.City of Djinns Joints

The haunts along California Avenue

Silicon Alleys columnist Gary Singh finds parallels in the past in Palo Alto, a metaphorical City of Djinns.

Only in Palo Alto would Indian food trigger mystical analysis of punks, hippies and lost music venues.

Everything began by revisiting William Dalrymple’s literary journalistic masterpiece, City of Djinns, after which I then shuffled down California Avenue. The Ancients would not leave me alone.

City of Djinns was about Delhi, a place sacked on multiple occasions, crushed and rebuilt in multiple pieces, over multiple centuries, a “city disjointed in time, a city whose different ages lay suspended side by side as in aspic.”

No matter how often planners colluded to fabricate new colonies of gleaming concrete, the crumbling structures, old temples and abandoned ruins suddenly appeared, intruding on the city blocks. Even if much of the old city was pushed out for shiny new constructions, its old buildings—just like spirits—often emerged from nowhere.

I couldn’t read such passages without thinking about Draper’s Music, Antonio’s Nut House and the Keystone Palo Alto. The djinns refer not only to ancient long-gone businesses, but also to the resultant and resonant spirits that might still linger.

For the non-locals: these blocks are about a 20-minute walk from where Steve Jobs lived on Waverly and about a 45-minute walk from where Black Flag played in 1985, even though I wasn’t there. Maybe that’s another story.

Just like in City of Djinns, pieces of the old rocking Palo Alto continued to resurface on California Avenue. I didn’t have to look very hard, especially with the Keystone Palo Alto at 260 California. A legendary club. The stories have been told. And they will continue to be told. Jerry Garcia. Ronnie Montrose. The Tubes. Carl Perkins. John Lee Hooker. The Damned. The Ramones. Metallica for $6.50 in 1983. I didn’t attend any of those either, unfortunately.

The Keystone later became the Vortex and then the Edge, where I did see many rock, punk and industrial shows, beginning around 1989. It was likewise a legendary space. Ask around for the stories. You’ll probably find ’em.

Even though that building is long gone and since replaced by an upmarket restaurant and office complex, the lobby features a handful of black-and-white rock photos and also a short text: “260 California—A Rock History.” The text begins with Grateful Dead lyrics: “Nothin’ shakin’ on shakedown street, used to be the heart of town. / Don’t tell me this town ain’t got no heart, you just gotta poke around.”

Those two lines describe at least 400 of my newspaper columns in this space over the years. Maybe I have Jerry and Robert Hunter to thank.

A rock history of this address, framed, in the lobby, immediately puts Palo Alto light years ahead of San Jose. The suburban politicians of San Jo won’t even acknowledge the first Grateful Dead gig, with that moniker, which took place at a 1965 acid test right where City Hall is now. The politicians refuse to even care. One more reason to say the real “Capital of Silicon Valley” is Palo Alto, as everyone already knows anyway. Do we even need to argue about this anymore?

Jerry Garcia spent lots of time on California Avenue. Just a few blocks down was Draper’s Music. Old grainy photos are out there, floating around Indra’s Net, as the web was once called. Jerry sat at Draper’s over 50 years ago, teaching, smoking and making music.

Draper’s existed from 1966 until 2005. Draper himself passed away in 2019 at the age of 90.

Right across the street, I looked in the window of the former Antonio’s Nut House, one of the greatest dive bars of all time, at least as much a Palo Alto institution as Draper’s or the Grateful Dead. The proprietor is likewise no longer with us and the emptiness of the building made me feel, well, empty.

Which brings us back to the djinns. As I finished shaking down the street, I pulled up at Zareen’s, a delicious Indo-Pak restaurant that was rocking at lunchtime.

Dalrymple was right about the aspic. Just like Delhi, California Avenue in Palo Alto is a place “where multiple ages commingle in a melange of bygone and current cultures.” Punks, hippies and Punjabis all in the same history. Jerry Garcia would be damn proud.

Miss last week’s Silicon Alleys? Fear not, here it is!

Gary Singh
Gary Singhhttps://www.garysingh.info/
Gary Singh’s byline has appeared over 1500 times, including newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro columns, Silicon Alleys, was published in 2020.


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