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Cute frogs are one thing, and serious, made-on-the-premises microbrews are another. One of the few indications that the approach to the millennium won't be one long downward slide is the continuing growth of microbreweries committed to beer that tastes like something more than tinted water.

Empire Tap Room
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto (415/321-3030)
This Palo Alto watering hole, clad generously in wood and subtle safari prints, achieved landmark status in writer Po Bronson's novel The First 20 Million. Though the sports channel overhead and khaki-shorts-wearing, mostly male crowd makes it look more like a frat-house reunion than the dealmaking spot of the '90s Internet boom (fashion tip: wear a Netscape T-shirt if you want to look like a 20-something decamillionnaire), the liquor selection immediately belies any suggestion that this is a budget-conscious keg-beer or fruit-drink crowd. An ample selection of single-malt scotches keeps company with a deep roster of grappas, French brandies, ports, agaves and microbrews. Oh, and did we mention cigars? Although they were out of our first three requests--Havana Club rum, a 1964 Armagnac and a Honduran Romeo and Julieta stogie--the Empire builders deserve credit for having them on the list. Open weekdays 11am­10pm and weekends 11am­10:30pm.

Faultline Brewery
Finding Faultline: A pond in the back of the Faultline Brewery both ducks and beer drinkers.

Faultline Brewing Co.
1235 Oakmead Parkway, Sunnyvale (408/736-2739)
The birthplace of the second most important invention of the past 20 years (the personal computer) is a great spot to get the most important: hand-crafted beer. The Faultline features excellent microbrews--as many as seven varieties. The room is unpretentious, the staff relaxed and efficient, and there's an imaginative menu offering appetizers (the corn-crab cakes with red pepper sauce are great), pasta (like smoked salmon-stuffed ravioli) and entrees (I'm going back for the grilled sea bass). For after-dinner cooling off, there's a humidor with two dozen brands of cigars--and a deck out back. Open 5­10pm weekends; 11am­10pm weekdays.

Gordon Biersch
640 Emerson St., Palo Alto (415/323-7723)
At last, a microbrewery that decides to expand to San Jose before San Francisco, Honolulu and Pasadena. The home-base Palo Alto location is everything a brew pub should be: clean, airy and dotted with smooth cherry-wood furniture. Another plus: a glass partition separates the dining and bar areas. The four beers--Pilsner, Märzen, Dunkles and Bock--are consistently excellent, and the garlic fries are the best $3.50 we've spent this year. Opens at 11am daily; closes at 11pm Monday­Thursday; 1am on Friday and Saturday; 10pm on Sunday.

Gordon Biersch
33 E. San Fernando St., San Jose (408/294-6785)
Inside the microbrewery, fraternity brothers, sorority sisters, lawyers, real estate traders and office workers do the nimble courtship dance. Outside, from Wednesday to Saturday, the courtyard comes alive with Afro-Cuban, mambo, salsa, jazz and acid jazz. The courtyard, with its foliage and huge brick buildings, recalls venues in the French Quarter. Three microbrews--Dunkles, Märzen and Export--are always on tap, with a seasonal beer to wash down the pleasing cuisine. Opens at 11am; closes later on weekends.

Los Gatos Brewing Co.
130-G N. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (408/395-9929)
This trendy, high-class pub and eatery caters to a wide variety of Los Gatans. The dining area is spacious, with booths, carpeted floors and sectioned-off eating areas. Families dine on Caesar salads, while couples make eyes over bottles of the valley's finest brews. In the front, crowds of single professionals discuss work, stocks and politics. Although the dress code specifies only shirt, shoes and no tank tops, many go above and beyond the call of duty: Armani suits, leather briefcases and, of course, cell phones. Open Sunday­Thursday, 11:30am­10pm; Friday­Saturday, till midnight.

Mission Ale House
Open Mouth, Insert Plastic: Mission Ale House barkeeps provide a live demonstration of the fine art of stogie-posing.

Mission Ale House
97 E. Santa Clara St., San Jose (408/292-4058)
The Mish replaced one of downtown's seediest dives with a classic long bar that has become San Jose's gathering spot of choice for maturing GenXers who prefer to spend their money on good haircuts than body art. With rich wood tones and a well-stocked humidor, both crafted by master bar designer John Stewart, this popular corner bar combines the right mix of classicism and '90s understated cool. Part of the attraction no doubt is management's proclivity for hiring barmaids who--there's no way to say this without being sexist--are, well, drop-dead beautiful. These tanned, aerobically unchallenged models and professional sports-team cheerleaders with perfect teeth and shiny hair pour stiff drinks for admirers who include the occasional sports celebrity. On a recent visit we spotted 49er Harris Barton sucking down a microbrew. Hours are 11am­2am weekdays and 1pm­2am weekends.

Rock Bottom Brewery
The Pruneyard, 1875 S. Bascom Ave., Campbell (377-0707)
The newest member of a Colorado-based chain, Rock Bottom offers its Pruneyard neighbors five styles of house microbrew, a spiffy contemporary space with wood booths and upbeat attitude and a menu designed to strike terror into the hearts of vegetarians. A mixed age group and even more mixed dress code makes everybody feel right at home, schmoozing in the raised booths or talking shop with the barkeeps, who pace the looking glass fronting the giant fermentation tanks. The bar is open nightly until around 1:30am, and food is served Monday­Thursday, 11am­11pm; Saturday­Sunday 11am­midnight.

Stoddard's Brewhouse
111 S. Murphy Ave., San Jose (408/733-7824)
Stoddard's, along with the Palace, anchors the vitalization (no longer revitalization) of Sunnyvale's Murphy Avenue. The airy, I.M. Pei­like structure features two stories of dining and drinking pleasure. Lots of windows and light colors render relaxation an easy task. The current micros--pale ale, extra-special bitter, porter and the newly minted summer wheat--offer four good reasons to bypass the killer commute that erupts on nearby freeways when tech firms let out. Dinner served till 10pm; closing time for bar varies.

Tied House
954 Villa St., Mountain View (415/965-BREW)
In this spacious, airport hangar­like cafe and brewery, conversations collide like bumper cars, but that doesn't stop patrons from padding across the cobblestone walkway to the bar, where eight fresh beers wait at the spigots. The brews are delicious, with samplers starting at $5. All have names that sound like strains of marijuana: Alpine Gold, New World Wheat, Cascade Amber, Malty Porter. Catching a glimpse of the shiny vats fermenting hops and barley behind the bar, it's hard not to feel good about the world. Don't feel too good; the Mountain View Police Department is located across the street, so always have a designated driver. Opens daily at 11:30am; live music Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

Tied House
65 N. San Pedro St., San Jose (408/295-BREW)
Hockey fans come here to get fired up before the game or to console each other after they lose. The Tied House's eight carefully crafted microbrews and the seasonal beer are unfailingly consistent, unlike the lowly home teams. If the bar area fills up, duck out to the patio where the oil lanterns keep things toasty warm even in the winter. Open weekdays to 10pm; weekends to 12:30am.

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From the June 12-18, 1997 issue of Metro.

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