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The Metro Bars & Clubs 2005 Guide
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Palo Alto

Antonio's Nut House
321 S. California Ave., Palo Alto
Known affectionately by locals as "The Nut House," Antonio's is a down-home, classic-rock type of place. Attire is always casual, and drinkers must wade through a slew of peanut shells to get to the bar. Wisecracking bumper stickers and other truly random trinkets cover the Nut House's walls—don't miss the mechanical gorilla in the corner. Other distractions include five pool tables and pinball.

Blue Chalk Café
630 Ramona St., Palo Alto
Mix billiards, killer Chocolatinis and a multitude of Stanford kids, and the result is Blue Chalk, a bilevel establishment that's a Tex-Mex restaurant by day and a social hot spot by night. High ceilings and comfy couches make Blue Chalk great, but be warned that on some nights drink minimums can be steep (up to $15). However, patrons seem more than happy to oblige. Chalk it up to Stanford money.

Cafe Niebaum-Coppola
473 University Ave, Palo Alto
This cafe attached to the Coppola name is inspired by the Godfather director's Napa Valley winery. Its deep-colored woods and extensive wine list (yes, including liberal amounts of N-C brand) doesn't match the feeling of being called onto the carpet in Don Corleone's office, but it's darn close.

Cibo Bar and Grill
3401 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
800.492.7335 or 650.493.2411
Cibo, which means "nourishment" in Italian, is a casual bar and grill inside Palo Alto's Creekside Inn. This spot, which used to house Fresco Restaurant and then Willow St. Café, is one of El Camino Real's newer offerings. It has a well-developed drink list, and the restaurant's entire Mediterranean-Californian menu is available from any bar stool. Pair appetizers like mezah or hummus with a beer.

Cocktail Lounge at Palo Alto Bowl
4329 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Get bowled over at Palo Alto's 32-lane bowling alley, which boasts a cozy nook that serves as a cocktail lounge. Beer selection is limited, but various mixed drinks are available. (What's better than sipping a Bloody Mary while actually attempting to knock things over?) The bar area also features a billiard table and darts. A snack bar sells pizza and pretzels, and a loud video game arcade can be found at the other end of the bowling alley. At Palo Alto Bowl, each night has a different theme. Tuesdays, for example, are karaoke night, and Saturdays are Planet Bowling, featuring a light show and a DJ playing top hits.

Dan Brown's Lounge and Sports Bar
4141 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Brown made the front room into a retro-style lounge and kept the backroom a sports bar. Ten televisions, two pool tables, pinball, air-hockey, foosball, video golf and a smoking patio ensure that his guests will never get bored. Locals and occasional Stanford students comprise the clientele. The real liquid treat here is Brown's own '57 T-Bird With Hawaiian Plates, made with vodka, Southern Comfort, Amaretto, Triple Sec and pineapple juice.

Empire Grill and Tap Room
651 Emerson St, Palo Alto
"ETR," as the Empire Grill and Tap Room is sometimes called, is a digerati mecca. At its ultralong (45 feet!) brass-and-mahogany bar, friendly bartenders pour regional brews such as Red Hook ESB, Full Sail Amber, Sierra Nevada and Pete's. Some Pacific Northwest and import beers are also available, but bartenders also mix a killer Bloody Mary and a mean dirty martini which customers can enjoy in oversized wood booths (if they can snag a seat, that is).

Evvia Estiatorio
420 Emerson St, Palo Alto
This beautifully designed Greek restaurant is the sister property of the acclaimed Kokkari in San Francisco. Serving California-inspired Aegean cuisine, Evva also has a pleasant bar and a well-developed wine list. Though the restaurant is indoors, it has an open-air feel and is accented with tasteful Greek décor. The clientele here includes chic Silicon Valley socialites.

Fanny & Alexander Restaurant
412 Emerson St, Palo Alto
Named after director Ingmar Bergman's 1983 film of the same name, "Effin' A's," as Fanny and Alexander is locally known, offers DJs on Thursday and Saturday and live music on Friday. After 9pm on Friday and Saturday, there is a $5 cover charge, but admittance is free with dinner (the restaurant serves Asian fusion cuisine). For late-night snacking, order vegetable spring rolls, mozzarella sticks or nachos. Though attire is generally casual, Fanny and Alexander has a bit of an upscale feel to it. Its brick walls and light wood floors make for attractive décor, and the cosmopolitans are unbeatable.

