If you live in the city and work in the Peninsula (or vice versa), you'll end up taking the Caltrain at some point. And that's where this will come in handy. Introducing: the Caltrain Drinking Guide, a stop-by-stop breakdown of the best bar in walking distance from every Caltrain depot.
The Stop: King St Station The Bar: Victory Hall and Parlor(click here for address and info) Open at noon, Victory's only about a block from the station -- just head East on Townsend, duck down the Ritch St alley, and head for the frying pan signboard. That's Little Skillet, and two doors down is this gargantuan, club-turned-bar that'll let you bring in food during the day, or order it from the counter in the back at night.
If you like free beer, order a PBR bottle: the night-time bartenders'll give it to you on the house if you can guess which of the 52 playing cards is printed under the bottle cap.
If you're thinking about turning this into a Caltrain Bar Crawl (and you should be), fortify with a fried chicken po' boy with remoulade & cayenne pepper potato chips from Little Skil.
The Stop: 22nd St The Bar: Dogpatch Saloon (click here for address and info) When you head up the stairs, there'll be a tiny little spot to your left called La Stazione (Italian for "the station") that'll sell you a branded mug to drink your beer out of, but DON'T GO IN THERE. Turn right instead, walk a couple blocks into the Dogpatch, and park it at Dogpatch Saloon. Having been a bar in some form or another for more than a century, this recently renovated place has all the charm of a neighborhood pub, combined with a cocktail program from the 83 Proof guys, a piano stage, and a working fireplace.
The Stop: Bayshore The Bar: The Caltrain Stay on the train and drink the perfectly legal-to-drink-on-the-train-up-until-9pm 40 you brought! Oh right, bring a 40.
The Stop: South San Francisco The Bar: Topper (click here for address and info) This one takes some serious effort to get to. You have to head up the iron staircase, past a freeway onramp, through the tunnel under 101, and a couple blocks into San Bruno. Phew. This one is also totally worth the serious effort, though. Topper has been a family owned establishment since 1945, and has the wall memorabilia to prove it, including a badass framed letter from former Niners owner Eddie J. DeBartolo, Jr. There's also free (or at least, we think it was?) Costco pizza, a leather couch-filled 49ers nook with a fireplace, a bartender who would hit you for ordering craft beer, and old people discussing the history of the Protestant Reformation (incorrectly, one might add).
The Stop: San Bruno The Bar: Celia's (click here for address and info) Artichoke Joe's Casino is only a half-mile away, but that half-mile involves a walk along the freeway. In San Bruno. So yeah... instead, head to this about-as-far Mexican restaurant adorned with giant, inflatable Dos Equis bottles hanging from the ceiling, daytime soap operas (that aren't Spanish??) on every TV, and free (/tasty!) chips and salsa. We highly recommend the 20oz Grande Cadillac marg with a floater of Grand Marnier, and highly-er recommend the 20oz "Henny-chata" -- a self-pouring Hennessy-and-horchata that we swear is what Heaven tastes like.
The Stop: Millbrae The Bar: Fiddler's Green (click here for address and info) About a Mission-block-and-a-half from the Caltrain station, this Irish pub has awesomely poured pints of Guinness, has rugby on TV, and trophies behind the bar for... we're not sure what, plus (!!!) a nightmarish leprechaun window etching. Who doesn't love scary window etchings??
Runner Up: American Bull Bar & Grill (click here for address and info) Equidistant the other direction, this bar 1) is in a strip mall, 2) has blacked-out windows, 3) looks super-sketchy because of the 1) and 2), and 4) totally isn't at all! It's actually a super-legit sports bar with one of the best Sunday football watching setups in maybe the entire Bay.
The Stop: Burlingame The Bar: Barrel House (click here for address and info) This super-legit, Downtown Burl bar has more craft beer than you're gonna find at a lot of our other stops. Happy hour is $2 off beers and house cocktails (Mon-Fri from 4-7pm), you can get a Four Roses Bourbon flight, and there're rotating $6 bar bites (from nearby Straight), like pork sliders or chicken lollipops that're as awesome as they sound.
The Stop: San Mateo The Bar: Under Attic (click here for address and info) An attic-sized bar that's underneath, um, Attic, this secret-feeling drinkery is sort of a happy hour goldmine, considering their HH lasts until 10pm. Well drinks're only $5, specialty cocktails're only $9, plus, they have sweet potato fries with banana ketchup. Like every bar should.
The Stop: Hayward Park The Bar: Bucky's (click here for address and info) Resist the urge to go to Big K-Mart (or don't, it's your life), and head across the tracks to Bucky's, which opens at 6am (!!) and offers pretty much anything you could reasonably ask a dive bar to offer... like an old-school quarter candy machine, a pool room, a hunchback bar back, Golden Tee (does anyone NOT have Golden Tee??), and just two beers on draft: Miller High Life and Bud. Even better? They've also got a bunch of stuff you wouldn't even think to ask for, like coffee, Aspirin, a giant Hot Wheels collection (??), NASCAR hats, and, if you ask nicely, the bartender'll give you dice to play with.
The Stop: Hillsdale The Bar: Steamie's (click here for address and info) You've seen this place and its awesome neon sign from the Caltrain window a zillion times, and thought about just getting off and spending all day there. Well, we're here to tell you you should actually do that. This place is teeming with legit-ness: it's been open since 1951, they've got a pool table, working fireplace, popcorn dispenser, memorabilia like a plate that says "F***er", a Pope Francis bobble head, and a sign that lists excuses they're willing to give if someone calls the bar looking for you.
