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Issue date: August 25, 2000

Best of Pleasanton 2000 (August 25, 2000)

Presenting... the Best of Pleasanton.
Thanks to all the readers who took the time to send in nominations. We enjoyed going through the responses and learning about Pleasanton and about our readers, too. We know it isn't always easy to assign top status in Pleasanton, where so much is super. As Kim Pace wrote: "How do you do a 'Best of' when there are so many wonderful places and people to choose from? This entire city is the 'Best of.'" This was our first "Best of" issue and we're planning to make it an annual event. So please don't hesitate to let us know what you liked - or didn't like - about the questions, the form, the prizes, the way it was done. To give us feedback, call (925) 600-0840, e-mai or fax (925) 600-9559.

Arts and Entertainment

Best Bar Ambiance

Pleasanton voters cast equal ballots for two markedly different watering holes, perhaps reflecting different segments of the community or just different moods of the same community. Haps, a toney downtown restaurant offers a sophisticated atmosphere in which to exchange intimacies in hushed tones over a blush tinted cosmopolitan or perfectly chilled martini. The Hopyard American Alehouse & Grill is strategically located next to the Sports Park and offers a boisterous environment, wonderfully attuned to the consumption of any one of dozens of exotic brews. Regardless of mood or attire, our readers know the places to share drink and friendship.

Best Bartender
Her name is "J _ _ _ _ at the Union Jack Pub" and she's incognito. In fact, the individual you selected for best bartender in Pleasanton only serves up drinks at the Union Jack as a sideline occupation. Her real profession, she insists, must be kept out of print. But despite the mystery it is obvious that her patrons at the Union Jack are mad about her service, her sharp banter and, quite possibly, her striking good looks.

Best Free Entertainment, Adults
F-R-E-E. Free. All of us have saved bottlecaps, pull-tabs and scratcher pieces... all in the name of the word "free." And when coupled with another important word in the English language - "entertainment" - we find a potent phrase: "Free entertainment." The winner for the "best free entertainment for adults" in Pleasanton is the highly popular Friday night concert series in Wayside Park. Runners-up were the First Wednesday Street Parties on Main Street, as well as this year's free Shakespeare in the Park. So, next time you're out looking for a little A&E, you might keep in mind the line of the song: "The best things in life are free...."

Free Entertainment, Kids
You can still curl up with a good book at the library or bring it home, but a lot of our readers go there for more lively fare. The Pleasanton Public Library was your top choice for free kids entertainment. And not just for story time, although such happenings are frequent in both the day and the evening. To go along with its summer reading program, "Reading Cats and Dogs," many of this summer's events at the library had an animal theme, including visiting wild animals, a couple of puppet shows (one with a ventriloquist and large state-of-the-art dragon puppet), and advice on pet care. Summer fun at the library also included Latin American music and circus performers. Similar programs and children's theater preview shows will be offered during the school year, but on a less frequent schedule.

Best Place to Hear Music
The downtown landmark Pleasanton Hotel, on Main Street next to the bridge, isn't just for history buffs and lovers of fine cuisine. Our readers chose it as the best place to hear music. This entertainment is available Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings year-round inside, and Wednesdays and Thursdays on the patio from May through October. (Sunday's music may also be outside during the summer.) The house band, Major Link, performs regularly on Fridays and Saturdays, playing a variety of upbeat dance music. Blues is featured Thursdays and most Wednesdays. The first Sunday of the month is always big band, but the music style varies on other Sundays.

Best Late Night Restaurant and Kids Menu
You chose Lyons Restaurant as the winner in two highly differing categories of this "Best of." Not only has Lyons won in the best late night restaurant category, but it has also been voted as offering the best kids menu in all of Pleasanton. It is fairly safe to say from your votes that Lyons just might be the perfect place to shake the kids awake and shag them out for that midnight smorgasbord you've always wanted. Alberto's Cantina was also noted for its kids menu.

Best Local Painter/Sculptor
Charlotte Severin received the most votes for Best Local Painter/Sculptor. She is an award-winning "plein air" artist, who now captures her subjects mostly in watercolors. Through her Civic Arts classes she passes on her joy of painting the world around her. She also was the founding president of the Pleasanton Cultural Arts Council and the founder of its Arts in the Schools program. She says, "Painting is for me a 'Celebration of Life.'" Our readers must like to celebrate with her. Many other artists were named in this category, which tells us we have a huge job ahead of us, recognizing the artistic talent in the community.

