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El Guapo is a South Bay favorite that has many comparing it to the best Mexican food south of the border or south of the state. Beyond mixing quality ingredients and authentic recipes, El Guapo has also staked its claim as a perfect spot for a stiff drink. From their unique margarita concoctions (such as patron and house favorite El Hefe) to their Beergaritas (not to mention their delicious house Sangria, made with freshly cut seasonal fruits), El Guapo has become a go-to for all kinds of cravings.
With an old-school, porno-chic interior, complete with red velvet walls, Branham Lounge is a locals dive bar where the real attraction are the aging patrons who've become a mainstay. With the addition of a DJ and some plasma screens, a younger set has begun to take notice of this local haven, established in 1969. But even with a change in age or audience, its the alcohol thats driving people through the doors, and the bartenders at Branham still know how to pour 'em heavy and serve 'em cheap.
Ahhh… the beloved Brit. With regular live music, a big bar, tons of seating and a massive outdoor patio, the Britannia Arms has been corralling a number of San Jose scenesters for quite some time. The skilled bartenders are friendly, as are the patrons that make up the majority of the often packed bar and back patio area. The Brit also serves as the stomping grounds for avid sport fans that want to catch the stats on the latest hockey, basketball, baseball and football (both the kicking kind and the American kind) games. When live bands aren't thrilling the masses, resident DJs pull folks to the floor with earfuls of hip-hop jams, pop beats and '90s throwbacks.
With live jazz on Thursdays and DJ nights on Fridays and Saturdays, this San Jose bar and restaurant offers a little for everyone: food, dancing, live music, atmosphere and, of course, drinking. The bar's list of fancy, fruity martinis (Sexy Alligator, anyone?) and mojitos is balanced by a reasonable wine list and a small selection of draft and bottled beers. Better known as a bar than as a bistro, the Loft's upstairs dance floor gets crowded on weekends, as do the cushioned benches on the rooftop patio. During the week, the Loft has a decidedly mellower scene, with groups gathering to sip drinks and eat appetizers both upstairs and down.
With perhaps the most celebrated sliders (mini burgers) in the South Bay, San Jose Bar and Grill offers tasty food, an awesome happy hour and a central downtown location. This bar is many things to many different people—during the week older regulars consider it their neighborhood watering hole, while the younger twenty-somethings turn it into a rocking dance club on weekend nights. It's also a sports bar with plenty of high-definition TVs so patrons can see big games from nearly everywhere in the bar.
Tres Gringos looks like the kind of popular hangout you're likely to see in a movie. Scandalously dressed girls in lifeguard seats oversee rowdy matches of beer pong, the crowd seems like it has been plucked from an quintessentially trendy frat party and live music (mostly in the reggae vein) pours out a soundtrack for zealous partiers. The best part is that the drink specials make getting sauced an easy feat for the wallet.
Aqui Cal-Mex Grill / Saddle Bar1145 Lincoln Ave., San Jose CA 95125; Tel. 408.995.0381
5679 Snell Ave., San Jose CA 95123; Tel. 408.362.3456
Aqui Cal-Mex Grill has a special place in the hearts of South Bay margarita lovers and fans of cheap food. With options ranging from innovative top shelf concoctions to the signature Industrial Strength Margarita, this San Jose local bar and restaurant knows how to get its patrons sauced. The Mexican-fusion cuisine is creative, delicious and cheap, and the selection of tequilas tops 40—if you ask us, that's reason enough to build a shrine to this place.
Cardinal Lounge3197 Meridian Ave., San Jose CA 95124; Tel. 408.269.7891
A painfully retro neighborhood lounge steeped Vegas-style kitsch, the Cardinal Lounge looks like someplace your ornery grandmother would sit sipping sidecars and bitching about the Regan administration. Cheap cocktails and karaoke draw in a slew of quirky regulars that range from the barely legal to the barely living, and the über-convenient location inside the all-nite Cardinal Diner is perhaps the coolest thing we've ever seen. Just imagine: after downing a few shots and crooning a few rounds on the aging karaoke machine, you can wander into the dining room and sit down to a big plate of deliciously greasy diner food. Awesome.
