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The Metro Bars & Clubs 2005 Guide
[ Intro | 20 Years of Bars and Clubs | Bartender Profiles | San Jose | Campbell | Cupertino | Los Altos | Los Gatos | Menlo Park | Mountain View | Palo Alto | Redwood City/Peninsula | Santa Clara | Saratoga | Sunnyvale ]

Hair Metal to Ultralounge

The 20-year evolution of the valley's club scene

WHEN FONDLY plowing through the past 20 years of bars and clubs with the utmost nostalgia, because this is Metro's 20th anniversary year, we would obviously begin in 1985.

The insidious hair-metal hysteria was then the rage. In Campbell, Zapp's, Smokey Mountain and later Puma's were home to every local wannabe Hollywood rock band. (Most of those guys are now construction workers.) Venues like the Cabaret at Saratoga and 280 and the Keystone Palo Alto booked national acts. Downtown had nothing but old school dive bars and pickup places like Paradise Beach and D.B. Cooper's. The punk and alternative bands had to settle for basement gigs, college buildings, rented spaces, backyards or the few clubs that did surface, like the Laundryworks or One Step Beyond.

Then the Cactus Club opened in December of 1988 and inspired other folks to start nightclubs in the area. Marsugi's already existed where Agenda sits now, and after Ajax and F/X opened up, a thriving alternative-music scene emerged. For live music, downtown was the area to go. Of course, like all countercultures, it couldn't last forever, and the city had no vision to ensure that it would. So, gargantuan tri-story nightmares like Dimensions and Polly Esther's soon emerged. Over at the Pavilion Shops, the megaclub San Jose Live lasted a few years.

Other pockets of night life in Sunnyvale, Mountain View and Los Gatos continued to attract folks. Mountain Charlie's in Los Gatos still draws in regulars. The Cactus Club threw in the towel in 2002; the city just didn't seem to want anyone under 21 having fun on South First Street, and live music fell by the wayside in favor of DJ nights at most places.

Out of that primordial soup grew the ultralounge phenomenon, birthing a studied urban modernist coolness that previously inhabited places like Miami and New York. First the Vault, Blue Monkey and Paragon swept in with designs that ranged from funky interpretations of global and historical themes to ultraminimalism—along with large vodka selections. They were followed by other temples of cool like the velvet-seated SoFA Lounge and sleek Fahrenheit of flat panel animations and blue backlit frosted glass. On the big concept front, SoFA's Cabana transformed itself into Glo, Blue Tattoo gave way to Deep and the Banker's Club reinvented itself as Studio 8, an ambitious dance venue with VIP areas, velvet ropes, reserved tables, bottle service and go-go dancers.

Who knew that a grubby rock scene would grow up to become a regional urban attraction with lines, limos, dress codes and $300 bottles of champagne? That hip hop icons would be pulling up in pimped out Escalades to scope out the scene at Ambassadors? That lonely gay clubs would someday rub shoulders in a nascent district? That people would drive from Salinas and the Central Valley to salsa-step at Club Miami? Or that Latin trannies would have two nights to their fabulous selves at Lido?

As we wait for the next new club, Angels, to take the craft paper off its polished purple-heart floors at First and San Sal, we'll chill at the cozy Dive Bar. In today's club scene, there's something for everyone. In this issue, you can read about 240 bars and clubs, new and old, that are happening now.

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From the June 22-28, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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