Where to Drink in Downtown San Jose
There's a lot happening in the South Bay, and it’s not all tech. In San Jose, the fifth biggest city in the country, the skyline is changing and more people are moving Downtown. There are new things to do, new places to eat, and (most importantly) new places to drink. We’ve highlighted 10 of the best beer bars, cocktail spots, and breweries to visit next time you’re in SanJo. Go ahead and leave your car behind -- most of these places are within a 15-20 minute walk of Caltrain.
While SPSM was inspired by urban food markets like Seattle’s Pike Place Market and San Francisco’s Ferry Building, don’t go there for groceries -- the farmers market and specialty grocer plans never panned out. Do go for a drink, though -- it’s awesome for groups, since the vendors are spread throughout two buildings surrounding a central outdoor patio, and it’s a great place to watch a game (they've got TVs literally everywhere, inside and out).
The market has a few important places where you're gonna want to booze: the main bar and the Garage Bar have full bars, the Market Beer Store is a craft beer bottle shop with daily rotating drafts and bomber-size bottles, and then there's Vino Vino, an actually great wine bar with 13 keg wines that're all on tap. Coolest part: you can buy a drink at any of the bars and take it to sit anywhere on-site, inside or out.
This should be a beer nerd’s first stop in San Jose. When it opened in 2012, it was the first place in Downtown devoted solely to craft beer and it’s still a favorite. They currently have 35 taps (which change throughout the night as kegs are kicked), with plenty more available by the bottle. To alleviate the pressure up front, they just opened a second bar in the middle of the space, and they have beer garden tables out back. Oh, and the food is pretty good too: they've got a long list of specialty sausages (rabbit anyone?), duck fat fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches.
If you are feeling charitable, stop by on one of their Pints for Nonprofits nights, when local organizations are paired with different craft brewers and receive a percentage of their total beer sales.
ISO Beers (“In Search Of Beers”) is a sleek and industrial-looking beer bar and bottle shop. It has 40 taps, including a handful on nitro, and hundreds of craft beers to-go in their large retail section. Like cider or mead? ISO Beers has more than 25 varieties. You won’t find food here, but you're welcome to bring your own and eat it in the bar or on the large outdoor beer garden.
OK, yes, this place started out as a quirky little vegan café, but don’t be turned off. If you go inside the store, and pass the seitan-stocked deli counter, you’ll find a tiny bar with one of the most eclectic craft beer selections in San Jose. Owner Ryan Summers is a huge beer fan and frequently serves rare specialty, aged, and small-batch beers from his personal collection that you won’t find anywhere else.
Haberdasher is the new-and-improved incarnation of the subterranean speakeasy, Singlebarrel. While the place generally looks the same, Haberdasher introduced a draft cocktail list, added a bar station, and started to accept reservations for tables -- all moves to help the drinks flow faster and an improvement from its predecessor’s annoying weekend lineup. While the bar is no longer the only place in town offering well-made craft cocktails, the moody underground space is still a local favorite.
SP2 wins the prize for "great spot with a bad location". They were probably open for a year before anyone even noticed they were there, as the entrance is hidden on a one-way street that doesn’t get much foot traffic. It's right next to the San Pedro Square market, which is a plus, and on weekends it attracts people hopping from bar to bar, and oftentimes is a spot you'll linger at thanks to a modern outdoor patio, homemade ingredients including their bitters, and very stiff drinks. Get the Moscow Mule.
Hermitage was one of the first local craft brewers based here in San Jose. Owned by the folks behind Santa Clara County brewing pioneer Tied House in Mountain View, Hermitage brews its own line of beers and contracts with smaller, local beer brewers and soda makers from across California to brew in their facility. They’ve brewed for San Francisco’s Almanac Beer Company and Magnolia Gastropub, plus served as incubator to startup local breweries like San Jose’s Strike Brewing Company. Hermitage’s tasting room, on an industrial street just South of Downtown San Jose, is right around the corner from San Jose State’s Spartan Stadium. IPA lovers should try their Hoptopia Double IPA or their Citra single hop IPA. Growler lovers should fill theirs here.
While most of the other spots on the list celebrate the shiny and new, Henry’s Hi-Life has been a South Bay institution for more than 50 years. It’s located in a historic hotel (circa 1900) that once housed Italian working-class immigrants who came to the Santa Clara Valley to work in agriculture. As a restaurant, Henry’s is famous for their jumbo steaks, but being two blocks from the SAP Center, their dark and dingy bar is the most popular local place for Sharks pre-gaming. Bonus: they're also open on Sunday mornings for breakfast with a side of NFL.
This bar, owned by two of the folks behind Original Gravity next door, offers some of the city’s best craft cocktails. You’ll find barrel-aged cocktails and cocktails on tap, as well as an extensive (and photogenic) floor-to-ceiling spirit shelf. The bartenders’ skills are on point and will offer up just the right drink, even you give them vague and otherwise inadequate information about your likes and dislikes. The bar menu offers comfort foods like pork belly chicharrones, braised brisket toast, and artichoke mac & cheese.
This dark, wood-paneled craft cocktail bar is the newest on this list, but it evokes a historic NYC saloon. Named for the notorious, gang-infested Five Points neighborhood in 19th-century Manhattan, this bar offers well-made cocktails named for real gangsters, figures, and places of the era. Paradise Square, a blended mix of Zubrowka vodka, pineapple, citrus, orange blossom, and egg white, is named the community’s central park and neighborhood gathering spot; the Boss Tweed, made with Canadian Club rye, Tariquet VS Armagnac, sugar, anise, and bitters, is named for the notorious head of New York City’s Tammany Hall political machine. This spot just down the street from the SAP Center is definitely classy, but laid back enough for pre-gaming the Sharks.
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