Chacho's18 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.293.138
A local bar and killer Mexican restaurant, Chacho's gets packed on a regular basis with just about every kind of customer, from the after work crowd to the rocker set waiting for the show at the Blank to begin. Sure, the awesome food is totally worth the visit, but it's the knock-your-socks-off selection of tequilas that we love most. With over 90 varieties of that blessed agave spirit—15 of which are mescal—neophytes and connoisseurs alike can get sauced enough here to forget about what a pain it was to find a parking spot. The skilled bartenders make cocktails that are almost death defying, from mind-boggling margaritas to signature drinks like the Cholo and No Panties.
Checkered Flag Bar and Grill803 Lincoln Ave., San Jose CA 95126; Tel. 408.271.1880
Happily nestled between two liquor stores, Checkered Flag Bar and Grill is a bar for the true drinkers of San Jose. This surprisingly large hangout sports a solid crew of regulars who park their Harleys out front and head inside for a plate of good, greasy bar food and stupidly cheap drinks. Since this place is the proud king of all two- and four-wheeled things, motor sports are generally the show of the night on the TVs that hang over the well stocked bar. Between shooting pool and testing your skills on the shuffleboard, the cool bartenders will keep you supplied with strong cocktails and random bomb shots.
City Bar and Grill in the Hilton Hotel300 Almaden Blvd., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.947.4444
A casual hangout in downtown San Jose's Hilton, the City Bar & Grill is a mainstay for conventioneers with expense accounts. During conventions, of which San Jose has its fair share, this place is packed with attendees digging into classic American fare and putting down a few cocktails between exhibits or meetings. Despite the hotel location, this place manages to draw in a faithful set of locals who like drinking in the smooth jazz atmosphere.
Club Max Doubletree Hotel2050 Gateway Pl., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.437.2167
Club Max is a surprisingly hopping place, especially for a hotel bar. This groovy little club draws locals and hotel guests with DJs spinning R&B and house, live music on Fridays and Saturdays, big screen TVs tuned to sports and pool tables. A hit with the after-work crowd, this place kicks out strong drinks and happy hour specials that can make anyone happy, no matter how rough their day was. Oh yeah, happy hour also boasts a nacho bar - yes, a nacho bar. How cool is that?
Cuetopia Billiards Café4700 Almaden Expy., San Jose CA 95118; Tel. 408.266.7665
Cuetopia Billiards Café has rolled enough nightlife amenities into one place to beg the question: why go anywhere else? Seriously, this San Jose local bar and pool hall features 25 pool tables, seven TVs, dartboards, foosball tables, over 40 brews to choose from and some of the best Chicago-style hot dogs this side of the Mississippi. And when you add in the fact that they've scratched traditional Happy Hours to offer Happy Days specials where the drafts are only $3 Sunday through Thursday, it's hard to make a case to ever leave.
The Den at Fourth Street Bowl1441 N. 4th St., San Jose CA 95112; Tel. 408.453.5555
In the tradition of great bowling alley bars, the Den at Fourth Street Bowl welcomes one and all with cheap drinks, killer grub from the adjoining café and the dark, aged confines that constitute the best of dives. Between, or in lieu of, rounds on the lanes, drinkers can behave like tone-deaf American Idol wannabes by joining in on the raucous nightly karaoke. And whether you're one of those folks who knocks the pins down with ease or you're the type who lands gutter balls with flawless execution, you have to admit that there are few things more fun than bowling when you're sauced.
Dive Bar78 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.288.5252
With a name like "Dive Bar," one would expect to find the standard dive bar digs - a dark and seedy space with no windows, signs that are missing letters, scruffy old guys nursing whiskey at the bar - but think again. This place is anything but a dive. Low profile couches, an antique bar and leather stools make a haven for the San Jose hipster set that flirt mercilessly over cosmos and Long Island iced teas while a DJ pumps out cool house and top 40 grooves. Every Wednesday hosts some of the funniest karaoke around - we've even seen a guy singing "It's Not Easy Being Green" by Kermit the Frog, frog voice and all.
