.Music & Nightlife | Reader Picks

The gang at KSJS-FM offers everything from hip-hop to rock en español.

Best College/Independent Radio Station

KSJS-FM (90.5)
KSJS isn’t just an award-winning training ground for up-and-coming radio professionals; it’s also a hotbed of great programming. Their cutting-edge hip-hop programs alone are worth a tweak of the dial. The station’s format isn’t as scatterbrained as typical college radio, so they manage to squeeze in some sports coverage and a cool movie-soundtrack show, Celluloid Dreams. There’s always plenty of electronic music, rock en español, jazz and subversive rock in heavy rotation. And with a signal that reaches way up the peninsula, you only need change the station when you’re giving your mom a lift to the airport.

2. KSCU-FM (103.3)

3. KFJC-FM (89.7)

Best Local Jock

Greg Kihn, KFOX
How long has Greg Kihn been on the radio now? Between his own hits blasting out of the hi-fi in the ’80s, and his smoky voice doing mornings on KFOX, it seems like a lifetime. Who could be a better choice to host on a classic rock station than a classic rock icon? He’s even had a song parodied by Weird Al. In addition to being a talented DJ and a top-notch musician, he also writes novels. We hear he works at NASA assembling rockets on weekends.

2. Dave Morey, KFOG

3. Ophelia Necro, The Suicide Watch, KFJC

Best Local Winery

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines
1000 Lenzen Ave., San Jose; 408.918.2160. Think local. Drink local. Yes, the Napa Valley is filled with lots of great wineries, but readers are fans of the local flavor of San Jose’s J. Lohr winery. Save yourself a two-hour drive to the Napa Valley and visit the winery’s comfortable winery a mile-and-a-half from the heart of downtown San Jose right off The Alameda.

2. Cinnabar
14612 Big Basin Way, Saratoga; 408.867.1012

3. Testarossa Winery
300A College Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.6150

Best Local Brewery

Gordon Biersch
357 E. Taylor St., San Jose, 408.278.1008; 33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose, 408.294.6785; 640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, 650.323.7723. The main brewery on Taylor Street is now one of the biggest producers of fine beers in the country. They buy their hops and yeast strain from Germany and follow the Reinheitsgebot—the German Purity Law of beer. At the brewery restaurants, longtime regulars have their own beer steins located behind the bar. Even longer-time regulars have their names engraved on the lids and also the cabinets. The brewery/restaurant revamped its repeat customer program a few years ago, but the original regulars still receive preferential treatment over everyone else. GB is a place that truly values its regular customers. Of course, new customers can become regulars, too.

2. Rock Bottom Brewery
1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell; 408.377.0707

3. Los Gatos Brewing Co.
130G N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.9929

Johnny Van Wyk (right) and Alfonso Cervantes keep the music flowing at Johnny V’s in San Jose.

Best New Bar/Club

Johnny V’s
31 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.947.8470. After shutting its doors last year, Johnny V’s has picked right back up where it left off. On the surface, it’s just a tiny dive bar with cheap booze and not a lot of flash (although we do dig the redesign and the fact that it now has actual bar stools). But the music! Punk rock, hip-hop, drum ’n’ bass, rockabilly, you name it. There are killer local and touring bands playing all the time, plus a much-loved hip-hop open-mic night.

2. Willow Den
805 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.271.1880

3. Single Barrel
43 W. San Salvador St., San Jose; 408.792.7356

Best Local Band

Joe Sharino Band
What sets the Joe Sharino Band apart from other cover bands is charisma, lots of it. They’ve played weddings, corporate events, fundraisers and festivals of every kind. And audiences have fun, dancing and singing along every second they’re onstage. Their song list goes into the hundreds, ranging from the 1940s to the present. It’s like having a jukebox come to life.

2. Whiskey Avengers

3. The Peelers

Best Gentlemen’s Club

Pink Poodle
328 S. Bascom Ave., San Jose; 408.600.1941. Here’s the thing. No matter what anyone says, the Pink Poodle is a South Bay icon. Far more people have been than will admit they’ve been. They bring their friends there for birthday parties, then bachelor parties, and then down the line, divorce parties. The girls are varied and energetic.

2. The Brass Rail
160 Persian Dr., Sunnyvale; 408.734.1454

3. Cheetah’s
907 E. Arques Ave., Sunnyvale; 408.733.2628

Best Wine Bar

The Grapevine
1389 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.293.7574. It can get packed, but this is a great place to relax with a glass of wine, appetizers and some live music. You can hang out a while or just sample some new wines. They are constantly changing their by-the-glass selections, plus the staff is more than happy to help locate the perfect gift. Want a glass of wine, but don’t want to go through the hassle of making a selection? No problem. Order the “Totally Random House Wine” and be pleasantly surprised.

2. Vintage Wine Merchants
377 Santana Row #1135, San Jose; 408.260.1115

3. San Pedro Square Bistro and Wine Bar
20 N. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.298.9463

Best Gay or Lesbian Bar

Tinker’s Damn
46 N. Saratoga Ave., Santa Clara; 408.243.4595. Tinker’s Damn is has long been considered one of the top gay bars of the South Bay. There’s great dance music, lots of shirtless men, drag nights and not much in the way of attitude from the staff and regulars.

