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San Jose’s Art Boutiki offers local bands, artists a place to hang out

San Jose’s Art Boutiki offers local bands, artists a place to hang out

Editor’s Note: This article was written for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program for high school students who report and photograph stories under the guidance of professional journalists. Mia also created a podcast about Art Boutiki. 


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Walking into Art Boutiki on Race Street in San Jose, visitors immediately can sense a warm and friendly atmosphere, as if they’ve come home. The walls are lined with cases of music CDs and plastered with posters of bands and artists. Comic books fill the shelves.

A South Pacific tiki theme surrounds visitors to Art Boutiki — an art space, neighborhood hangout and concert venue. Throughout the store statues and posters of tikis — Polynesian statues of humans — along with Hawaiian flowers and imagery transmit the theme.

To describe the experience of being in Art Boutiki: cool, creative, and laid-back.

Here in this fun vibe, Art Boutiki offers live music by local musicians. It is a popular spot for families and friends to hang out, doodle, drink, and listen to music. It hosts free, all-age drink and draw nights — the Boutiki provides the paper, crayons and music. Teens, neighbors, and anyone looking for live music catch its weekly concerts.

Begun informally in 2008, Art Boutiki persevered through rough times during the pandemic lockdown. Owner and founder Dan Vado wants to keep it going as a bright and creative all-age venue and comic book store.

“COVID was a punch in the gut,” Vado said. “We got government assistance, but it only goes so far. You know, I’m still not drawing a paycheck for the work here.”

He said that donations, grants and his printing business help keep him afloat.

”So it’s been a slow road back, but we are on the right trajectory.”

The idea of Art Boutiki originated while Vado was running his comic book publishing company on Market Street in downtown San Jose. Wanting to support the arts, Vado made space in his publishing house for a gallery and displayed work by local  artists for San Jose’s First Fridays art exhibits.

But he wanted to do more, and occasionally hosted live music. He eventually realized he needed more space. Then his landlords forced him out, he said, in order to sell the building. So Vado looked for better quarters.

He found a Race Street storefront, near where the Shasta Hanchett and Garden Alameda neighborhoods meet, and moved his printing, comic book and music businesses there.

“When we moved I decided that we needed to operate a real venue instead of one where we would just shove all the boxes aside,” he said.

“I wanted to not only host music and throw speakers in a corner and call it a day, I wanted the venue to be a really good one.”

Art Boutiki not only has allowed Vado’s creative vision for a venue to flow, but also opened up space for local musicians to play regularly. Vado livestreams concerts. He said it’s important to provide a community based-venue for musicians and their hosts to connect over music and art.

Globo Cons, a band of local high school students – Will King, Jesse Zalk and Aidan Shattuck — have regularly played at the venue.

“Art Boutiki has inspired a lot of young artists. I know I went there a lot when I was young to see all the local bands, and now I’m playing there myself,” said Shattuck, a freshman at San Jose State University.

He appreciates the professionalism of Vado and his staff, and the top-notch sound system. “It’s one of the few remaining spots in San Jose for young and independent music to flourish,” Shattuck said. “It just makes the entire experience of playing or attending a show there fun.”

Zalk also first visited the Boutiki as a preteen on an open mic jazz night with his dad. “I played ‘Chameleon’ terribly with some strangers, but I was amazed there existed a place where anyone could get on stage.” said Zalk, a freshman at the City University of New York.

In a space slightly larger than a high school classroom, patrons can have an engaging and intimate relationship with the establishment.

Teacher and artist Alca Usan and her husband Carlos Velazquez had been loyal Boutiki customers and fans of the drink-and-draw nights. As the event began to falter, in February 2018 they took over as sponsors and hosts of it.

Carlos DJs and Alca draws flyers for the events.

“I love helping clean the place up after drink-and-draw nights,” Alca Usan said. “When everyone leaves, what is left is a table of butcher paper covered in the most incredible designs. Those are pieces that blow me away every time.”

She’s gained a close-knit community and helped promote a space that is both carefree and safe. “Having kids run around the Boutiki while people have a drink together is just the best,” she said. “There aren’t many places where you can let your kid run around while hanging out, and it has created a family friendly atmosphere.”

That is exactly what Vado had intended to create when he set out.

Mia Felix-Ennis graduated this year from Downtown College Prep-Alum Rock. She wrote this article for Mosaic Vision, an independent journalism training program.