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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago
BIG STUFF: The Cardiff Lounge in Campbell (our Best Small Dance Club) is not huge, but there's enough room to bust a move.

Music & Nightlife

Reader's Picks

Best New Bar

Firehouse No. 1 Bar and Grill

69 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.287.6969

San Pedro Square boasts some of downtown San Jose's liveliest and friendliest bars. And one of its newest spots, Firehouse No. 1, is no exception. The accommodating bartenders poor some stiff drinks and will sit and talk to you while they make them. The jukebox spits out four decades' worth of music that everyone knows and sings along to after downing a couple of the libations. The crowds are fun, and this is just a great spot to hang out.

Old Wagon Saloon & Grill 72 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.971.9346

Zen Lounge 251 Castro St., Mountain View; 650.969.4847

Best Local Band

The Shitkickers

The balloting for best band this year was closer than ever, just one more sign of how the live scene's heating up. But is anyone surprised to see the South Bay's favorite cowpunks come out on top? With the spooky soul of Ralph Stanley and the outlaw spirit of Johnny Cash, the Shitkickers are at the top of their game. Recently, they even opened for their left-field-country hero, David Allan Coe.


Kung Fu Vampire

Best Strip Club

Pink Poodle

328 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.292.3685

The great poet, novelist and essayist Jim Harrison, in his autobiography Off to the Side, tells of his love of strip clubs. "On the rarest, rarest occasions," he writes, "you become a witness to true beauty, a marriage of nudity and dance so compelling that your breath shortens, the heart heats its staccato tachycardia of actual lust, the summon bonum of desire that the best of the world's poets have been singing for 5,000 years." That, obviously, is what Metro's readers like about the Pink Poodle.

Brass Rail 160 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale; 408.600.1758

Cheetah's Gentleman's Club 907 E. Arques Ave., Sunnyvale; 408.733.2628

Best Wine Bar

The Grapevine

1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.283.7574

Metro readers love the Grapevine so much it won for Best Wine Bar and Best Wine Shop. And for good reason. Beyond the great roster of wines, the Grapevine brings people in for its many events, including the ongoing lineup of parties, tastings and live music.

Cin-Cin Wine Bar and Restaurant 368 Village Lane, Los Gatos; 408.354.8006

Tessora's Barra di Vino 875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell; 408.626.7711

Best Gay or Lesbian Bar

Tinker's Dam

46 Saratoga Ave., Santa Clara; 408.243.4595

This hot spot has been bringing in the gay crowd for years. The customers range in age from fresh to quite mature, but they all dance the night away. Tuesday nights are karaoke; Sundays and Mondays host one of the best drag shows anywhere; every other night features a live DJ and good times.

Splash 65 Post St., San Jose; 408.993.0861

Brix Nightclub 349 S. First St., San Jose; 408.947.1975

Best Hotel Bar

V Bar, Hotel Valencia

355 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.551.0010

If hotel bars make you scream, Vbar probably will too, but in a different fashion. An ultrachic hipster hangout with expensive drinks and expensively inclined singles, Vbar is so sexy, it just hurts. In a good way. Silver beads hang in the doorway. Thumping electronic music emanates from the speakers. Hues of jet black dominate and you can even relax on opulent couches to scope out the modish singles who populate the place.

Hedley Club Lounge, Hotel De Anza 233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.1000

Lobby Bar, the Fairmont 170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.998.1900

Best Happy Hour

Straits Restaurant

333 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.246.6320

Happy Hour at Straits runs 3–6pm, with $3 Kirins and $3–$5 small plates. Translation: Before the hipster throngs invade, you can mingle with business types and moneyed shoppers, while gorging on seriously rippin' pan-Asian fusion concoctions. Just choose your vice: Roti Prata, sushi, ginger soda or the femme-fatale employees who scamper about the establishment with the greatest of ease.

San Jose Bar & Grill 85 S. Second St., San Jose; 408.426.5842

E&O Trading Co. 96 S. First St., San Jose; 408.938.4100

Best Big Dance Club


777 Lawrence Expwy., Santa Clara; 408.241.0777

Put "big" in the name of a local dance club award, and how could Avalon not win it? The place is freakin' huge, and yes, size does matter. It's also won a righteous army of loyalists for its eclectic taste in booking—especially the fact that it books the best reggae shows in the South Bay, creating a proper home to the surprising number of Jamaican expats who have moved to the Bay Area after finding international success on the reggae scene.

