The day was exceedingly pleasant in between fits of rain. Mr. Harada and I decided to mount our off-road unicycles and do some 1×1 riding. Tire pressure: check. Disc brakes: tuned nicely. Carbon disk wheels: straight. Performance analysis apps: touched to start.
It took several hours, but the effort was worthwhile as we made our way down the Guadalupe trail toward the docks of San Jose’s luscious Alviso marina. The experience was absolutely “lifelike,” and some would argue even better than the real thing.
Our first stop was The South Bay Yacht Club, which was hosting an opulent winter celebration. A swanky 28-foot fiberglass sailboat motored in and we waved “ahoy,” which was met with a warm retort. The boat was coming in from Redwood City and the tide was in full flood. The marsh was a desaturated scene that knew how to speak only in muted yellows and blues. Countless species of birds provided background music, as the banks of the Alviso Slough are an untamed stage. The interior of Alviso, however, is even more interesting.
In one of the last undeveloped areas of San Jose, Alviso is a time capsule worth investigating. Those who seek a view into the past need not look any further than Vahl’s Restaurant and Cocktail Lounge.
We docked our uni-steeds to the rack out front and proceeded inside. Vahl’s has an Old Vegas, “Smokey and the Bandit” feel that makes one want to splurge on a Trans Am and Burt Reynolds tattoo. The interior is vintage, nicely kept and the bar has plenty of seating.
“Frank” introduced himself as our bartender for the night. He’s one of the old-school Alviso types Martin Scorsese would character study. The kind of guy you need in a bind. A man who can talk your head off but knows when to zip it. Frank sized us up in an instant and realized Mr. Harada and I weren’t from around here. Still he was a gracious host, introducing us to the local culture. Frank is Vahl’s nephew. She opened up the restaurant and cocktail lounge in 1941-42, after running La Costa in downtown San Jose on the corner of Post and Market. Valh’s is Alviso.
The place has a rare pedigree and the menu reflects it. The frog’s legs were exceptional. The tender meat and crispy exterior left me to assume they were broiled and then fried. Their delicate texture and flavor were a perfect pairing to many rounds of Sierras. If the hind quarters of a perfectly cooked amphibian weren’t enough, a crew known as the Karaoke Pals began to set the stage for an unforgettable night. They had their own sound system and distributed party decor to the small crowd at the bar, and Frank warned us that the scene would be on fire in less than an hour.
As he foretold, the room began to fill with the kind of fun-seekers to bring the house down. The South Bay has a lot of party scenes, and Mr. Harada and I have experienced most, but Vahl’s—on a weekend night—is one of the best. Mr. Harada and I observed in reverence from the bar.
These people were giddy as children. These people were adults when Kennedy was president.
We spoke to a couple that was turning 80 in the next few months, while others sang haunting melodies of yesteryear. The karaoke set featured tunes that predated the invention of Rock & Roll. Mr. Harada and I sat and reveled in the songs and stories, the elegance that only a small portion of our population possesses. It’s a rare, mid-century mentality, and it lives at Vahl’s in Alviso. Enjoy for as long as possible.
Vahl’s Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge
1513 El Dorado St., Alviso