2. Brix Nightclub
349 S. First St., San Jose; 408.947.1975

3. The Watergarden
1010 The Alameda, San Jose; 408.275.1215

Best Hotel Bar

V Bar (Hotel Valencia)
355 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.551.0010. Any hotel bar is a good hotel bar, right? Add a dress code, some fancy cocktails and an ambience that manages to pay respect to the tried-and-true classic bar motif while giving it a glossy upgrade, and you’ve got a pretty good lounge on your hands. But add to that tasty mix a gorgeous outdoor patio complete with fire pits, water fountains and spacious seating that practically demands an extended sit, and you have the best hotel bar in San Jose.

2. Hedley Club Lounge (Hotel De Anza)
233 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.286.1000

3. Lobby Lounge (The Fairmont)
170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.998.1900

Best Happy Hour

Rock Bottom Brewery
1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell; 408.377.0707. Tucked in the Pruneyard, Rock Bottom Brewery provides great food and a batches of fresh brewed beer, including the famous Raccoon Red. Happy hour lasts all day on Wednesdays, so a patron can enjoy a drink outside on the patio or in the bar with some tasty appetizers. Join the Mug Club and after 25 visits, you can walk out with one of their famous Growler Coolers. Once emptied, you can join a jug band.

2. McCormick & Schmick’s
170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.283.7200

3. Britannia Arms, San Jose
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400

Best Big Dance Club

Saddle Rack
42011 Boscell Road, Fremont; 510.979.0477. The sheer enormity of the Saddle Rack is a big reason why this club won. There’s a huge dance floor surrounded by bars, an Oxygen bar, a mechanical bull and the Margarita Chair, where for $6, a brave soul sits in a chair, leans back and the bartender makes a margarita in their mouth. Equally entertaining are the live shows and DJs. For those of us who are, let’s say, rhythmically challenged, free dance lessons are also offered.

2. Avalon Nightclub
777 Lawrence Expwy., Santa Clara; 408.241.0777

3. Wet
396 S. First St., San Jose; 408.282.8938

Best Small Dance Club

VooDoo Lounge
14 S. Second St., San Jose; 408.286.8636. A downtown San Jose staple, the VooDoo caters to a full range of tastes, from DJs to punk to metal to reggae to hip-hop. Over the last couple of years, they’ve stepped it up a notch and brought in some big names, but they’re still grounded in the local scene, booking up-and-coming South Bay bands and hosting art shows.

2. The Cardiff Lounge
260 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.374.7477

3. The Blank Club
44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.292.5265

Best Sports Bar

Double D’s Sports Grille
354 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.395.6882. Double D’s Sports Grille has made its rep on the ton of TV screens strewn about, sports memorabilia on the walls and the friendly staff. There really isn’t any place you can sit and not see the game of your choice—football, baseball, basketball, hockey, soccer, rugby…maybe even badminton.

2. Britannia Arms, San Jose
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400

3. Britannia Arms, Almaden
5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose; 408.266.0550

Best DJ

King Raffi
The name just says it all. King Raffi reigns on his throne with over 25 years of bringing the party to the people. He was responsible for organizing the biggest dance night in the history of San Jose, Disco Inferno at the Cactus Club in 1990. He does weddings, he does clubs, he works for famous people and has interviewed some of the greats in the entertainment world.

2. DJ Basura

3. Remedy

Best Karaoke

7 Bamboo
162 Jackson St., San Jose; 408.279.9937. For decades, 7 Bamboo has been a top choice when it comes to karaoke. The Japantown fixture is easy to miss from the outside. But inside, would-be singers pack the place six nights a week, a mixture of young screamers and the traditional Japanese-American patrons who have being going there for decades. We recommend reserving a table in advance and being prepared to be seen on the Internet, as there is a webcam to capture every performance.

2. Britannia Arms, Almaden
5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose; 408.266.0550

3. Goosetown Lounge
1172 Lincoln Ave., San Jose; 408.292.4835

Best Pre-Sharks Game Spot

Henry’s Hi-Life
301 W. St. John St., San Jose; 408.295.5414. This San Jose landmark may be known mainly for its barbecue, and did gain notoriety from Man vs. Food, but Henry’s Hi-Life also has an established and dedicated Sharks fan base. Being a block away from the Shark Tank probably helps. The building is more than 100 years old and Henry’s has been there for the past 40. Good food, a kick-back environment and friendly service (unless you’re a Ducks fan), this is truly Sharks territory.

2. Britannia Arms, San Jose
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400

3. Poor House Bistro
91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

JJ’s Blues hosts top-flight acts most every night, including regular appearances by guitarist Gene Washington.

Best Jazz/Blues Club

JJ’s Blues
3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.243.6441. Long a South Bay favorite, JJ’s has been showcasing quality acts in blues and jazz daily for more than 20 years. It is a cozy, nonpretentious long bar with honest drinks, a lot of character and soul and a popular pool table in back.