E&O Trading Company96 S. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 1.408.728.8329
E&O Trading Company is a downtown staple offering amazing specialty cocktails and a menu that will take you from India to Thailand without the inconvenience of getting a passport first. Rocking a chic, Far East theme, this restaurant-cum-temple surrounds San Jose's well-clad business types with authentic Southeast Asian artifacts, adding a dash of the exotic to their ever-seeking-happy-hour lives.
El Jardín Tequila Bar & Restaurant386 Santana Row, San Jose CA 95128; Tel. 408.246.1744
If you ever find yourself questioning whether or not there's a divine being watching over us and if said being wants us to be happy, simply remember the immense selection of tequila at El Jardín Tequila Bar & Restaurant (happily brought to you by the proprietors of Consuelo Mexican Bistro). From sharp, almost peppery reposados to smooth, woody añejos, this Santana Row garden bar features a heavenly selection of 100% blue agave tequila and a mind-boggling list of cocktails that prove you can enjoy your tequila without the lick-sip-bite method. A tapas-style menu of flavorful treats accompanies the list of drinks.
The Escape2942 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose CA 95124; Tel. 408.377.5436
Typically rocking a parking lot full of Harleys and well-worn pickup trucks, The Escape is a haven for true blue boozers sporting work boots, chucks, chaps or anything that properly conveys their disinterest in everything white-collar. The divey digs come complete with two regulation sized pool tables, a jukebox with all the best classic tunes and a cool staff of heavy handed bartenders who mix mean cocktails for prices that were low ten years ago.
Eulipia374 S. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.280.6161
When looking for a distinguished spot to enjoy dinner or cocktails downtown, well-heeled sets head to Eulipia, a classy establishment known for outstanding service, an intimate and cozy bar, a sophisticated atmosphere and a primo list of libations. Located across the street from the theatre in the SoFA district of downtown San Jose, Eulipia is the sleek, upscale kind of place where you can impress a date with great cuisine before heading to the opera.
5th Quarter Sports Bar & Grill1373B Kooser Rd., San Jose CA 95118; Tel. 408.265.7033
As the name implies, the 5th Quarter is a San Jose local bar with a deep devotion to sports. Every major game and even a few of the obscure ones can be seen on one of the televisions stuck up around this local haunt. When there isn't a game on, occasional bands and DJs fill the joint with rock-oriented tunes. When MNF season is up, the 5th Quarter continues to entertain football-mourning masses with Monday night karaoke.
Firehouse #169 N. San Pedro St., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.287.6969
Stiff drinks, tasty food and a chill atmosphere make Firehouse #1 even cooler than its predecessor, The Flying Martini Brothers. Decked out ala firehouse with hydrants, hoses, red walls and red-stemmed martini glasses, this is the kind of neighborhood joint where you can belly up to the bar after work on a Monday, have a few rounds and dig into a massive burger or a plate of their killer sliders, which are possibly the best sliders we've ever had. To really get with the theme, order the house's Big Red Drink, a sweet concoction that tastes like koolaid and is basically a hangover in a glass. On busy nights (and trust us, this place can get very busy), the cute and charming bartenders show off their flair skills by lighting up drinks like the Flaming Dr. Pepper.
Giza Hookah Lounge18 N. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.998.4622
If striking languid poses on extra pillowy couches and feeling especially cool is your thing, then Giza Hookah Lounge is the place for you. Crowds who are generally too young to get into bars frequently recline in the opium den-esque confines of this relxing neighborhood spot, waxing philosophical and puffing away on one of more than 30 different flavors of hookah tobacco.