Wet 396. S. First St., San Jose; 408.282.8938

Sabor 72. N. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.287.1737

Best Small Dance Club

The Cardiff Lounge

260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.7477

Cardiff, in downtown Campbell, has some of the best music and dancing around. Beautiful people crowd the small dance floor as the DJs spin house and trans—you can hear the music from a block away. Parking is usually easy to find, and the bartenders pour good drinks.

Fahrenheit Ultra Lounge 99 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.998.9998

The Cellar 399 S. First St., San Jose; 408.287.3399

Best Sports Bar

Double D's Sports Grille

354 N. Santa Cruz Ave. Los Gatos; 408.395.6882

This is the spot to go check out any type of game; with 22 HD TVs, at least one of them will be set to that curling match you've been dying to see. They also have two pool tables, video games and a jukebox so that fans of all stripes can burn many an hour cheering on their favorite teams, drinking frosty beverages and chowing down on nachos and other tasty items.

Coach's Sports Bar 2240 Winchester Blvd., Campbell; 408.379.2654

Jack's Bar & Lounge 167 E. Taylor St., San Jose; 408.287.5225

Best DJ

Rated R

House-music expert DJ R gets around. He spins at Club Milano, the Bamboo Lounge and Sabor, and can be heard this Sunday (Sept. 27) at the last Detox Pool Party of the summer. Obviously, out nightlife-loving readers keep tabs, because Rated R ran away with the voting.


Rick Preston

Best Karaoke

7 Bamboo

162 Jackson St., San Jose; 408.279.9937

Every night is karaoke night at 7 Bamboo. This Japantown hot spot wins every year for best karaoke because it dedicates itself to the art and awesomeness that is karaoke. Lovers of singing in public flock to this place to belt out classics from Tom Jones to Nickelback. Everyone's a rock star at 7 Bamboo.

Goosetown 1072 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.292.4835

Peacock Lounge 19980 E. Homestead Road, San Jose, 408.777.0812;102 E. Fremont Ave, Sunnyvale, 408.962.6690

Best Pre-Sharks Game Spot

Poor House Bistro

91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

Now that Tied House has sadly departed the downtown San Jose pregame Sharks-viewing landscape, Poor House wins hands down. Not only does it offer some of the best sandwiches and blues music around, the joint is pure New Orleans, right near the Tank. There exists no other place to wolf down a hot catfish po' boy before cheering on the Sharks. If that sounds fishy, it is.

Britannia Arms, San Jose 173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, 408.278.1400

O'Flaherty's 25 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.947.8007

Best Jazz/Blues Club

JJ's Blues

3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose; 408.243.6441

There's no need to be shy about it: JJ's is the kind of club you wouldn't take your mom to, unless your mom was Etta James. Because blues insiders, God bless 'em, understand that funky little places like this are the soul of blues music, and usually the haunts of its truest artists. Certainly JJ's has hosted the best blues over the last two decades, and even after its change in ownership a few years ago, it continues to bring in Bay Area favorites, touring musicians or local jammers almost every night of the year.

Poor House Bistro 91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

Hedley Club, De Anza Hotel 233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.1000

Best Latin/Salsa Club


71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.293.1121

Have rhythm? Or just like to watch people that do? Then Azucar is the spot. Not only do the mojitos rock, but the music gets some really good-looking people on the dance floor turning and gyrating at some really impressive speeds. They have live music on the weekends, pumping out salsa, baladas, merengue and more.

Miami Beach Club 417 S. First St., San Jose; 408.971.6646

Alberto's 956 Park Ave., San Jose; 408.288.5928

Best British Pub

Britannia Arms

5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose, 408.266.0550; 173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose, 408.278.1400; 1087 S. De Anza Blvd., Cupertino, 408.252.7262

In Santa Clara County, the essence of Britannia Arms—all three locales—conjures up that of a friendly home-away-from-home where one can gulp any number of pints and actually catch Premiership League matches on several televisions. First came the Cupertino Brit in 1981, then Almaden a few years later, and more recently, a third locale opened downtown. All three are local legends, offering British-style grub at any hour they happen to be open.