Best Local Writer/Poet
Most of us who glance through the glass panels toward our bank manager - or in this case Jim Ott, president and CEO of UNCLE Credit Union - think that all the keyboarding is to churn up big numbers. But glance around the screen and you'll see Ott occasionally digressing into his other role as poet laureate elect of Pleasanton. For that work, he came in well ahead of others in our Local Writer/Poet category, even ahead of our own editor and columnist Jeb Bing, who's convinced that his good friend Ott, who is also an adjunct English instructor at Las Positas College, got his students to stuff the ballot box. Besides his work at UNCLE, which requires that he spend much of his work day in Livermore, Ott edits and writes a column for the Pleasanton Chamber newspaper and is active with the Pleasanton North Rotary Club. His dedication poem for the Albus unveiling at the Senior Center's Centennial Park is now being etched in stone. Looks like Ott's work will be with us for a while.

Best Margarita
The margaritas served by the downtown Blue Agave on Main Street got the most toasts from our readers, and the first runner-up was Alberto's Cantina, also on Main. The Blue Agave, located in a house built in the late 1800s, is named after the plant that produces the margarita's main ingredient, tequila, so it's no surprise that margaritas are the restaurant's special feature. They are also the passion of its charming manager, Luis, who can fill you in on anything you want to know about margaritas. The Blue Agave offers one of the most extensive choice of tequilas in the entire Bay Area, numbering over 200. The menu also has a long list of suggested margarita combinations of tequila and liqueur, enough choices to make your head swim, and this is before a single drink! But take Luis' advice: Don't go right to the Cadillac-priced margarita before your palate is educated enough to appreciate it. He also advises against the common practice of blending the drink into a slush because it lessens the taste. "Ice and alcohol," he added, "lead to brain freeze."

Best Place to Meet Singles
"Location. Location. Location." ...or so the saying goes. For this "Best of" category, we tallied a two-way tie. And the resulting best place for Mr. and Ms. Lonelyhearts to meet is somewhere in between produce and beer - either the Saturday Farmers Market or the Hopyard American Alehouse & Grill. Furthermore, running a close second and third in this category were Safeway and Massˇs. Don't ask us, we just added up your votes. We're not even going to try to interpret the psychological meaning of the choices.

Best Place to Spend Your Last $20
Given only $20 left to their names, our readers would hold tight to that money till the Saturday Farmers Market rolled into town, and then, oh boy, would they let that Andy Jackson fly. Your votes indicated that this would be the best place in all of Pleasanton to spend your last $20, but there were quite a few interesting runners-up. They included Wal Mart (for those everyday bankruptcy needs), Domus on Main Street, the satellite wagering center at the Fairgrounds ("the-glass-is-half-full people"), the mortgage payment, and a surprising number listed the Graham-Hitch Mortuary ("the-glass-is-half-empty people"). Just goes to show how many places there are in Pleasanton to spend your last dime.

Place for Sinful Dessert
Where to go for a sinfully rich dessert? Rarely did readers speak so decisively. While several other places were noted for their tantalizing confections, TortaBella, in operation for only a year and a half, was their favorite choice by far. And who can blame them? From its chocolate hazelnut cheesecake to its strawberry shortcake, TortaBella selections are fresh, tasty and rich. Owners Joe Fisher and Dona Bell also provide customers with hundreds of cookbooks to peruse and copy recipes from. TortaBella is located at 2707 Hopyard Road, near Gene's Fine Foods.

Best Place to Pamper Yourself
Our readers have many definitions for the word "pamper." In this category, they named restaurants, dessert shops, wine shops and candy shops as well as exercise clubs and salons. But the most votes went to the Pleasanton Spa, at Hopyard and Valley, which offers an assortment of aromatherapy, deep tissue massage, exfoliation, facials, body wraps and body polishing six days a week. A sign on the door reminds clients to turn off their cell phones, they are about to enter a relaxation area. And, sure enough, the soothing environment begins just inside the front door, with a pleasing aroma, tinkling waterfall and soothing music. The Oasis on Spring Street ran a close second.