Gordon Biersch
640 Emerson St, Palo Alto
The Palo Alto outlet of the 16-restaurant chain (locations range from Honolulu to Washington, D.C.), Gordon Biersch is simultaneously spacious and cozy. Beers are produced on-site using only malted barley, water, hops and yeast, but somehow there are always at least four specialty brews to choose from, such as pilsners, marzens, hefeweizens or lagers. Huge silver vats serve as proof that active beer-making is happening on premises. When diners are in for happy hour, they can nosh on garlic fries or try menu items prepared with beer as an ingredient while watching a game on one of four big-screen televisions.

624 Ramona Street, Palo Alto
Amid a sea of concrete and across the street from Palo Alto city hall is the island-themed Hukilau bar and grill, joining its siblings in San Francisco and San Jose. The drinks are, of course, very tropical, and the dining menu is affordable. Patrons can choose between indoor and outdoor seating, though there's definitely more atmosphere (and a higher sense of escapism) inside. Within, one finds a poke bar with full- and sample-size portions that neighbors the thatched hutted drinks one, and either pre-recorded or live island sounds provide a backdrop for the dark-colored walls and friendly staff.

La Bodeguita Del Medio
463 California Ave, Palo Alto
Named after a bar in Havana that served as Ernest Hemingway's Cuban haunt, La Bodeguita del Medio is the only Bay Area bar that serves Le Grand Cerveza de Cuba (The Great Beer of Cuba). Mojitos and Hemingway Cocktails are also favorites, as is the impressive collection of aged rums (try the Guatemalan Zacapa Centenario, aged 23 years). At the Cigar Divan, La Bodeguita's cigar lounge, patrons can savor can hand-rolled cigars of the finest imported brands such as La Gloria Cubana, Graycliff, Partagas and Macanudo. Authentic Cuban art hangs on the walls, lending an even more exotic feel to the already-unique eatery.

Lavanda Restaurant & Wine Bar
185 University Ave, Palo Alto
Simultaneously minimalist and glamorous, this relatively new French-Mediterranean bistro sports a granite bar over which more than 600 wines (30 can be bought by the glass) and tapas are served (try the deep-fried artichokes). This prime location also features bamboo flooring and dark wood furnishings. Lavanda tends to draw an upscale older crowd.

Luna Lounge at the Westin
675 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
Martini fans will be in heaven as they sip their cocktail by the Westin's heated pool; indoors or out, the Luna Lounge's atmosphere is comfortably luxurious. A Mediterranean snack can be followed by an aperitif or cordial, or by one of the many selections on Luna Lounge's California wine list. Though not a nightlife spot, the Luna Lounge can be a kickoff spot for a classy night out on the town.

MacArthur Park
27 University Ave, Palo Alto
This Palo Alto fixture, located slightly off the beaten track (the Caltrain track, that is), was designed by famous architect Julia Morgan, so its bar has an aura of warmth (or was that just the whiskey sampling?). With more than 200 California wines to choose from and several microbrews on tap, MacArthur Park has happy hour covered (Monday-Friday, 5-7pm). Though its food menu lists upscale American meals, the atmosphere is casual, and the portions are generous.

Maddalena's Café Fino
544 Emerson St, Palo Alto
A mature crowd gathers at Café Fino to enjoy 1920s-style jazz and cabaret. Sporting a grand piano and art deco furnishings, Café Fino has music nightly. For a more intimate experience, share a martini in one of the bar's private rooms for two. The ceiling is interestingly painted, and on the walls hang movie posters that used to grace the nearby Stanford Theater.

140 University Ave, Palo Alto
On Friday nights, Miyake's rotating, multicolored lights and pulsing technobeats can be seen and heard from half a block away. By day, Miyake is a modest sushi joint, but by evening, it turns into a sake-bomb-downing party. The mostly Stanford crowd here is college-aged and, supposedly, educated.

535 Ramona St, Palo Alto
More than anything else, Nola's décor makes it unique; motley examples of folk art grace the walls; funky furniture is well-placed throughout the restaurant; and multihued string lights top it all off. Though inspired by New Orleans, Nola feels more refined than a typical Bourbon Street joint. Well-dressed Stanford students and young professionals mingle in one of two lounges or in an open-air courtyard while sipping on Hurricanes and Mojitos.

Old Pro
2865 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
At Old Pro, the sign posted at the door quotes Yogi Berra: "No one goes there anymore. It's too crowded." It's the Old Pro in a nutshell; the clients of this bus-depot-turned-classic-sports-bar are numerous and laid-back, and chances are they're obsessed with sports. Which is good, since ESPN blares nonstop and athletic artifacts serve as decoration. Customers might even glimpse a 49er as they gulp down their beer. The restaurant also has a snazzier second location at 541 Ramona St. in downtown Palo Alto.

