The Alpine Inn

Burgers, brew, and the birth of the email

Silicon Valley is full of technological landmarks, like the “HP Garage” in Palo Alto, or the Mountain View residence where Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak built the first Apple Computer. But did you know that Portola Valley is also the birthplace of a historic technological development, one that most of us could not even imagine living without? It’s true – just inside an unassuming beer garden on the corner of Alpine and Arastradero, technological history was made. This beer garden is called the Alpine Inn, and it was the site of the first ever Internet transmission.

From the outside, it would be impossible to guess that this modest “roadhouse,” which originated in the days of the California Gold Rush, would be the site of such an illustrious technological accomplishment. Yet on August 27, 1976, scientists from SRI International in Menlo Park drove a van containing a mobile radio laboratory to the beer garden, which at the time was called Zot’s. The group then sat at one of the outdoor picnic tables with a computer terminal and successfully sent an electronic report – the first email – to SRI offices, and then all the way to Boston.

I drive by the Alpine Inn all the time and, though aware of its legendary status, I realized I’d never actually been inside. So I decided to stop by for an early dinner the other day to check it out for myself – and it did not disappoint. The Alpine Inn is quintessentially Silicon Valley – extremely casual, with a down-to-earth selection of burgers and grilled sandwiches, along with a clientele that could easily be a mix of incognito Facebook millionaires, local ranchers, and motorcyclists passing through the area.

The parking lot gives you a hint of what to expect in terms of its patronage, and on any given day you might see expensive racing bicycles, Harley Davidsons, Bentleys, and even horses, coexisting as effortlessly as their owners inside.

The setting is rustic, with picnic tables surrounded by big redwood trees and a creek babbling in the background. The menu is very basic, and probably contains the best bargains in all of Silicon Valley, with nothing costing more than ten dollars. The pub offers a wide range of both domestic and imported beers, with several on tap. I ordered the tuna on a grilled bun, served with a juicy tomato slice and fresh lettuce, and my husband had the BLT with thick, crispy bacon. Having taken into account the dive-bar sort of ambiance (which is part of the charm!) we kept our expectations in check, but we were pleasantly surprised to find that our meals were not only large, but also tasty.

My final thoughts? The Alpine Inn is a fun, casual neighborhood hangout, steeped in local history, where you can go for comfort food by yourself or with friends. It’s a place where there is no pretense and no one cares if you’re a high-tech mogul or a local retiree. As demonstrated by its long history, the Alpine Inn has been an important part of the community from the earliest settlers to the leading technologists of today. Stop by sometime to get a slice of Silicon Valley history, and a pretty good BLT.

This beer garden is called the Alpine Inn, and it was the site of the first ever Internet transmission.

The Alpine Inn
3915 Alpine Road, Portola Valley
Open 11:30a–9p