[Best of Silicon Valley 1999]

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Hall of Fame

Cactus Club

For over a decade the First Street mecca has been the South Bay's headquarters for new musical talent

By Sarah Quelland

For 11 years now, the Cactus has booked a diverse combination of small and local bands, national touring acts and underground cult favorites, which explains why Metro readers have voted it the best club in the South Bay for seven years. Giving no-name upstarts a place to play on a regular basis and spotting the big names before they break (among them Nirvana, Beck, Korn, No Doubt, Alanis Morissette, Green Day, Primus, Alice in Chains and Rage Against the Machine), Cactus has established itself as a guiding force in San Jose's music scene and a club well worth the honors bestowed on it.

The only downtown club offering 18+ shows (and occasionally 16+ shows) as opposed to the strict 21+ policy of other SoFA hot spots, Cactus brings in hard-hitting rock and metal acts, rap-rock hybrids, hard pop, speedy punk, ska and practically anything else that presents itself, as long as it's interesting. Cactus also offers weekly dance nights, currently running house music on Mondays, '80s modern rock on Tuesdays and Sinatra Night on Wednesdays.

Mike Trippett and Sean Galvin
Photograph by Julia Tranchina

Sticking Power: Cactus Club owners Mike Trippett and Sean Galvin on the eve of the South First Street club's 1988 opening.

The club's appeal doesn't stem from the music alone, though. Cactus bartenders are some of the friendliest in town, and the most talented with the lightning. They make some mean specialty drinks (try the Alien Secretion) and pour some wickedly addictive shots, like the fruity refreshers known as Chillums. Co-founder Mike Trippett is fond of saying he wanted to start a club where a guy in a suit and tie could sit next to a guy with a mohawk and not feel threatened. Judging from the mixed crowd of high school and college students, old-school rock & rollers, new-school punk rockers, local musicians, downtown eccentrics and parents there to check out their kids onstage, it's pretty clear he accomplished that goal.

Surviving 11 years in a fickle scene is no easy feat, but Cactus' enduring significance to this tightly knit music community keeps it going. Odds are good the next band to break out of the San Jose mold and move on to the national spotlight will have played one of its first gigs at the Cactus Club. And odds are they'll remember it.

417 S. First St., SJ 408.491.9300

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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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