Bars where Pete has had a Drink (5,772 bars; 1,754 bars in Seattle) - Click titles below for Lists:

Bars where Pete has had a drink

Sunday, December 20, 2015

#2423 - Alpine Inn, Portola Valley, CA - 2/28/2014

Alpine Inn, Portola Valley, CA
There are fine old dive bars, and then there are great old dives. The Alpine is one of the coolest and oldest in the country, serving drinks since the 1850s, on the National Register of Historic Places, and steeped in history from the gold rush to the invention of the internet. 49ners drank in this bar -- not football players, actual 49ners. The exact founding date is uncertain, but it was sometime during the 1850s and commonly placed at 1852, two years after California became a state. And some patrons still arrive on horseback. Nestled in the Portola Valley trees hovering over Los Trancos Creek, seemingly a thousand miles from civilization -- but actually only seven from Stanford University -- it's easy to get the impression that little has changed such then. (Indeed, stepping inside and glancing at the taxidermy heads and bric-a-brac on the walls, one might wonder if it has been dusted since the 1850s.)

"Beginning of the Internet Age" marker, Alpine Inn, CA
The Casa de Tabletla ("house of cards") drinking, dancing, and gambling roadhouse was built and run by Felix Buelna, former mayor of San Jose, catering to Spanish-speaking Californios and their horses along the Old Spanish Trail to the coast. In 1868 Felix relinquished the place to Scotch-Irishman William Stanton, apparently losing it in a poker game, and under Stanton it becomes an English-speaking joint. Over the years the joint had many owners and many names -- it was  and "Chapete's Place" under Rodriguez "Black Chapete" Crovello, and later "The Wunder" under Charles Schenkel in the early 1900s. It's most abiding name dates back to 1940, when Enrico and Teresa Rossotti purchased it and renamed it "Rossotti's." Officially Rossotti's last only about a decade, but after half a century, locals still refer to it as "Zott's," and the sign out front still says "Formerly Rossotti's."

Alpine Inn, Portola Valley, CA
When Stanford University was founded a few miles away in 1885, it became popular with the students, who have helped sustain it ever since. This was not necessarily with the approval of the university provosts: '1908 - 'Stanford president David S. Jordan writes San Mateo County supervisors complaining that "The Wunder has a reputation for being vile, even for a roadhouse, a great injury to the university, and a disgrace to San Mateo County." The county, however, does not close the saloon.' (unknown article posted in the bar)  Over the years it benefitted from various prohibition measures. Palo Alto went dry in the 1890s; nearby Mayfield closed 23 saloons in 1903; and one can safely assume that the owners did not complain when a state law prohibiting the sale of alcohol within a mile and half of Stanford University was put in effect from 1909 to 1970.

And then there is the start of the internet. The event most commonly considered as the first internet message is when UCLA professor Leonard Kleinrock and student Charley Kline sent a two-letter message from UCLA to the Stanford Research Institute (the two letters being "l" and "o," since the system crashed while trying to send "login." But a key to the "internet" is the ability to link dissimilar networks. Thus when SRI researchers parked the SRI Packet Radio Van next to a picnic table behind the Alpine Inn on August 27, 1976 and transferred a message from the table via the van's equipment to SRI and then on to Boston via ARPANET, it is natural that Computer Science Division Vice-President Don Nielson called it “the first internet transmission" and that many people mark it as "the beginning of the internet age."

Today the bar hosts a broad variety of patrons from Hells Angels to Stanford physics professors. The Mercury News notes "It's one of the few places where landscapers and technology CEOs, Little Leaguers and retirees, Stanford students and bikers -- of both kinds -- brush up against one another." I chatted with customer John, who fondly remembered when there lines out the door in the 70s and 80s, and girls from Stanford in bikinis. The food is old school bar grub -- cheeseburgers and basic sandwiches -- and there are 17 beers on tap. Virtually every wood surface has many decades of names carved into it, and outside is a large, shady beer garden. "Are you going to buy the place?" John asked me out of the blue. Well, I'm not in a position in life where I'm ready to buy a bar. But if I was, I can't think of any that would be more fun to own.

3915 Alpine Rd, Portola Valley, CA 94028 - (650) 854-4004
Est. 1959 (1852 under different name) - Building constructed: 1852
Previous bars in this location: Casa de Tableta (1852-1868), Fernando's, Philpott's (1870-1875), Stanton's Saloon (1875-?), Chapete's Place, The Wunder (1904-?), Rossotti's (1940-1959)
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