Confluence Point is where the Guadalupe River and Los Gatos Creek meet. It’s a gorgeous isthmus that rests below the shadow of the SAP Center. It’s where the salmon run, the amphibians frolic, and the beavers beave. It’s also where, every half century or so, the churning waters burst onto the streets of our downtown, bringing all sorts of troublesome debris and unpleasantness. No place knows this better than Henry’s Hi-Life.

The building that Henry’s resides in is a century old landmark that once served as the Hotel Torino. It housed the young Italian men who came to work in the Valley of the Heart’s Delight. It later became a bar and finally in 1960, Henry Puckett opened Henry’s Hi-Life.

I pondered the precarious location of the place while I waited for Mr. Harada and watched Dave, the evening bartender, fill my pint glass. Dave is an unceremonious host that wastes no time on idle chit chat. He wears an alligator’s smile around the brim of his hat, and unless you’re a regular, that’s the only smile you’ll get from the man. If you’re looking for a bubbly demeanor with lots of flair, you will be disappointed. The only bubbles are in the drinks, and the closest thing to flair are the flames of the grill.

Henry’s Hi-Life is San Jose’s most beloved steak house, and while to the uninitiated it may seem lacking in saccharine hospitality, to those in the know it’s a welcome respite from the dull predictability that is slowly consuming downtown. Don’t misunderstand, the service is very good and pleasant; but, if you’re looking for the kind of cheese you get when you enter the Cheesecake factory, you’ll have to visit one of our lovely shopping malls for that.

I saw Mr. Harada pull up in his brand new sport utility vehicle. Things had been going very well for Mr. Harada as of late and I was gladdened by that fact. His brand new 1990 Toyota 4Runner glistened in the lamplight as Mr. Harada mounted several “The Club” devices to his steering wheel, and chained his front bumper to the lamp post. He carried his removable stereo faceplate like a briefcase of state secrets.

I had a frothy draft brew waiting for him but his eyes were deadlocked with Dave’s. It was a classic bartender stare down. As all of his fans know, Mr. Harada is a dedicated barman, and like a hummingbird in mating season, he will test all others of his ilk to defend his position and territory. Dave’s hat was especially vexing to Mr. Harada; he was orphaned at the tender age of 32 and then adopted and raised by a family of kind alligators.

The two soon agreed to be amicable. I don’t know how, since bartenders don’t often speak. I think they communicate via pheromones like ants or by subsonic grumbles inaudible to human ears, like hamsters.

We began scanning the voluptuous and overwhelmingly meaty menu. Those not interested in nibbling on something that until very recently had a pulse, will have to settle for the fettuccine alfredo (excellent). The steaks, ribs, chops, and other chunk of ruminants, swine, and salmonids are all cooked over a smoldering oak pit. The essence of the open pit punctuates the atmosphere in the building. The aroma makes the place feel ancient, as if  Beowulf could be around the corner with Grendel resolving some mom issues over a full rack of ribs. All meals come with garlic bread which is paired with a smokey dipping sauce reminiscent of a very viscous barbeque blend, a baked potato, and a “salad.”

As we waited for Dave to take our order, Mr. Harada produced a photo from his coat pocket. It was of a mustachioed man—a cross between Tom Selleck, Chuck Norris and Catfish Hunter. He looked like someone who might burst through the door at the last minute to defuse a bomb, after pulling up in either a Ferrari 308 or a Ford F100.

I picked up the photo and examined it, “Who’s this? Looks like a runner up to a Burt Reynolds contest.”

Mr. Harada grabbed the photo and raised his free hand high as if to strike me. Luckily, Dave the bartender intervened, “Jimmy’s not here. Last Tuesday was his last day.”

Mr. Harada was hoping to get an autograph from Jimmy. That’s why he wanted to meet up at Henry’s Hi-Life. Alas, the legendary lunch-time bartender had recently retired after more than 34 years of service. In that time he had battled floods of river water, and floods of drunken miscreants. He saved the restaurant’s former owner, Lois Reynolds, in 1995 when the waters consumed the area.

From what I gathered from the current owner (a gentlemanly character that goes by the name of Jason and is the son of Lois Reynolds), James May or Jimmy was hired well over three decades ago having no bartending experience. Lois Reynolds interviewed him and decided to offer him the position. Did she have a premonition that he would be dragging her soggy limbs to safety a decade later? I don’t know, but I’m sure she didn’t regret her decision.

In the roughly 34+ service, Jimmy had become a legend for his generosity, kindness, and rough-around-the-edges gruffness that became a beloved hallmark of the place. Jimmy did it right and everyone is sad his reign as the undisputed champion of lunch-time good-times has come to an end. No one will replace Jimmy, but something tells me a new era is beginning at Henry’s.

Henry’s has stood firm while the tides raised the rivers and the rents. That unwavering attitude comes from the rock-solid folks that run the place and the menu that keeps the dining area full.

Everything at Henry’s fits together. The building, the staff, the food, and  the drinks. The atmosphere is no-nonsense, generous, and hearty. The place doesn’t make concessions, the menu is what it is, the latest food fad that’s made its way into the kitchen was brought in by Henry Puckett the day he opened the doors. Henry’s hasn’t changed because it doesn’t have to. If you’re doing it right, you never go out of style.