Looks familiar, doesn't it? The name apparently throws a lot of people off. In the past, people have come in asking for both 1) steamed clams, and 2) steam cleanings.
They offer neither. Oh, and don't leave before asking TJ the bartender to tell you the fun story behind this ceiling decoration.
The Stop: Belmont The Bar: McGraw's (click here for address and info) This Irish pub's got a huge space with, wow, Golden Tee...again (what is it with that game?), plus a full kitchen, a self-service condiments station, a model train hanging up above, foosball, and shuffleboard. Oh, and stick with their beer list. The cocktails are, well, yeah. Just stick with their beer list.
The Stop: San Carlos The Bar: Orchid Room (click here for address and info) With apologies to Belgian beer haven The Refuge, awesome regular beer bar The Arsenal, and fancy shmancy, always-packed resto-bar Town, the Orchid Room is the move when it comes to the SC. Through a loophole in the law, this standby can actually legally allow smoking inside (classy!), plus they open at 8am, have a microwave in case you need something heated, there's a shuffleboard table with one of the coolest working, old-timey scoreboards we've ever seen, and -- we can't say how we know this, but -- the women's restroom door sticks, so if you get stuck, throw some shoulder into it.
Pro tip: PBR's the cheapest beer at $3, so get that.
The Stop: Redwood City The Bar: Gourmet Haus Staudt (click here for address and info) Possibly the closest spot to a Caltrain station, this authentic, German beer garden came about after the owner of the attached German market's son agreed to take it over, on the condition that they put in a beer garden in back. It's also the place where a guy tipsily left an iPhone prototype. Shizen!
Really though, there's a German market if you head to the back of the beer hall inside.
And since this is kinda the midpoint-ish of your Caltrain Bar Crawl that you're clearly now doing, get the giant pretzel with mustard.
Or the flammkuchen, which -- despite sounding like something you may need to tell your previous partners about -- is actually German for flatbread. And is something youwant to get.
The Stop: Menlo Park The Bar: 7-Eleven (click here for address and info) Nothing's really nearby enough, so grab a 40 from the 7-Eleven. Posing like an idiot: optional.
The Stop: Palo Alto The Bar: The Old Pro (click here for address and info) Only a couple blocks from the Caltrain station, they've got a full bar, cheap beer, a ton of TVs (with every sports package imaginable), and a friggin' mechanical bull.
The Stop: California Ave The Bar: Antonio's Nut House (click here for address and info) Not "Antonio's Butt House", as someone's iPhone may or may not have autocorrected it to, this place is basically a third taqueria, a third classic college bar, and a third... classic college bar. They've got pool, Pirates of the Caribbean pinball, $3 16oz margaritas 'til 3pm, and peanut shells covering the floor... giving you the perfect opportunity to finally rid yourself of all of your friends with peanut allergies.
Pro tip: the restaurant side has a $5 minimum for credit, while the bar side has $20. Both sides have beer. Do the math!
The Stop: San Antonio The Bar: Fred's Place (click here for address and info) Whew! That was a bit of a walk -- you deserve a shot. Luckily, they've got PBR 16oz and a shot of Old Crow for $6, OR bartender's choice shots for $3. And don't worry, Chang won't steer you wrong.
The Stop: Mountain View The Bar: Steins (click here for address and info) Oh shoot, another beer garden. Gosh.... too bad. This ginormous beer hall has over 30 drafts all stored in a see-through fridge, plus a six-keg kegerator for an outdoor patio you can totally rent out for parties. Or just, yah know, hang out on because you probably didn't bring 40 people on this Caltrain adventure.
The Stop: Sunnyvale The Bar: Firehouse Brewery (click here for address and info) This microbrewery has some pretty decent drafts, is easily get-to-able from the Caltrain through their outdoor patio entrance in the C-train parking lot, and they sell yards or beer. Yards. Oh, and just like in a real firehouse, all the waitresses... wear plaid skirts.
The Stop: Lawrence The Bar: The Caltrain Stay on the train and keep drinking! Also: charge your phone maybe. Totally secretly, the sixth or seventh seat on both sides of the top deck of every car has a charger below the window.
The Stop: Santa Clara The Bar: The Hut (click here for address and info) If you went to SCU, chances are you know about this spot. But if you didn't, it's totally worth the few-block walk. The Hut's got a projection screen for games, cheap beers, and a back patio that we definitely never hung out and drank on while visiting our older siblings at college.
OH MY GOD, FINALLY A BAR WITH SOMETHING OTHER THAN GOLDEN TEE!!!!!
It's alumni tradition for people to come back with their first dollar and business card to put on the ceiling. Pretty cool. See anyone you know?
Or, if they're closed, looks like these guys next door know how to party.
The Stop: San Jose Diridon The Bar: Patty's Inn (click here for address and info) Just a couple blocks from the last (weekday) Caltrain station, Patty's Inn is divided into two parts: a bar with screens for games (mostly hockey, this being so close to the Sharks' arena and all), and a pool room with... a cigarette dispenser machine? Those are still legal??
If the Sharks are playing, it's packed with locals... mostly because every time the Sharks score, they do bartender's choice $2 shots.
But also because they have a claw game IN THE BAR.