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Palo Alto Arts, Culture & Nightlife

This university town has a thriving nightlife scene and is the birthplace of rock bands like the Donnas and the now-defunct Ugly Kid Joe. The town's most popular nightlife eateries include Gordon Biersch and the high-end restaurant Nola. For those Palo Altans whose nights on the town are a little more towards the highbrow side, the events at Stanford Lively Arts might be up their alley.

Palo Alto Local Bars

Antonio's Nut House
321 S. California Ave., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.321.2550
Probably the most down to earth and casual bar in the otherwise tony digs of Palo Alto, Antonio's Nut House—so called, we assume, because peanuts are served at the bar and you've got to wade through the sea of shells on the floor to get there—has been serving the beer and booze swilling neighborhood regulars for years. With five pool tables and a blessed pinball machine for when the peanut munching and TVs begin to bore you, Antonio's Nut House neighborhood bar is a classic rock, come as you are, decidedly blue-collar haven done up in the most random décor you're likely to find anywhere.

Blue Chalk Café
630 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.325.1020
Blue Chalk Café, Palo Alto's happening billiards bar gets packed nightly with well heeled Stanford kids playing at being a pool shark or just chilling out in Blue Chalk's comfy lounge. During the day this bi-level establishment serves up generous portions of Tex-Mex grub to satiate your hunger, but food really isn't on people's minds when the crowds start rolling in. A word to the wise, however, on some nights the Blue Chalk Café has a drink minimum (usually in the $15 range) but that doesn't seem to bother the locals that frequent this Palo Alto restaurant and bar.

Cocktail Lounge at Palo Alto Bowl
4329 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.948.1031
If you've never drank at a bowling alley bar then you're certainly missing out on a staple of the Americana diet, perhaps you should check out this cultural adventure in the Cocktail Lounge at Palo Alto Bowl where you can get blazingly drunk and are actually encouraged to try to knock things down. Besides the abject retro coolness of the Cocktail Lounge at Palo Alto Bowl and the stiff cocktails, there's an arcade here with pool tables and video games if your diversionary tastes don't include bowling, but seriously they should. Palo Alto Bowl also changes up your normal gut overhanging, Miller swilling bowling alley atmosphere by offering theme nights that include DJs and karaoke.

Dan Brown's Lounge and Sports Bar
4141 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.493.9020
A tale of two bars in one, Dan Brown's Lounge and Sports Bar in Palo Alto is a retro styled chill out lounge in the front part and a raucously partying sports bar, complete with 10 televisions, in the back. Further amenities in the back sports bar include pool tables, foosball, pinball and air hockey—the absolute best game to play while drinking to cull the weak from the herd—so diversions are no problem at Brown's Lounge for the die hard group of local bar regulars and the occasional light smattering of Stanford students.

Empire Grill and Tap Room
651 Emerson St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.321.3030
The Empire Grill and Tap Room restaurant in Palo Alto is continually packed and with good reason. Their beer selection (on tap, of course) is comprised mainly of regional microbrew favorites with some imports thrown in for flavor and, if your tastes don't run toward beer, Empire's bartenders can fix you up one of the best Bloody Marys around or pour you anything else you could possibly desire expertly. But don't think that this is just a swank Palo Alto local bar, the grill offers re-imagined, contemporary pub food and other stylish dishes that the chic clientele downs as fast as the kitchen can pump them out.

Fanny & Alexander Restaurant
412 Emerson St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.326.7183
The local bar hotspot to hang out at in Palo Alto, Fanny & Alexander take care of their teeming masses beautifully with some nights devoted to DJ dancing, while others showcase live music and the heavy drinks are always flowing here. Also, the excellent cuisine is the ever popular Asian-Californian fusion variety and the kitchen stays open late so you can sober up a bit before you hoof it home. Even if there was no outside entertainment hosted at "FnA's" (as the locals and nearly everybody else, except possibly their accountants, call it) it's still a must on the bar crawl list because it seems that for some Stanford coeds black-out inducing drunkenness is a major at the university...or, perhaps that was just our major, probably how we ended up a writer.

Gordon Biersch
640 Emerson St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.323.7723
The Gordon Biersch in Palo Alto is the local bar and brewery that started it all off for the two enterprising, beer loving owners and is still going extremely strong today. You can come in and sit under the reflective gaze of the huge silver beer tanks that tell you the beer is produced on-site and sample one of their classic, German inspired microbrews or seasonal specialty beers which, by the way, is an excellent way to spend an afternoon... er, not that we drink in the middle of the day, we prefer to call it local bar research. Also, the Gordon Biersch kitchen still pumps out really good grub, most of which has beer as an ingredient which scientifically proves that beer is food, and they usually serve their menu up until an hour before closing. If your just rolling through the area, or call the Bay Area your home, you've got to check out this local Palo Alto bar and brewery that made the nation raise a pint and bellow "Prost!"

624 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.329.9533
A Hawaiian island oasis right in downtown Palo Alto, Hukilau shoots to please ex-island dwellers, who unfortunately have to live here on the mainland, or just anyone looking for some liquid escapism from their everyday routine at this tropical local bar. But, it's not just the drinks that transport you to paradise because the kitchen serves up truly authentic Hawaiian food like spam musubi, the loco moco and ahi poke. Hukilau also sports indoor and outdoor seating, a friendly staff and the overall atmosphere would lead you to believe that Don Ho is going to start belting out some classic Hawaiian love songs at any moment... well, Don Ho might not show up, but this Palo Alto restaurant and bar does host some live island sounds on the weekends and whenever there's a special occasion.