Goosetown Lounge1072 Lincoln Ave., San Jose CA 95125; Tel. 408.292.4835
Few other bars take better care of their drinkers than San Jose's Goosetown Lounge, a modest hangout that packs its modest living room-esque confines on a regular basis. Heavy pours, friendly vibes, killer bartenders and a random assortment of entertainment options even bring in off duty bartenders from all over town. On Friday and Saturday nights, enthusiastic locals hit the Goosetown's tiny stage to show of their karaoke skills.
Gordon Biersch33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.294.6785
Some will say that Gordon Biersch is overrated as a restaurant; but as a brewpub, it kicks ass. The huge menu of decent, eclectic pub grub is enough to fill your stomach at just about any hour, cushioning it for the insane amount of home-brewed beer that will inevitably follow. The huge outdoor patio area is open year round and serves as a cool spot for celebrating a birthday, enjoying dinner or just hanging out and getting plastered with friends.
Henry's World Famous Hi-Life301 W. Saint John St., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.295.5414
Henry's World Famous Hi-Life is a haven for the unapologetically carnivorous members of the population - and that's why it's so darn popular. The menu offers thick, juicy cuts of meat, meat and more meat, and the full bar offers up plenty to wash it down with. Simply walk in, take a number, place an order and grab a drink from the bar, and the server will come get you when your food is ready. How easy is that? A word to the wise: this place packs in during football season and before and after events at HP Pavilion, which is within stumbling distance.
Hookah Nites Café371 S. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.286.0800
Hookah Nites Cafe is at the forefront of the increasingly popular Bay Area trend of the Middle Eastern-themed smokers den. Veteran smokers sidle up next to rookies on the chill out couches and spark up interesting flavored tobaccos, ranging from apple to zinnia, and listen to eclectic DJs completing the atmosphere.
Hukilau230 Jackson St., San Jose CA 95112; Tel. 408.279.4888
Hukilau oozes island mystique with a roster of addictive Hawaiian drinks and tasty island fare. One of the few local San Jose bars to offer musubi-style Spam (a Hawaiian classic don't you know?), Hukilau draws locals with a late-running Aloha Happy Hour and Wahini Specials for ladies. Tucked between a Japanese market and sushi restaurant in San Jose's Japantown, this San Jose bar seems like a tropical world away from the Silicon Valley.
JJ's Blues3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., San Jose CA 95117; Tel. 408.243.6441
Boasting live entertainment every night, JJ's Blues is a cozy neighborhood blues dive with a full bar and awesome tunes. Hmm…do you need anything else? Well just in case that didn't convince you of JJ's worthiness in the San Jose bar scene, this blues spot has over two decades of history and, though ownership changed back in '05, the new owners have proved their dedication to quality live music and ever flowing cocktails.
Koji Sake Lounge48 S. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.287.7199
This elegant San Jose bar is a popular local spot to sip sake and lounge in candlelit repose. With a lengthy list of premium sake, innovative cocktails and tempting small plates, Koji Sake Lounge draws San Jose locals seeking a different twist on the downtown San Jose bar scene. An on-site Zen garden and spare Japanese modern design make Koji a soothing stop for an after-dinner drink, or a good place to start or end a night of partying in downtown San Jose. Comfortable seating, mood lighting and mellow music also make this San Jose sake bar ideal for an intimate chat or romantic first date.
Mac's Club39 Post St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.288.8221
This tiny local hangout on Post Street primarily hosts a rotating list of regulars, but is also a popular pre-party stop for club folks in downtown San Jose. Mac's Club has the type of laid-back, clubby atmosphere that makes everyone feel right at home, but hosts an eclectic crowd of gay and straight, young and young-at-heart. Tucked away from the main drags, Mac's Club feels a little like a secret hideaway and fans of this San Jose bar wouldn't have it any other way.
