Real Friday night fun no longer requires a full tank of gas and a drive across a bridge; Pleasanton has grown up in the past few years and suddenly there are a plethora of places for grownups to play.
Yes, revelers from all around the Bay Area are looking for a good time, and our little city has become a true destination point. These days, people are plugging Pleasanton addresses into their navigation systems as they head to the party that has, it seems, been moved right into our own back yard.
Certainly this is the case for Joe and Maricela Barone. For the last four years the Barones' back yard has been the place to see and be seen each Thursday evening from the end of May through the month of October. "Barone's Music Under the Stars" is quite possibly the most popular Thursday night event in the East Bay -- a time when good music, great food and an amazing crowd all come together on an acre of elegantly appointed courtyard tucked behind the equally elegant Barone's Restaurant on St. John Street.
Marble-topped bars, resort style cabanas and yards of sparkling lights create a definite ambiance, but Joe believes it's the music and the dancing that give Thursday nights at Barone's their real appeal.
"The first few weeks we had jazz bands come in and play, but people really wanted music they could move to," Joe recalled.
Now a different band plays every week, mixing current music with some of the old, fun favorites.
Thursday night aficionado Kelly French echoes Joe's assessment, crediting the Barones' natural ability to throw a great party for the lasting popularity of the get-togethers.
"There is so much attention to detail, and the atmosphere is so festive, you can't help but be happy to be there," she said. "Everyone dances -- it's easy to be a part of the fun."
One of the many Pleasanton residents who appreciates the opportunity to socialize and enjoy an adult night out without a drive to the city, French cites plenty of bartenders, a great tapas-style menu and a really positive atmosphere as reasons she and her husband, Troy, have found a variety of ways to enjoy their evenings at Barone's, including reserving one of the seven private cabanas to share with their friends.
"The cabanas are a great option for getting a group of friends together, or planning a girl's night out," Kelly said, "but when it's just the two of us, or just a few couples getting together, we'll show up early and grab one of the fire pits, instead."
While the music and the fun could easily carry the Thursday night celebration into the early hours of Friday morning, the Barones understand they have neighbors who might not be in a party mood every Thursday.
"The band ends right at 10," Joe explained, "and we stop serving alcohol at 10:30."
By 11 p.m. the twinkling lights have been turned off and an ever-present security team has ensured all guests have made it safely from the site.
For those who aren't quite ready to take off their dancing shoes, it's a short walk around the corner to St. Mary Street and the Redcoats British Pub. By day Redcoats is a family friendly restaurant with an excellent menu extending far beyond the standard fish and chips fare. But if you haven't seen this place after 10 p.m., it's time to put the kids to bed and head out because you are missing some serious fun.
Friday and Saturday nightlife was offered to the over-21 crowd soon after Mari Kennard and her ex-husband Paul opened Redcoats in December 2007.
"The first few nights were a little spotty," Mari remembered in true British fashion, "but it didn't take long for word to get out and we've been full ever since."
It wasn't the bangers and mash that had people talking about Redcoats, it was the DJ and six video screens which are not shut down until 1 a.m. -- finally a Pleasanton party place that didn't care when mom and dad said it was time to head home.
Not that mom and dad, or even grandma and grandpa, are always the first ones to give up their spot at the Redcoats bar.
"People think that our late night crowd is young, but it's really very mixed," Mari explained with a smile. "We've got generations of people celebrating milestone birthdays together, dancing together. When people of any age are ready to kick up their heels, they come here."
Redcoats added another evening to the late night party platter when Barone's Music Under the Stars brought a whole new crowd to the downtown on Thursday nights. With dancing and light food offered till midnight, the extra hour at Redcoats offers a chance for Barone's patrons to finish up a conversation or an easy place to wait for a safe ride home, courtesy of the local taxi services that invariably show up as the doors are being locked.
"The taxis know when we close," said Mari with a chuckle, "and they know they can find customers here."
Diversity is the happiest aspect of Pleasanton's newest nighttime entertainment options, and Grape Times Wine Bar understands that while the crowds and craziness of the bar scene can be a welcome distraction, sometimes a more serene setting is needed at the end, or beginning, of a long week.
From Monday night karaoke to Meet the Winemaker nights, Grape Times manager Stephanie Eads works hard to include a variety of events to keep patrons entertained while they sip the local Livermore Valley wines featured at this intimate establishment on Railroad Avenue near Neal.
But whatever activity might be taking place, the main attraction at Grape Times is the friendly atmosphere. Sit down for a tasting or two, strike up a conversation with the wait staff, and before long the regulars will be calling your name when you walk through the door.
Of course, there's no way any account of Pleasanton nightlife could be considered complete without offering words of admiration and tribute to the original Pleasanton nightclub -- the Sunshine Saloon. Known as the Shine to the large crowd of loyal regulars and old timers who have frequented this establishment on Santa Rita at Valley since 1978, this laid back bar was once the only game in town.
Not a lot has changed since then, no fancy face lifts or miraculous makeovers found here. Daily specials featuring Taco Tuesdays and Rib Eye Fridays make the Sunshine Saloon a ritual for many, while ping pong tables, shuffle board, darts and enough video screens to cover every Olympic event as it is broadcast show that the Shine really understands what makes a great night out.