Out and About

Best Building (late '90s)
Ed and Diane Churka have found the secret for a winning building design - take your time. Their new Coffee Roast Express won our readers' poll hands down for the best new building in town. Established in 1989 near First Street, the Churkas opened their distinctive Main Street (at Ray) coffeehouse during the holiday season last December, nearly half a decade after starting the project. With railroad gables, towers and eaves, Coffee Roast Express maintains its old train station ambiance with authentic train antiques through the store depicting not only the history of the transcontinental railroad, but the history of Pleasanton as well. The coffeehouse features over 30 varieties of arabica coffee, roasting small quantities each day to ensure peak flavor. Our readers liked the building - most of it designed and built by Ed Churka, himself - and many praised the coffee and delicious food and bakery treats inside. A runner-up was the 3-year-old classical commercial building at 349 Main St., the corner of West Angela and Main, anchored by the Fontina restaurant. With its High Tech Burrito and soon-to-open Tully's coffeehouse, the two-story building's already-popular outdoor plaza is bound to become an even more crowded downtown destination.

Best Customer Service in Pleasanton
"I'd rather be shopping at Nordstrom." "This car makes frequent stops at Nordstrom." According to license frame logos and your "Best of" votes, Nordstrom does the most pampering of its customers. Also rated high were the sinful delights of Tortabella and the knowledgeable guys at Kolln Hardware. Actually more than 30 places were nominated - including the library, the police and KKIQ 101.7 radio - proving that good customer service must be the norm in Pleasanton.

Best Downtown Building
Pleasantonians love their downtown. Best new building, best historic site and, of course, best downtown building all were selected from Main Street. Our readers chose Kolln Hardware at Main and Division streets as the Best Downtown Building. The clapboard structure was constructed in 1869, and the front section of the building, with the turret guarding Main Street, was added in 1890. Amazingly, it has always operated as a hardware emporium, although in the beginning the business manufactured parts for windmills as well as supplying other hardware items for the local community. A number of our readers also nominated Kolln Hardware in the best service category. How else to explain well over a century of longevity!

Best Place to Hike/Best Place to be Alone
Pleasanton Ridge is the hands-down winner for Best Place to Hike and Best Place to be Alone, and we understand why. We ran a story on the Pleasanton Ridge in March and were there on the first day of spring. It was a stunning day, not too hot, and strong winds - the last winds of winter - had blown the Valley free of haze. We could see clearly to the Altamont Pass. The climb up to the ridge from the parking lot of Augustin Bernal Park affords wonderful, ever-shifting views to the East and North. The 800-foot ascent in 2.23 miles is pleasantly taxing but won't discourage a hiker from exploring other trials on the ridgetop walks. Another wonderful experience on that spring day: There was not another soul in sight at the summit.

Best Historic Site
The Pleasanton Hotel was chosen for best historic site, although Kottinger Adobe, Kolln Hardware and Pleasanton Museum received strong support from our readers as well. The original hotel on the North Main Street site was built sometime between 1851 and 1864 by early settler John Kottinger and was called the Farmer's Hotel. A stagecoach stop, it offered rooms, a bar and dining room. It was rebuilt after it burned down to the ground in 1898. After renovations in the wake of a minor fire in 1915, it was renamed the Pleasanton Hotel. This historic landmark is not to be confused with the original Pleasanton Hotel, also built by Kottinger, which was located a few blocks down the street where the Pleasanton Gas Station is now. That hotel, too, fell victim to fire. The present Pleasanton Hotel offers fine dining, an outdoor patio, and frequent musical entertainment.

Best Place to People Watch
Main Street is by far "The Place" to be if you're going for some real-life, real-people, live-action entertainment. Our readers' votes overwhelmingly said that Main Street and numerous locations on Main Street are the best place to take a peep at passersby. Whether you are sipping coffee at the numerous outdoor cafˇs, eating at its restaurants or just stopping into a shop, Main Street is the place to see and be seen. So next time you saunter down Main Street don't assume your actions are going unnoticed - chances are that on a bustling night in P-town several pairs of curious eyes will focus in on each and every move you make.