Pavilion Bar at Spago Palo Alto
265 Lytton Ave, Palo Alto
Wolfgang Puck's renowned Spago, designed by acclaimed architect Adam Tihany (who also designed the King David, a historic Jerusalem hotel), maintains an upscale atmosphere and a world-class bar. Though the bar occupies its own separate area, bar patrons can order any of the innovative Asian-Mediterranean dishes from the main restaurant's menu. There is also a bar menu featuring more snacklike foods. Wines are likely to be the order of the day, since the list comprises interesting choices such as a 1997 Andrew Will Cabernet or a 1998 Napa Pinot Grigio.

Rose and Crown Pub
547 Emerson St, Palo Alto
The Rose and Crown has a true British feel; even its exterior is cleverly painted like an old Victorian abode. With 20 beers on tap (among the more interesting imports are Strongbow English Dry Hard Cider and Boddingtons Pub Ale), this tiny pub can get remarkably social. On Mondays, standup comedians perform. Tuesdays feature a trivia quiz (winners get free beer) and Sundays mean live jazz. Friday nights, a younger crowd stops in to enjoy the pub's darts, jukebox and upbeat ambience.

Rudy's Pub at Elbe Restaurant
117 University Ave, Palo Alto
With a plethora of ales, lagers, ciders and stouts, Rudy's is a haven for fans of European imports. The dark but cozy bar occupies a hard-to find nook on University Ave. Thursday, Friday and Saturday a DJ spins house and hip-hop music. On the other days, patrons can watch sports on a large-screen television, play dominoes or darts, or try a liter of Franziskaner Hefeweissbier or Erdinger Weissbier Dark. Before the real dancing starts on Fridays and Saturdays, an accordion player entertains/aggravates the crowd.

Stoa Restaurant and Wine Bar
632 Emerson St, Palo Alto
Though the sophisticated Mediterranean vegetarian food here is pricey, it's worth it, especially since there aren't many other late-night dining options in the vicinity. Though the bar offers beer and mixed drinks, the wine selection is so vast that it would behoove aficionados to try one of Stoa's California zinfandels or European reds. On Tuesday and Friday nights, the restaurant invites a variety of jazz performers to entertain the clientele.

Sundance the Steakhouse
1921 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
The rustic, lodgelike bar in the restaurant is a great place to start or end the night. Staff is friendly and a good selection of martinis counters the slim beer choices. Can't wait for dinner next door? You can still get your fill of beef while you wait‹even the appetizers on the bar menu include steak. The dim, low-key atmosphere naturally beckons for a quiet evening nightcap or a casual drink before you get down to the business of dinner.

546 University Ave, Palo Alto
This sparkling Vietnamese restaurant with a thriving bar scene is home to a happening gallery that focuses on contemporary Vietnamese art. Currently, Tamarine is featuring fascinating works by abstract artist Quach Dong Phuong, highly collected impressionist Nguyen Thanh Binh and poetic painter Bang Si Truc. Enjoy killer exotic martinis, such as the Cyclo (lemon-grass vodka and gin), the Spring Essence (lime vodka) and the Mandarin Drop (mandarin vodka, orange Curacao, lemon and orange rind), as well as some exquisite small-plate Vietnamese dishes.

Trader Vic's at Dinah's Garden Hotel
4269 El Camino Real, Palo Alto
The 22nd location in an Oakland-based chain, the Palo Alto Trader Vic's is located in Dinah's Garden Hotel. Its Polynesian-themed bar certainly lives up to Trader Vic's world-class reputation. The chain's founder, Victor Bergeron, is said to have invented the Mai Tai, but there are other drinks to try here: the Scorpion Bowl, for example, blends exotic rums, juices and brandy into a bowl for four. The typical Trader Vic's crowd usually consists of classy people in their mid-30s.

Zibibbo Restaurant
430 Kipling St, Palo Alto; 650.328.6722
This distinguished Mediterranean restaurant, named after a wine grape, has not one but two bars, each with its own ambience. The main bar is made of dark mahogany wood and has dramatic lighting. Zibibbo's birch wood garden bar, however, is light and airy. It features an always-warm fireplace, a pond and patio seating overlooking Waverley Street. Starting at 5:30pm, the restaurant hosts "Bar Bites," small gatherings featuring the chef's favorite hors d'oeuvres paired with one of the restaurant's 60 wines available by the glass. (More than 500 more are available by the bottle.)

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

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