2. Poor House Bistro
91 S. Autumn St., San Jose; 408.292.5837

3. Fairmont Hotel Lobby Lounge
170 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.998.1900

Best Latin/Salsa Club

Azucar
71 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.293.8482. Azucar is at the top when it comes to the Latin club scene. The margaritas and mojitos are cheap, but it’s the music that’s the standout. Latin rock, salsa, cumbia and merengue are just a taste of what the club has to offer. Tantalizing entrees make Azucar the whole package.

2. Miami Beach Club
417 S. First St., San Jose; 408.242.9621

3. Agenda’s Wednesday salsa night
399 S. First St., San Jose; 408.287.3991

Best British Pub

Britannia Arms, San Jose
173 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.278.1400. You don’t get much more British than Britannia Arms. Their famous phone booth in front has served as a beacon for people looking for the London experience. They have the food (gotta try the British Bangers), the beer (19 beers on tap along with two hard ciders) and the best place to see the Earthquakes play. The only thing they don’t have is those bad British teeth.

2. Britannia Arms, Almaden
5027 Almaden Expwy., San Jose; 408.266.0550

3. Duke of Edinburgh
10801 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.446.3853

Best Irish Pub

O’Flaherty’s
25 N. San Pedro St., San Jose; 408.947.8007. The luck of the Irish shines on this authentic pub, which boasts a perfect Guinness pour and an extensive Scotch and whiskey selection. The Shepherd’s Pie is homemade and the hospitality makes anyone feel Irish. In fact, drink enough of that good Jameson’s and you’ll start sounding Irish, too.

2. Katie Blooms
369 E. Campbell Ave., Campbell; 408.379.9687

3. Rosie McCann’s
355 Santana Row #1060, San Jose; 408.247.1706

Best Martinis

Original Joe’s
301 S. First St., San Jose; 408.292.7030. What, didn’t know the martini was invented by Italians? Fuggedaboutit! It was Italians who came up with the vermouth that was shipped to the U.S. to create the martini in the first place, so it’s no surprise that the South Bay’s premier Italian dining spot should make an excellent one. Keyword: dry. See also: arid. Just be smart and don’t hassle your server about how many olives you want. You get how many olives you get, capisce?

2. The Grill on the Alley
172 S. Market St., San Jose; 408.294.2244

3. V Bar
355 Santana Row, San Jose; 408.551.0010

Best Live Music Club

The Blank Club
44 S. Almaden Ave., San Jose; 408.292.5265. Through the South Bay scene’s best and worst times, The Blank Club has brought the rock. After turning in some of the best shows in its history over the last two years (James Williamson, Buzzcocks and Passion Pit, to name three), the Blank continues to be an intimate spot to see great indie touring bands, and a booking that lets local bands know they’ve made it. Plus, you can’t argue with an awesome ’80s night, great DJs and dollar Pabst night.

2. JJ’s Blues
3439 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.243.6441

3. VooDoo Lounge
14 S. Second St., San Jose; 408.286.8636

Best Margarita

Aqui
Various locations. What exactly is Aqui putting in these things?* In the last few years, their margarita has become like sweet, sweet nectar for the after-work-and-weekend crowd. Aqui serves gold tequila margaritas blended or on the rocks for $6.25. They can be swirled with sangria or upgraded with a variety of premium blue agave tequilas. (*Answer: Equal parts tequila and vodka.)

2. Pedro’s
316 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos, 408.354.7570; 3935 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, 408.496.6777

3. Fiesta del Mar
1005 N. Shoreline Blvd., Mountain View, 650.965.9354; 735 Villa St., Mountain View, 650.967.3525

Best Place to Play Pool

South First Billiards
420 S. First St., San Jose; 408.294.7800. This SoFA District anchor continues to evolve with brand new blue tournament felt, 9-ball competitions and other associated recreational diversions, like ping pong, pinball, local artists’ exhibits, live music on weekends and a full bar.

2. Santa Clara Billiards
4525 Stevens Creek Blvd., Santa Clara; 408.296.3333

3. California Billiard Club
881 E. El Camino Real, Mountain View; 650.965.3100

Best Bowling Alley

300 San Jose
5420 Thornwood Dr., San Jose; 408.578.8500. At some point, bowling stopped being ironically cool and started being actually cool. This might have had something to do with The Big Lebowski, but in the South Bay the tipping point locally was the opening of 300. Suddenly a night out on the town didn’t seem that different from a night out on the lanes. Outside the swank, clubby hang-out spots, this place has more lights than a Japanese game show, and is guaranteed to load up the senses while it loads up the pins.

2. Strike
10123 N. Wolfe Road, Cupertino; 408.252.2695

3. Fourth Street Bowl
1441 N. Fourth St., San Jose; 408.453.5555

Best Dive Bar

Black Watch
141 1/2 N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos; 408.354.2200. Finally, something hipsters and old-schoolers can agree on. In fact, you never know who you’ll find here on any given night. The bartenders are chatty—on a recent trip, one joined in on a graphic and hilarious conversation about worst pickup lines and the disasters they can lead to when successful—and mix some of the strongest drinks this side of the creek trail.

2. Cinebar
69 E. San Fernando St., San Jose; 408.292.9562

3. Dive Bar
78 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose; 408.288.5252

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