Best Place to Read a Book
Our readers say the best place in Pleasanton to read a book is somewhere jam-crammed with books. Your votes labeled the Pleasanton Public Library as the best place to read a book, closely followed by Border's Bookstore as another good place to turn the pages. Reading at home was such a distant third that it is hardly worth mentioning. What attracts us to reading in book warehouses? Is there some glamour that stems from reading in the midst of thousands of bound collections while other readers rummage and stir up the dust-bunnies? Perhaps it's the learning vibe, that we hope to absorb knowledge from our surroundings. Or maybe it's because even if the book we're reading falls into the "not-so-thrilling-cruddy-novel-detestable-research" category, there is still the promise of the other volumes. Or maybe these readers just like books.

Best Public Art Project
Pleasanton has public art in many places, but our readers favor the "Centennial" mosaic project by Bill Granizo at the south end of Main Street. The three pillars are loaded with visual information celebrating 5,000 years of the city's history and each viewing yields a surprise. Granizo was nearing death from cancer as the tiles were installed and he sat in an armchair overseeing the project. Perhaps his hovering artistic spirit draws people to his creation. Close runner-ups were the bronze "Girl Reading" by Dennis Smith in front of the library, donated by a family in memory of their daughter in 1989; and "Pat's Bench," another ceramic tile creation, located next to a trail in Kottinger Park.

Best Place to Get a Traffic Ticket
When we selected this category we knew the hands-down winner would be the intersection of First and Bernal. We had this foreknowledge because every afternoon we can glance out our office windows and see the errant commuters being brought to justice by Pleasanton's Finest. Sure there would be sentiment for St. Mary Street motorcycle officers tucked away in private driveways. And other sections of Bernal got some votes - the Fairgrounds entry gates are excellent observation posts - and various segments of Santa Rita received reader support. But we knew our favorite intersection would prevail. However it seems our readers have experienced vehicular justice on virtually every primary or secondary artery in our fair community. The readers voted for so many locations that we must conclude that all of Pleasanton is the "best place to get a traffic ticket." Buckle up, drive safely!


Place to Celebrate a Birthday
Noisy, lively and fun, Chevy's Mexican Restaurant is the place of choice for many of our readers to celebrate birthdays. The guest of honor gets a large sombrero after the waiters sing their own happy birthday greetings, and there are balloons for all who want them. On weekends, someone is usually on hand to make animal balloon creations, and the tortilla-making machine is fun for kids to watch. Chevy's is on the north side of Owens Drive, east of Hopyard Road. For a more active birthday celebration, our readers chose PUMP IT UP, a giant warehouse full of inflatable play structures - some families call them bouncies. The fun includes a giant inflated slide, a bungee run and a new obstacle course. If bouncing off the walls is your idea of fun, this is the place.

Best Place to Get Married/Best Landscaping
If wedding bells are getting ready to ring in your life, our readers suggest the Century House on Santa Rita Road as a perfect place to get married. But if it's during the colder months, keep the guest list small; the historic house can only accommodate 50 people. For outdoor weddings, you can expand this to 125 and enjoy the lovely patio garden. No wonder our readers also chose Century House for best landscaping. Rose bushes along the entry walk, springtime daffodils, large shade trees, a small gazebo and foliage provide a restful and pretty oasis. Originally built in the 1870s on tule marsh land as a weekend hunting lodge, the house became a farm homestead after the surrounding land was drained. Since 1969, the house and grounds have been maintained by the city of Pleasanton.

Best Place for a First Date
Stacey's Cafˇ is a great place to dine, a place where you might see the comic artist Scott Adams (the owner), and it just so happens that it is also the place you voted "best place for a first date in Pleasanton." If, like many people, you are at least somewhat concerned about the impression that you will be making, this is an ideal choice for a first date. With its secluded patio dining, subtle Mediterranean interior dˇcor, ample fine-wine selection, and well-prepared dishes, Stacey's Cafˇ is a sure hit. Even if you see your date turning into a first-last-date scenario, you can always buy a Dilbert comic book and leave it with your server to be signed by Mr. Adams the next time he frequents the restaurant. If things don't work out (with the date) you can always come back to Stacey's alone and pick up your autographed memorabilia. Also frequently mentioned were Gay '90s Pizza, Haps, Alberto's Cantina and Claude and Dominique's. Still others didn't take the restaurant route - they named the museum, the county fair, the fair parade and the Galaxy Theater.