Mexico Lindo Restaurant and Cantina11 Race St., San Jose CA 95126; Tel. 408.295.7765
On weekdays students and San Jose locals crowd to this San Jose bar and restaurant for strong margaritas and raucous karaoke, with some tasty home-style Mexican food to boot. But here's the most important feature of Mexico Lindo Restaurant and Cantina: Happy hour starts at 3 p.m. That means $4 margaritas until you can't stand up, or if you're slightly more reasonable, $4 margaritas tempered with $1 tacos to keep it all in balance. On weekends Mexico Lindo heats up with DJs spinning salsa and Top 40, and the same margaritas to keep the party going.
O'Flaherty's Irish Pub25 N. San Pedro St., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.947.8007
O'Flaherty's is just an all-around good time—the bartenders are genuinely friendly, the car bombs always seem to be dropping and there's usually a lively crowd. The bar even has outdoor seating, which is great for people watching on warm summer nights. To get things started off right order a Mad Hatter, or two if you dare. In addition to some great knockout drinks, O'Flaherty's has delicious calamari and French fries to help soak up the booze.
Original Joe's301 S. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.292.7030
Regulars stop in to this San Jose institution to sip classic cocktails, including the bar's famous Manhattan, and catch up with the affable bartenders. Open for over 50 years, Original Joe's has the sort of clubby, old-school atmosphere that's hard to find in newer establishments, but with recent cosmetic updates, this San Jose bar and restaurant is anything but outdated. Popular for drinks and appetizers before Sharks games and concerts, it's easy to slip into a booth at OJ's and let time slip away.
Patty's Inn102 S. Montgomery St., San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.998.4566
Patty's Inn is a lively dive with PBR on tap, free peanuts, a pool table and plenty of scruffy locals. Located within stumbling distance of HP Pavilion, this bar gets packed with a lively crowd of Sharks fans before and after games. It's also nearby the San Jose Caltrain station, making it a popular bar to grab a notoriously strong cocktail for train commuters before the ride home.
Plaza Inn1182 Lincoln Ave., San Jose CA 95125; Tel. 408.292.0132
Located in San Jose's Willow Glen neighborhood, this local watering hole and Mexican restaurant draws regulars in search of a cold beer and a place to watch soccer. On weekends crowd gather to drop coins into the jukebox (well-stocked with Latin music), shoot pool and down margaritas.
Red Stag Lounge1711 W. San Carlos St., San Jose CA 95128; Tel. 408.292.6777
The Red Stag Lounge has pretty much everything going for it besides its location. This dive is squeezed into a strip mall with a neighboring video rental store and Cash & Carry. It's a good thing that the Red Stag has a pool table, cool red lighting, strong drinks and karaoke every night. The friendly bartenders and owners only add to the appeal of this oddly placed bar on San Carlos.
Teske's255 N. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.292.0291
Stepping into Teske's is like being transported straight into a neighborhood drinking hole in Germany. Well, a nice drinking hole. The bartenders know the regulars, but newcomers are immediately welcomed in with a friendly hello. Teske's features a selection of German beer on tap difficult to find elsewhere, along with a long list of schnapps and a tasty menu full of German appetizers and entrees. First timers: going to Teske's without trying a shot of Jagertee is simply not allowed.
Tied House65 N. San Pedro, San Jose CA 95110; Tel. 408.295.2739
We dare you to find a better beer deal than Tied House's 89-cent half-pint night on Thursdays. This isn't crappy beer either—Tied House brews its own onsite and rotates seasonal varieties along with its always-flowing originals. For a few bucks, the average person can get a healthy buzz going before moving on to the 50 something bars in a five-block radius, or munching on some Tied House pub grub.
Trials Pub265 N. 1st St., San Jose CA 95113; Tel. 408.947.0497
Trials is a true pub—cozy atmosphere, quality food and nearly 20 beers on tap. The fish and chips are the flagship menu item, and rightly so. The fish is lightly breaded, crispy and oh so tasty. Order some curry on the side to dip the chips in. And of course, nothing goes better with pub grub than hand-pumped pints and good conversation (there aren't any TVs at Trials to hinder chatting). Trials also boasts a quiz night on Mondays and some of the friendliest staff in town.
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