Food & Drink

Where to Drink in Downtown San Jose

Updated On 12/06/2016 at 04:18PM EST Updated On 12/06/2016 at 04:18PM EST
beer san jose
Cassie Kifer/Thrillist

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.

Cassie Kifer/Thrillist

San Pedro Square Market

87 N San Pedro St

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.

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Original Gravity

66 S 1st St  

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

ISO Beers

75 E Santa Clara St

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.

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Good Karma Artisan Ales & Café

37 S 1st St

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

Haberdasher

43 W San Salvador St

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 Communal Bar + Restaurant

SP2 Communal Bar + Restaurant

72 N Almaden Ave

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.

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Hermitage Brewing Company

1627 S 7th St

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.

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Henry's Hi-Life

301 W Saint John St

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.

Cassie Kifer/Thrillist

Paper Plane

72 S. 1st St

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.

Five Points

169 W Santa Clara

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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Cassie Kifer is a writer, eater, and drinker from San Jose. She won’t judge you by the beer in your fridge (JK. Yes, she will.). Find her on Instagram or Twitter @caskifer or everintransit.com.

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1. San Pedro Square Market 87 N San Pedro St, San Jose, CA 95110

You'll never get bored coming to the San Pedro Square Market, thanks to more than a dozen top-notch food and drink vendors spread throughout its two buildings, which surround a central outdoor patio. Whether you're in the mood for pho, burgers, tacos, pasta, or crepes, SPSM has you covered across the globe. It's an ideal spot to watch a game, too, since there are TVs practically everywhere. The market has a few important spots where you'll want to grab a drink: the fully stocked SPSM Bar and Garage Bar, the Market Beer Store with daily rotating craft drafts and bomber-size bottles, and Vino Vino, a surprisingly fantastic wine bar with 13 keg wines on tap. No matter which you choose, you're free to post up anywhere on-site with your drink -- inside or out.

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2. Original Gravity 66 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

The first place in Downtown San Jose devoted solely to craft beer, Original Gravity should be any beer nerd’s first stop in the city for a top-notch brew. It boasts 35 rotating taps (hovering around 80% domestic, 20% imported), which change throughout the night as kegs are kicked, and tons more by the bottle. To keep things feeling roomy inside the laid-back space, the team opened a second bar in the middle, and added beer garden tables out back. Once you've nabbed a seat, you should pair your brew with some of OG's elevated bar bites: there's a long lineup of specialty sausages (there's even rabbit), duck fat fries, and grilled cheese sandwiches.

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3. ISO Beers 75 E Santa Clara St #120, San Jose, CA 95113

Sporting an exposed-pipe ceiling and dark wooden tables, this industrial-chic beer bar and bottle shop in Downtown San Jose has a whopping 40 mostly domestic taps (including a handful on nitro) and hundreds of craft beers for purchase in its large retail section. If cider or mead is more your style, there are more than 25 varieties of those, too. ISO may not serve food, but you're welcome to bring your own and eat it in the bar or outside in the expansive beer garden.

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4. Good Karma 37 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Inside this Downtown San Jose vegan cafe and ale house, you'll find a seitan-stocked deli counter as well as a tiny bar with one of the most eclectic craft beer selections in the city. Owner Ryan Summers is a die-hard beer fan and often serves rare specialty, aged, and small-batch beers from his personal collection that you can't find elsewhere. The roster is first and foremost American, but has influences and ales from Belgium, too. The veggie-centric food, on the other hand, is inspired by cuisines ranging from Indian to Jamaican, such as the Chana Masala (chickpeas, tomatoes, carrots, and cilantro slow-cooked with a dense set of herbs and spices) and Jamaican Jerk (local tofu, veggie protein, roasted red potatoes, red & green bell peppers, carrots, green onions and habanero chile smothered in Caribbean jerk seasonings).

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5. Haberdasher 43 W San Salvador St, San Jose, CA 95113

Though singlebarrel did offer a solid lineup of classic mixed drinks, most people remember the Downtown San Jose bar for its annoyingly long weekend lines. Now, the low-key subterranean speakeasy is known as Haberdasher, which still boasts an impressive craft cocktail list and a moody 1920s look (even the attentive bartenders are dressed in Prohibition-style getups), but improved its formerly slow service and crowded feel by adding another bar station and accepting reservations for tables. You'll want to check out the top-notch Moscow Mules on tap.

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6. SP2 Communal Bar + Restaurant 72 N Almaden Ave, San Jose, CA 95110

Hidden on a one-way street that doesn’t get much foot traffic, SP2 is a lively spot locals tend to linger at thanks to its modern outdoor patio and excellent craft cocktails with house-made ingredients, including a killer Moscow Mule. Along with a solid lineup of inventive signature drinks like the Nice Pear (Nolet’s gin, fresh lime juice, Japanese nashi/pear, cucumber, simple syrup, peychaud bitters, seltzer), you have your work cut out for you with an extensive food menu, which includes salads, pastas, paninis, and hearty mains like the Kobe-beef SP2 Burger, beer-battered fish tacos, and and bacon & serrano mac & cheese.

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7. Hermitage Brewing Company 1627 S 7th St, San Jose, CA 95112

Hermitage Brewing Company is more than just a brewery and taproom -- it’s also an incubator for budding Bay Area brewers, giving them a starter-home and a jumping off point to butterfly into self-sustaining breweries themselves. Hermitage boasts a vast repertoire of beers under its belt, with styles including IPAs, Scotch ales, stouts, American sours, and saisons. If you find a beer you love, don’t let it go -- kegs are available for purchase.

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8. Henry's Hi-Life 301 W Saint John St, San Jose, CA 95110

Henry’s World Famous Hi-Life is a South Bay mainstay for steak and barbecue. Since the 1960s, Henry’s has been serving San Jose’s diners from a menu board at its entrance to their seat in the vast dining hall. The menu features various pork, chicken, and steak preparations, and, most notably, baby back ribs and prime rib dinners, each of which served with a baked potato, garlic bread, and salad. The bar is stocked with a sizeable whiskey selection and around 30 beers on offer, on draft and in bottles and cans. Henry’s is a popular stop for a meal full of meat and a little slice of San Jose history.

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9. Paper Plane 72 S 1st St, San Jose, CA 95113

Paper Plane, the spacious Downtown San Jose speakeasy, features craft cocktails -- signature, old school, and new school. The list is long, and includes barrel-aged cocktails and punches served on draft, and the menu is laid out with a graph and key, so you can find just the right amount of refreshing/adventure/comfort/booze to suit your cravings. Go for the cocktails, but when hunger strikes, Paper Plane’s got you covered with a menu New American-inspired snacks like deviled eggs, chicken wings, a Paper Plane original burger, and artichoke mac and cheese.

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10. Five Points 169 W Santa Clara St, San Jose, CA 95113

Five Points is Downtown San Jose’s craft cocktail lounge with an homage to its notorious, 19th century namesake neighborhood of Lower Manhattan. The walls are lined with antique books and artwork celebrating the one-time neighborhood, and the curtain-concealed parlor, dim lighting, dark wood tables and benches, and communal punch bowls strengthen the speakeasy motif of the San Pedro Square-adjacent bar. The saloon is dedicated to honoring old-school drinking culture with a cocktail menu full of modern takes on vintage favorites, like the Mulberry Bend Cobbler (rye, port, apricot, cinnamon, and citrus) and the 1885 smash (amaro, curacao, citrus, and mint).

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