Best Place for a Last Date
Fast food and heartbreak seem to go hand in hand in P-town. McDonald's (the hands-down winner for "best place for a last date") was among at least four other fast-food places listed by our readers as a good location to put the ol' significant other on the dating chopping block. Some of the other nominations for places in Pleasanton to say "let's just be friends from now on" were: Safeway's frozen food aisle, Wal Mart, an automobile (oddly, this was a place also listed for most romantic date), the cemetery (wow, that's harsh), nowhere (apparently meaning there is no good place), and the courthouse. Very creative!

Best Place for a Romantic Date
This category proved once again that romance is in the eyes of the beholder. One person listed the automobile - the back seat perhaps? Or maybe they own a Jaguar in which case, yes, a drive would put stars in many an eye. The nomination of a bike ride with wine and cheese through the Happy Valley area appealed to the romantics in our office. But most people listed restaurants, and most frequently named was Barone's on St. John Street - with its warm, cozy atmosphere, candlelight and lovely romantic paintings. Runners-up were Claude & Dominique's, the Blue Agave, Hap's and Pastas.

Best Public Event
There certainly has been a lot going on in town lately, from what we've found in your nominations for best public events. Hot August Nights Hot Rod Show (actually it's called Hot Rod Heaven) was the winner, but there were many other local events with a lot of votes. The First Wednesday Street Parties were a huge sensation, along with the County Fair and the Scottish Games (yes, tartan-clad people brandishing bagpipes and haggis). With the Fair just recently passed, and Hot Rod Heaven and the Scottish Games up and coming, there is plenty of public entertainment available to the community.

Working Out, Having Fun

Best Park, Place to Jog and Rollerblade, Walk Your Dog
If Pleasanton were New York City, the Pleasanton Sports Park would be Central Park (only much safer). If Pleasanton were San Francisco, the Sports Park would be Golden Gate Park (minus the perma-fog). In fact the Sports Park is such a recreational monolith in Pleasanton that our readers voted it as the finest "Best of" in three (3) categories. It is the all-around quick and easy fix for outdoor leisure in the city of Pleasanton. The Sports Park - which cuts a huge greenbelt swath through central Pleasanton - offers plenty of smooth sidewalks for jogging and rollerblading. It is the ideal playground for youths of all ages with its play and skate areas, as well as its expansive open spaces. It is also the location to find adult sports, or to take a walk or jog unimpeded by cars, busses, and those seemingly always-red "don't walk" signals. And last, but certainly not least, the Pleasanton Sports Park has been voted the best place to take the canine family friend for its daily walk. Let us hope that the Green Dog Rangers take note of the well-used Pleasanton Sports Park.

Best Youth Sports Program
Just in time for back-to-back weekend soccer tournaments and next month's basketball registrations are our readers' favorite youth sports programs - boys and girls soccer and the city's Youth Basketball program. Readers liked the enthusiasm, challenges and diversity of both the Ballistic United Soccer Club and the Pleasanton Girls Soccer Association - also known as the Pleasanton Rage. The BUSC, with its more than 140 teams and 2,500 registered players, and the PGSL with 160 teams and 2,400 girls, provide recreation soccer starting with Under 6 year old teams to advanced "Al Caffodio" teams up to the Under 19 year olds that travel the region in championship tournament play. Although it finished just below the soccer organization, Pleasanton Youth Basketball got high marks for its excellent coaching and range of expertise required (from zero to great!). The program, operated by the city's Parks & Community Services Department, is headed by Stuart Lawson, recreation supervisor, and John Morehouse, senior recreation leader, who will be glad to sign you up for play at one of the three middle school gyms. A last word on soccer: Don't miss the annual soccer parade and thousands of your favorite players - on Main Street on Saturday, Sept. 9, the day when the games begin.

