, their sweethearts' names and messages only a cryptographer could figure out for years at The Oasis. The varnished wood tables are perfect for energetic woodworkers of all skill levels. Many have moved on to the booths and support beams to express themselves. Best of all, there's no need to feel nervous about the petty vandalism--everybody does it.
Mick Normington

Best Place To Catch A Sine Wave

The Analog Room
1416 Fruitdale Ave., SJ

In a blind taste test, ardent audiophiles can discern the difference between a $65,000 digital music system and a similarly priced outfit comprising turntable and tube amp--but barely. Likewise, a battle-of-the-bands on a $2,000 high-tech system versus $2,000 worth of analog equipment generally produces a near-draw. The only reason to choose tubes over transistors is that analog feels better. Slip a record from its sleeve while the hi-fi amp is warming up, drop the needle in the groove, and actual amplified sine waves flood the room. Granted, the whole experienced can almost be replicated with lasers, which break the fluid sound wave into digital bits and then electronically reconstruct them. But for those who want the real, unreconstituted thing, The Analog Room offers turntables ranging from $300 to $4,500, amps from $900 to $20,000, and speakers for as much as a person could possibly want to spend. Also: a good collection of pre-digital-era vinyl.
Eric Johnson

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From the September 30-October 6, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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