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[whitespace] Boozin' Down the Line

Leave the driving to Caltrain--barhop from burb to burb

By Jeff Kearns

Mass-transportation advocates love to sell anything on rails as a solution to a region's pollution and traffic woes. They may or may not be right about those things, but there's one advantage that often doesn't make the list: Barhopping.

When the call comes late on a Friday afternoon that everyone's going for drinks after work, there's nothing worse than slogging through the maze of freeways in the valley, which has more jams than a county fair. On top of that, transit systems cost tens or even hundreds of millions of dollars a year to run, so you might as well get your money's worth out of that half-cent sales tax you'll be shelling out until 2036.

So, in the spirit of getting cars off the road--especially those driven by drivers who just finished pounding pints at a pub--here's a guide to some of the valley's better transit-oriented watering holes.

This Stop: Palo Alto

Just across the street from the Palo Alto Station, Rudy's Pub draws a good mixed crowd, there to quietly quaff pints, not to show off. The small, friendly pub offers plenty of German beers on tap and usually delivers good music on the hi-fi. And for anyone with the munchies, it shares a building (and owner) with Elbe, a quiet German restaurant that turns into a dance club on the weekends.

Next Stop: California Avenue

Antonio's Nut House, a couple blocks up California Avenue from the Caltrain Station, is known for the eponymous legume from which it derives its name. Yes, there are peanuts everywhere, and better yet they're dispensed by a giant stuffed gorilla. The place serves as a haven for college kids from a nearby university, but the clientele is hardly limited to brainy geeks decked out in red and white. The bar was a smoker's haven for a while, though repeated crackdowns may have dimmed that cavalier spirit.

Next Stop: Mountain View

For all the things to do in downtown Mountain View, there aren't a whole lot of bars. But there is the Tied House, tucked away on a side street two blocks from the multimodal transit station. Tied House is a textbook brewpub--and one of the best in the valley--with several great beers on tap and the usual brewpub food on the menu. The patio goes well with summer nights.

Next Stop: Sunnyvale

What the last stop lacked in bars is made up for on Sunnyvale's Murphy Avenue--the two-block stretch of old buildings that comprises the diminutive downtown boasts no fewer than 17 liquor-serving establishments. Paul and Harvey's may not be the flashiest, but it's probably the closest extant link to the city's days as a farm town and canning center. Dimly lit and crammed with pool tables, it's also a cozy place for bikers, yuppies and everyone in between. But beer snobs beware: This is a bottled-beer joint.

Next Stop: Santa Clara

Unlike Sunnyvale, Santa Clara bulldozed its historic downtown in the '50s, but there is a bit of character left over. The Hut, across the street from Santa Clara University, defines college bar, packed with tired law school students on weeknights and flirty undergrads on weekends. There's pool inside, plus a great patio out back for smokers. Note: This place is on the old Alameda, and the cross street is Franklin.

Next Stop: San Jose

Tucked away in one of the few slices of historic San Jose that haven't been flattened by bulldozers, Henry's Hi-Life is hard to miss--look for the red, two-story building from 1883 with its name painted on the wall in three-foot-tall letters. But get there early. The bar fills up fast on weekends with folks hungry to mow down clanking plates of ribs and giant steaks.

End of the Line: Tamien

Tamien Station, where heavy rail meets light rail alongside car-choked Highway 87, doesn't boast a whole lot of character. About the only thing around, except for empty or underutilized land that hardly capitalizes on its proximity to transit, is Alma Bowl. It may not be the greatest bowling alley in history, but it does sport a fantastic '50s-era sign towering above the intersection of Alma and Lick.

It's right next to the train station, and a great place to down a few bottles of mass-produced beer over a couple games of pool. The bar is quiet and, for sports fans, filled with giant televisions. But nostalgia nuts should hurry up: high-density transit-oriented development looms, so the bowling balls might meet the wrecking ball sometime soon.

For those dedicated partyers who can't skip a beat, it's even OK to drink on the train. Caltrain inherited the longstanding policy when it took over the corridor from Southern Pacific. But not too many drinks. "We do allow alcoholic beverages," Caltrain spokesperson Jamie Maltbie says, "but we don't allow public intoxication." Bar patrons who haven't been on the train for a while will also be happy to note that Caltrain has big, new bathrooms on every train.

There is one caveat, however, to all this: transit nuts who want to start sampling the wonders of letting someone else do the driving will need to do so on weekdays. The trains won't be running on weekends for the next two years as Caltrain lays new tracks as part of a massive upgrade.

Rudy's Pub
117 University Ave., Palo Alto, 650.329.0922

Antonio's Nut House
321 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, 650.321.2550

Tied House Cafe & Brewery
954 Villa St., Mountain View, 650.965.2739

Paul & Harvey's
130 S. Murphy Ave., Sunnyvale, 408.736.5770

The Hut
3200 The Alameda, Santa Clara, 408.296.6024

Henry's Hi-life
301 W. Saint John St., San Jose, 408.295.5414

Alma Bowl
355 W Alma Ave., San Jose, 408.294.8825

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From the July 18-24, 2002 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

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

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