There are a few groups of people that I get together with in downtown Livermore to wind down with after work. Our favorite spots are listed below:
Hands down, the Zephyr Grill and Bar (http://www.zephyrgrill.com/) is our favorite. As downtown Livermore began to morph into a destination, the ambiance and décor of the Zephyr was one of the first of the downtown restaurants that made you forget you were actually in Livermore (not that there’s anything wrong with that–I really do love Livermore). The Zephyr is not in the heart of the newly renovated downtown area, but it is about two blocks west and next door to the Vine Cinema. There is parking in front and behind the Zephyr. The servers and bartenders are some of the best in the downtown area. The Zephyr has a happy hour Monday through Friday and on Wednesday nights the bar menu is half price. The bar menu offers a good variety of well-prepared food. The Zephyr has recently expanded the bar area, so seating groups is not a problem. The dining room also offers some very good food and has some fun desserts, such as the Texas funeral fudge cake that is served with a bottle of milk. Most importantly, the Zephyr makes the best mandarin cosmo intown.
Demitri’s Taverna is a fun Greek restaurant where you’ll see the young, attractive Demitri himself table hopping or serving food (http://www.bizglimpz.com/DemitrisTaverna). Demitri’s is a very popular place and often times there are lines of people waiting to get in. Every time I have eaten at Demitri’s I have had the dolmathes avgolemono (stuffed grape leaves). While my exposure to dolmathes is somewhat limited, these are the best I have eaten and I hate to deviate to another menu item when I’m on to something great. The lemon sauce served with the dolmathes really complements the flavors of the grape leaf, rice, and meat. Diners are served a complimentary basket of grilled bread with skordalia, which is a potato and garlic dip. Demitri’s offers Greek and Livermore Wines. Opah!
Demitri holding what appears to be a bottle of ouzo
If you can get a seat, the First Street Ale House is one of the most fun places to go in the downtown area (http://www.firststreetalehouse.com/). The place is always buzzing with activity and high energy. Best of all, it is the most reasonably priced hot spot in the downtown. The Ale House has a small dining room/bar area, but has outside seating in the front and back. During the chilly months and summer nights, they do have outdoor heaters to take the chill off. The Ale House offers a good selection of microbrews. They have good burgers, but my favorite is the honey mustard chicken sandwich ($6.95 and it comes with fries or a side salad). A tootsie pop is served with all sandwiches and all of the food prices are very inexpensive. The Ale House will be moving into a larger building next door during 2010, which will hopefully make getting a table easier. Although their rent will be higher, they do plan to keep the reasonable prices and improve their menu.
The Thai food at Star Anise is excellent, a lot of attention is paid to the presentation (the food looks like works of art), and the prices are very reasonable (http://www.staranisethaicuisine.com/about.html). The Star Anise offers beer, wine, and mixed drinks. My recommendation is to go with the beer or wine. Unless you are the only customers, Star Anise is not really the place that you would want to go with a large, loud group.
Simply Fondue has a happy hour in their lounge from 5 to 7 PM and the martini menu exceeds 100 different flavors (http://www.simplyfonduelivermore.com/lounge_menu.htm). They even have a martini sampler! There are a variety of appetizers available in the lounge, such as beef kabobs, chicken satay, and a jumbo cheese ravioli, or you can order fondue. On Tuesday nights they offer a $24 for two fondue items for two people special in the bar and restaurant. My favorite fondues are the Mediterranean and the Italian fontina. The chocolate fondue is outstanding, especially the Reese’s peanut butter cup. The servers will bring you as much bread, veggies, fruits, or sweets for dipping as you want and three of us actually took advantage of the two for $24 special. When you visit Simply Fondue, check out cool the sink in the ladies room.
The VE Club. Cheap drinks, shuffle board, pool table, jukebox. If you are eating at the Yin Yin next door and need to use the restroom, you go through a door in the Yin Yin right into the V&E to use the restroom. And, you might just stop and have a shot of Patron.
“We’re going next door to the restroom”
Uncle Yu’s at the Vineyard has a nice bar area with some table seating and the menu offers some excellent appetizers (http://www.uncleyuatthevineyard.com/Home.html). The decor, ambiance, and Chinese food in the dining room is excellent and the servers are very attentive and have been very well trained.
Some of the other places we have gone to wind down, but have not added to our favorites list yet are:
The Sanctuary Ultra Lounge, which has moved into the former Firehouse Books and Bistro, is one of the downtown’s newest hangouts for the 21 and over crowd (http://sanctuaryultralounge.com/). You must be at least 21 to enter. The night we were there we ordered the hosin beef, gourmet tamale, and deep fried calamari tapas. Hats off to the chef, all of the tapas we tried were great. While this lounge is very trendy, we found the seating uncomfortable and the atmosphere stuffy. The Ultra lounge does have a pool table in a back room.
Apparently, the Sapphire Restaurant and Lounge is the place to be when it gets dark (http://www.sapphirelivermore.com/). The Sapphire has maintained a lot of the icy glass and blue-lighted décor from the Fire and Ice Mongolian BBQ. The night we were there the customers were very sparse, but it was still early. Our server told us the band that was setting up would play at 7:30. At 8:45 they still had not started. It was ladies night and the beers were cheap, so we had some Blue Moon with orange wedges, ordered some unimpressive appetizers off of the late night menu, and had a good time visiting. This is a place that you could go to with a large, loud group. After 9:00 PM I’ve noticed that there is a bouncer at the door and have heard that it gets so crowded that they have to turn people away.
One place that may never make the favorites list:
Thinking that after two months we had waited out the bad service stage that frequently comes with a new dining establishment, we found that bad service and poorly prepared food may just be the norm for Eddie Papa’s American Hangout (http://www.eddiepapas.com/). Eddie Papa’s is in the building that Movida had been in and some of the Movida décor was maintained. While other diners came, ate, and left the night of our visit, our food had still not arrived. When the food finally did arrive, most of it was ice cold and poorly prepared. One person in our party ordered the chicken fried steak and was served a cold, mushy mess. I ordered the San Francisco vegetable chop suey, paying extra for chicken. When it was served, it was missing the chicken and the crispy won ton. When I pointed this out to our server, he took it away. About 20 minutes later and after everyone else at the table was done eating, he brought back a steaming hot entrée. The server appeared to be oblivious to any of this being an issue and offered no apologies. My advice to those responsible: reduce the number of menu items and specialize on a few. Fewer well prepared menu items are much better than a lot of poorly prepared items. Do some random checks of the quality of the food that’s coming out of the kitchen. Teach the servers that if they screw up, it’s OK to comp a dinner or a dessert. Giving away a few dollars of free food is better than losing repeat customers and bad press.