There's no shortage of places in Los Gatos to get a decent cocktail, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza stands among them.
The unassuming restaurant, tucked away in Lyndon Plaza at South Santa Cruz Avenue and Main Street, has an extensive and creative cocktail menu, a tantalizing selection of craft drafts and the type of good wine list you'd expect in Los Gatos.
The Willow Street locations at Westgate and in Willow Glen, which recently added a saloon-style bar and an expanded patio, share the same cocktail menu. Those will be good alternatives when the Los Gatos restaurant's bar is being renovated the week of Nov. 5.
Fortunately, it doesn't sound like the changes will alter the bar area's casual charm. It's a very neighborhood type of place with co-workers or neighbors stopping in for a beer, cocktail or glass of wine after work or before heading off for a night on the town. There's a good number of regulars, but the bar staff is friendly enough to make everyone feel at home.
A couple of flavorful gin cocktails at Willow Street shouldn't be missed. The first is the Lost in Thyme Martini ($8), which mixes Beefeater gin with lemon juice, a house-made thyme-infused syrup and a sprig of thyme as a garnish. The Good Life ($9) is less sweet and has more citrus flavor, thanks to the addition of both grapefruit and lemon juice to the gin and substitution of a dash of Angostura bitters and basil for the thyme syrup. Mine was garnished with a thick slice of grapefruit peel.
The Kentucky Buck sounds much stronger than it is. It uses Jim Beam bourbon infused with strawberries. Lemon juice and bitters are added, and the whole thing is topped with a tangy ginger beer. Served in a tall glass over ice, it's a very refreshing cooler that's best enjoyed on warm afternoons.
The Wild Cat ($10) is listed as a house specialty. With four kinds of rum -- including Bacardi's superstrong 151 -- plus pineapple and orange juice, it was a little tropical for my mood. Similarly, the Willow Street Sangria ($8), which includes brandy as well as the expected red wine, fresh fruit and citrus juice, seemed best reserved for a Saturday afternoon.
I loved that most of the wine list can be served either as a glass, bottle or a "glass and a half," which I'm betting is a popular choice. The labels are mostly Californian, with a splash of Italy thrown in and a malbec from Argentinia. Mrs. Cocktail Chronicles was pleased to see that the list of chardonnay wines included all her "friends" -- Rombauer, Storrs, La Crema and Kendall-Jackson.
When it comes to food, pizza is an obvious choice here that's perfect for sharing. We split the spicy Italiano ($14), loaded with meat and peppers, on a thin crust. But the Meze Plate ($11) -- a platter of cannellini beans (cooked with tomatoes, garlic and basil), mozzarella, hummus, olives and warm bread -- is a great alternative, as is the do-it-yourself bruschetta ($8), which has chopped Roma tomatoes, mozzarella and toasted garlic bread deconstructed on the plate.
I'm a bit of a bar geek when it comes to glassware, and I was practically giddy when I saw my cocktail arrive in an old-style "coupe" glass, with a deep, rounded bowl that instantly gives you the sensation of sipping bubbly at the Stork Club.
My wife was similarly impressed with the chalice-shaped glass that her Leffe Brown Ale was served in, and other beers come in a standard pint glass or a larger glass mug.
It's those little details that help set a place apart from the rest, and I'm looking forward to coming back for another round when the new look debuts.
The details: Willow Street Wood-Fired Pizza, 20 S. Santa Cruz Ave., Los Gatos (other locations in Willow Glen and Westgate Shopping Center) 408-354-5566 (Los Gatos); www.willowstreet.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Tuesday; 11:30 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.