All about Pleasanton

Best Reason to Live in Pleasanton
Readers flooded our e-mail site and office with the many reasons they live in Pleasanton. At the top in our count were "a great Main Street," "friendly people" and "community oriented." A low crime rate, good schools, dedicated teachers, history, charm, beauty and good weather weren't far behind. Most of us moved here for family values - strong academics in our schools, great sports programs, a place where we can shop and walk and our kids can ride their bikes conveniently and safely. Sure, the commute can be awful if you take the Sunol Grade, but when we come home to Pleasanton, we really have a place to treasure. Check out the crowds at Stoneridge, downtown on Main Street, at Sports Park or at one of the scores of garage sales that seem to go non-stop every weekend, and you'll see neighbors and other friendly faces of people who just love living in Pleasanton.

Best Unsung Hero
This was in many ways the most interesting category in our Best of Pleasanton survey, in part because nobody won. We had many, many nominees, and they were from a broad cross section of the community. There were police officers, teachers, political leaders, childcare providers, city staffers and "the man at the Lion's Ticket Center." There were people who give and serve publicly and those who make community contributions quietly behind the scenes. We had so many worthy nominees in this category that choosing a winner seemed self-defeating. Pleasanton is truly a community where people get involved and value civic contribution. In coming months we will bring you profiles of some of these heroes that contribute so much to our community.

Most Interesting Local News Story
Without question the story that has captured the attention of our readers has been the ongoing debate over the fate of 500 acres of land owned by the San Francisco Water Department, adjacent to Bernal Avenue and flanking I-680. Various plans have been debated including some that would have put thousands of homes on the site and others that would have preserved the land entirely for public uses. In March, a public vote was held on Measure I to have Pleasanton buy a portion of the land for $50 million and approve commercial development on the balance. The bond measure failed to garner the required two-thirds endorsement and the participants went back to the drawing board. The City Council has now approved a plan under which a private developer would have the right to develop 581 residential units and 750,000 square feet of office space and Pleasanton would receive approximately 330 acres of land at no cost. If completed, this plan will undoubtedly continue to compel Pleasanton Weekly readers as the community decides how best to utilize the newly acquired land.

Community or Service Organization
Our readers love their pets - or so we conclude from their nomination of the Valley Humane Society in this category. This organization on Spring Street is dedicated to finding loving homes for cats and dogs, although only cats stay at the downtown shelter. In 1999, the society found homes for 559 cats and 63 dogs. Other frequently nominated groups were Hope Hospice, Rotary, the Volunteer Center, Friends of Pleasanton Library, the Pleasanton Mother's Club and the Police Department.

Best Local Character
Step aside, everyone. Pleasanton seems to know exactly who this town's best local character is, although they do not seem to know much about him. The descriptions that you sent us of this character attest not only to his notoriety, but also show that people only know him by sight. You have called him "bicycle man," "barefoot bike rider," "shorts-only bicycle man," and "turtle-guy in blue shorts with no shirt." You have also dubbed him "the guy on the bicycle," "bike guy," "the fellow in blue shorts who bicycles around town in his bare feet," "heavy man who rides the bicycle," "gentleman riding bike without shoes or shirt," and possibly "Patrick." You have even called him "naked bike-riding man" - although no one on the Weekly staff has ever actually seen him fully naked, so we dismiss the "naked" rumor altogether. With such a strong voting response to Bicycle Guy from our readers, we doubt that Pleasanton could ever really call itself Pleasanton without his presence. Since he received so many nominations as the best local character, we think the better part of Pleasanton is with us when we say, "Bicycle Guy, keep on truckin.'"

And the prizes go to...
The decision was not easy, but the dinner for two for the best written response goes to Paul and Patti Esser of Crestline Road, who wrote: "We have lived and raised our children and grandchildren in Pleasanton for 30 years. The schools are the best and most distinguished in the state, the people are the friendliest, and downtown Main Street is the quaintest in the Bay Area. The entire town is beautifully maintained and each neighborhood takes pride in its surroundings. We have planned our city's progress both in housing and business successfully while providing a 'small town' atmosphere. Our 'little town' has become a tourist attraction and we are proud to say we live here!"

The 15 winners of the random drawing for T-shirts are Jan Batcheller, Colleen Botelho, Mette Cano, Alice and Mike Fally, Michael Knudsen, John and Mary McCullough, Ashley Miller, Anthony F. Roberts, Tania Smith, Kathy and Matt Spellman, Jody Wallem and Kris Weaver.

Thank you, everyone, for your entries.

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