At the bar, men and women sit elbow to elbow in button-down shirts, their sleeves rolled up to their elbows. Beers sweating against their palms, elbows leaned on the greasy counters, they train their eyes
on the flat screen TV above the bar, necks tense as they watch the man onscreen. Three, two, one.
They cheer. Standing up now, they clap and pat each other on the back before their eyes flicker back the screen, captivated.
At any other bar in America, the TV might be playing any number of things: a football game, a basketball game, a baseball game.
But at Paul and Eddie’s Pool and Darts in Cupertino, the man on screen is none other than Tim Cook, and the “big game” is a release-day speech broadcast by Apple from San Francisco.
Long after the streaming of Tim Cook’s speech is over, Apple employees linger. At noon on a Wednesday, the barstools in one corner are occupied by two people hunched over their open Macbooks, the glowing white Apple emblems the strongest source of light, twin dots piercing the dimness of the bar.
“The influence of high tech and the tech boom in Silicon Valley can’t be overstated,” co-owner and manager Amy Shott said. In some ways, she believes that this has detracted from the environment of the bar, where two pool tables lay unoccupied at the center of the bar, each polished cue stacked in its rack, untouched. More and more, she’s observed customers walking in with their smartphones in their palms, barely looking at each other.
“Technology brings us close together, but it also distances us. We’re together, but apart,” Shott said. Still, she isn’t entirely convinced that the growing presence of tech corporations and her evolving customer base detracts from the essence, the original mission, of the bar.
She’s been manager and co-owner since Nov. 2007, and she waited at the bar for ten years prior to that, when she was just a recent college graduate looking to make some extra cash. And she’s observed one constant that’s kept her coming back to the bar, for long hours day after day and night after night, football game or Apple release: a sense of community. Of family.
And to her, Apple employees are just another family that now belongs to this bar.
“They’re a vibrant and fun culture,” Shott said. Having grown up in a small town in Massachusetts, she’s always been used to the close-knit environment of a bar, where everybody knows everybody. But she never could have imagined managing one in the Bay Area — especially one she affectionately calls the “Heart of the Silicon Valley,” where Apple employees and apple farmers, separated by decades, have all called their home.
“Here, you’re with the family that you choose, rather than the one you’re born with, so to speak,” Shott said. She recalls an old theme song on Cheers, a ‘90s sitcom: “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name.” And this is exactly what Paul and Eddie’s has been: a place of instant recognition. And even more than that, a place where people know more than just your name.
“‘It’s not just, ‘How are you?’ ‘Fine. You?’ ‘Fine,’ and then you’re done with it,” Shot said, smiling. You couldn’t get away with that in here.
To her, the bar represents a whole, a center, a pulsing place. This hasn’t changed, even as the stream of tradesmen and craftspeople have been replaced, over the years, with workers in the tech industry, armed with their own desire to assimilate into local culture. Paul and Eddie’s has its own lore, its own traditions, and they’ve stayed the same even if the people haven’t.
Across the ceiling beams and the wood-paneled walls, taped dollar bills — some more faded than others — appear to be vandalized. “I’M HERE.” one reads. “Happy Birthday Kathryn!” another reads. And one, pasted into a dark corner, merely lists a name and a date. A memorial.
According to Shott, these dollar bills appeared in the 1990s, after the bar was remodeled.
“Originally, this harkens back to the saloon days,” Shott said. She describes that as men left the bar, they would write their names on their leftover money, so that if they were ever broke or short on cash, they could always come back to the bar and know they still had a dollar for a drink.
Nowadays, it’s become much more than that.
“It’s a way for you to put your own little mark on a place that you feel like you’re a part of,” Shott said. Just as the bar has changed you, you get to change it.
In the past few years, the trend has become somewhat fanatic, with bills overlapping each other on some walls, lending the appearance of paper-mached walls.
Often, customers will stroll in just to find and point out their dollar bill, to scan the walls and exclaim, ‘Oh, there it is!’ Sometimes customers will tape their bill and come back five years later, hunting for one among hundreds.
“A lot of people come in on anniversaries, or birthdays, or if they’re celebrating someone, or memorializing someone,” Shott said. She herself has lost friends over the years, and being in the bar is her way of visiting them. The bar itself has become a kind of permanent photo album.
Old owners’ photos from the 50s to the present, some black and white, are scattered across each wall. Shott doesn’t know the stories behind all of them, and she doesn’t even recognize much of the Cupertino in these photos. But they still feel like memories.
Across time, across major demographic shifts, she still feels a sense of oneness.
“I don’t ever see the culture of the bar becoming obsolete,” Shott said. She believes that every community needs a place to experience their interconnectedness, and this is where she found that, even as a waiter. She can’t help but mention how many marriages have been forged in this bar — including her own — and how many trophies from community pool leagues line the shelves, so many that they couldn’t all possibly fit in the display.
Pool-playing may wax and wane, but the memorials remain.
Still, that doesn’t mean the bar is immune to the bigger changes.
“The market’s out of control,” Shott said. “The housing market is crazy, and you see a lot of businesses having trouble keeping up with their rent or just losing their leases.”
She recounts stories about leases being lost and given to corporations, who can afford to pay much more. And though the business has a close relationship with the property owner, who cares more about the bar than maximizing profit, she can’t control the economic fallout of the tech boom on local businesses.
When the nearby restaurant Vivi’s lost its lease, she knew it could also happen to her.
She also knew that if she were a college student now, looking for a job and trying to live in the Bay Area, she wouldn’t be able to do anything she’d accomplished in the 90s. Nowadays, on a waiter’s salary, or in any service job, it’s impossible to afford housing in Cupertino.
The fact that Paul and Eddie’s was established in 1943 certainly helps alleviate some of her financial worries.
Apple employees, rather than squeezing out the business, have embraced the bar’s notoriety — its dim-room, cold-beer, elbow-to-elbow atmosphere — as well as contributing their own brand of tech-geekiness to its sports-and-pool culture. After all, on the day of an Apple release, the giddiness and cheering aren’t at all out of place.
As Shott speaks, gesturing at various photos, more groups trickle in to fill the spots beside the two women typing on their Macbooks: men with their shirt sleeves rolled up, exchanging words the old-fashioned way.
The two women, sleeves rolled down, look up from their screens, almost simultaneously, and call out a greeting with their hands half-raised. Through the tinted window, the scene looks familiar.
It looks like family.
“There’s something about this place,” Shott said. “It’s a constant in this continually changing landscape.”