La Bodeguita Del Medio
463 California Ave., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.326.7762
Probably the only place in the Bay Area where you can sip on aged Cuban rum while puffing away on a cigar is La Bodeguita Del Medio in Palo Alto, a Cuban inspired lounge, restaurant and all around hang out spot as you may have surmised. The main drink list is, of course, derived from the best of what our little socialist island neighbor to the south has to offer and their mojitos are some of the best around, plus any bar that allows you to smoke imported cigars indoors while you sip on your drink makes it straight to the top of our list in smoker unfriendly California.

MacArthur Park
27 University Ave., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.321.9990
MacArthur Park has been a Palo Alto bar and restaurant institution for years serving the Bay Area public upscale, insanely generous portions of American cuisine while maintaining its' ever-casual charm. Boasting more than 200 California wines and a decent selection of tap microbrews certainly doesn't hurt MacArthur Park's efforts in winning over drinkers and diners alike. Also adding to this already stellar combination of phenomenal food and wine is one of the finest whiskey and scotch selections we have ever seen inspiring us to become regulars at this excellent Palo Alto bar and restaurant.

140 University Ave., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.323.9449
Miyake is Palo Alto's partying sushi bar where anyone that enjoys those two activities, like us, goes to dine on some of the freshest offerings around and down sake bombs till they're falling out of their chair. It really is a cool sight to see, especially on Friday nights when slick techno beats are matched with a multicolored light show, when everybody—and we do mean everybody—in a restaurant is seriously having a great night out eating and partying, but anyone whose been here knows that's exactly what Miyake's of Palo Alto is known for.

535 Ramona Street, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.328.2722
A little more refined than the Bourbon Street juke joints that it was inspired by, Nola restaurant in Palo Alto serves the Stanford masses classic New Orleans grub in a funky setting that makes you want to linger for hours in one of their two lounges or on the open air patio and Nola makes it incredibly easy to do just that. We've actually spent entire days at this local Palo Alto restaurant and bar when we're missing The Big Easy or just have an inkling for something different for which Nola's can always deliver with their excellent Creole style grub and completely dangerous Hurricanes.

Old Pro
2865 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.325.2070
541 Ramona St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.326.1446
Palo Alto's classic sports bar, the Old Pro gets packed to capacity whenever there's a game on, but especially when Stanford is playing. Even though the joint is crowded the feel is totally laid back and the friendly service is quick at the Old Pro. The two locations however do slightly differ in clientele and ambiance with the downtown one (on Ramona St.) being the snazzier of the two, but, and call us old fashioned, we prefer the original one because it totally reminds us of a bus depot bar which you just can't seem to find amongst the otherwise usual tony Palo Alto establishments.

Rose and Crown Pub
547 Emerson St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.327.7673
A great British styled local pub in downtown Palo Alto, the Rose and Crown Pub relies heavily on its' extensive selection of imported beer sporting about 20 on tap (there's some domestics in there as well, but you can drink those anywhere, come here for the imports) and the scene here is like a beer laden family gathering... well, one where you actually like your family. For entertainment, the Rose and Crown Pub features stand-up comedians on Mondays while Sundays are reserved for live jazz acts, but, any day or night of the week, you can just kick back in the comfy confines of this Palo Alto local bar, shoot some darts and swill some fine beer with all of your new friends.

Rudy's Pub at Elbe Restaurant
117 University Ave., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.321.3319
Rudy's Pub in Palo Alto is a local bar haven for lovers of imported European beer featuring some beers that even our well-traveled liver hasn't sampled. This dark and cozy corner bar also sports DJ dancing on the weekends and, before that fun begins, has an accordion player supposedly warming up the crowd, but with a beer selection this good they could be playing Gregorian chant and we'd still booze there. Also, Rudy's Pub has dominoes to occupy your time, a perfect drinking game that not too many local bars have, because after your sixth European beer, with their high alcohol content and all, adding up points in multiples of five is oh so fun.

Trader Vic's
4269 El Camino Real, Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.849.9800
Located in Dinah's Garden Hotel in Palo Alto, Trader Vic's drinks and food instantly transport you to some undiscovered Polynesian island where, legend has it, the founder of this worldwide restaurant and bar chain was inspired—probably by too much liquor served in fresh coconut shells—to bring the South Seas to the masses. If you've ever drank and dined at Trader Vic's you're probably eternally grateful for whatever his inspiration was, as are we because traveling to the South Seas on a writer's budget is so implausible as to make any mention of it the height of absurdity—we guess that others feel the same way evidenced by the classy crowds that pack the Palo Alto location of this bar and restaurant chain.

430 Kipling St., Palo Alto, California; Tel. 650.328.6722
With two bars and some truly inspired, distinguished Mediterranean style cuisine Zibibbo restaurant in Palo Alto has made a name for itself as a chic eatery and bar that has a palpable lively energy about it. The main bar is a dark wood and dramatically lighted showpiece while the outdoor bar is like hanging out on your friend's back porch, but with much better food, drinks and company. Also, happy hour at Zibibbo consists not of your typical bar and restaurant fare and specials, but with appetizer selections specially prepared by the chef and expertly paired with selections from their staggering wine menu.

—Palo Alto Bars and Clubs reviews by Ryan Osterbeck

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