Duke of Edinburgh 10801 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.446.3853

Trials Pub 265 N. First St., San Jose; 408.947.0497

Best Irish Pub


29 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.947.8007

"As old as Atty Haye's goat," "as thieving as a fox's snout," you can hear them say. They also say, "Beauty won't make the pot boil," or "Wear it like a thistle on the hearth." In the lilt of Irish laughter, you can hear the angels sing at O'Flaherty's Pub in San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. If the boys in the SJPD are singing "Galway Bay," then they're probably at O'Flaherty's.

Katie Blooms 369 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.379.9687

C.B. Hannegan's 208 Bachman Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.1233

Best Martinis

V Bar

355 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.423.5405

Everything about the Vbar in Santa Row's Hotel Valencia is stylish, and that includes the martinis—whether it's the classic with dry gin and a whiff of vermouth, the now-classic lemon drop or one of Vbar's signature drinks (the Skyy, Midori and mango juice concoction is a favorite). As an added enticement for the ladies, Vbar throws "Martinis and Manicures" parties once a month—$20 buys one of each.

Morton's 177 Park Ave., San Jose; 408.947.7000

Martini Monkey 1661 Airport Blvd. #3B, San Jose; 408.925.9376

Best Shots

Black Watch

141 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2200

Does the Black Watch serve the best shots in the South Bay? Here's a guarantee: Have enough of what these bartenders are serving and you won't remember either way. From Flaming Docs to Washington Apples to Chocolate Cake shots, let it never be said that the Black Watch skimps on the questionable choice of shots that so many of us have had there. Amen.

Cardiff 260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.7477

VooDoo Lounge 14 S. Second St., San Jose; 408.286.8636

Best Live Music Club

The Blank Club

44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.28.BLANK

It's always darkest before the dawn, and back when the outlook for the local scene was pitch black a couple of years ago, the Blank Club was starting to look like live music's last stand in San Jose. "At least we've still got the Blank Club" was a common refrain, often used to punctuate a remembrance of venues past. Now that things have been looking up, the Blank has continued to innovate, showcasing local bands and artists with the free Wednesday Night Live! series, inviting Suicidal Barfly to take up residency and recently proving its relevancy once again with one of the best Blank shows ever: James Williamson and the Careless Hearts burning down the house to the songs of the Stooges.

VooDoo Lounge 14 S. Second St., San Jose; 408.286.8636

Britannia Arms Multiple Locations

Best Margarita


1145 Lincoln Ave., San Jose, 408.995.0381; 201 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.2784; 5679 Snell Ave., San Jose, 408.362.3456

Aqui's Industrial Strength Margarita—a tart concoction made with the usual liberal application of tequila plus a shot of vodka for extra punch—is a valley legend, much appreciated for its reliable effects. But it's the top-shelf margaritas, with their fine reponsados and hand-squeezed lime and orange juices, that make us eager to ramp up the stress just for the pure pleasure of decompressing again, sip by potent sip.

Pedro's 1610 E. Capitol Expwy., San Jose; 408.223.2910

El Jardin 368 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.246.1744

Best Place to Play Pool

South First Billiards

420 S. First St., San Jose; 408.294.7800

With what appears to be a warehouse full of tables in good condition, South First Billiards is easily the best place to run the felt in the South Bay. They mix some good drinks and offer foosball and ping pong. For South First Fridays, the valley's favorite pool hall thinks outside the box with art show and music performances.

Campbell Billiards 1777 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell; 408.377.9886

Santa Clara Billiards 4525 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.296.3333

Best Bowling Alley


5420 Thornwood Dr., San Jose; 408.578.8500

What's a better idea than throwing heavy balls around in the dark? Enjoying cocktails while throwing heavy balls around in the dark, of course. The bowling alley 300 features loud Top 40 music and a full-service restaurant and sports bar. It's also clean, modern and looks classy on the inside. If there's anything better than that, who knows what it is? It's pretty sure that 300 is bowler's heaven.

Strike 10123 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.252.2695

Cambrian Bowl 14900 Camden Ave., San Jose; 408.377.2354

Best Dive Bar

Black Watch

141 1/2 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2200

Every barfly has his or her own interpretation of what constitutes a "dive" bar, and this year Metro readers chose the Black Watch in Los Gatos. Hey, it doesn't have any windows you can see through, so therefore it's a dive. Make sense? I hope so. Bikers dig the place. Daytime miscreants dig the place. Hell, even people from Los Gatos dig the place.

Cinebar 69 E. San Fernando St., 408.292.9562

Jack's 167 E. Taylor St., San Jose; 408.287.5225

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