Alpine Inn – Portola Valley, California - Gastro Obscura

Though the Alpine Inn is considered the site of history’s first internet transmission, this tavern is definitely more Wild West than World Wide Web. A former San Jose mayor built the bar in 1852 on a roadside in the Portola Valley, an ideal spot to avoid various city ordinances against drinking and gambling. Though it passed through various names and hands over the years, it was always a favorite with locals, especially the local Stanford students.

But when a Stanford Research Institute van rolled up to the bar (then called Rossotti’s) on August 27, 1976, the researchers weren’t looking to crack open some cold ones. Instead, they lugged a computer terminal into the back beer garden and set it down on a picnic table. Hooking the terminal up with cables to the van alongside the bar, Nicki Geannacopulos typed up a progress report, which was then sent through the packet radio network, to the ARPANET, and then onwards to its final destination, a computer terminal in Boston. This, wrote SRI researcher Don Nielson, was “the first internet transmission.” 

The researchers chose the bar, affectionately called Zott’s by locals, for a few reasons. It wasn’t too far from a hilltop repeater station, where the message went first. Also, it wasn’t too far from the SRI offices in Menlo Park, where the signal went next, onwards to Boston.

While messages had been flying via the ARPANET between universities and research institutions across the United States for years already, they stayed within their individual networks. “While many people trace the Internet’s origins to the ARPANET of the late ’60s, in fact the word ‘internet’ means joining different kinds of individual networks together,” noted the Computer History Museum. In fact, in 1977, the same van that parked alongside the old roadside tavern would be used to send the first three-network internet transmission. “The van where the internet was born” is now part of the Computer History Museum collection, while the Alpine Inn continues to be a biker and student hangout. But now, the old building features a plaque commemorating the events of August 27, 1976, and “the beginning of the Internet Age.”

The Alpine Inn went by many names, including the aforementioned Rossotti’s or Zott’s for short. In 1969, it was registered as a historic landmark and listed on the National List of Historical Places in 1973. Since 2020, it is the second longest-established saloon in California. In the mid-1850 it became known as Casa de Tableta, a gambling hall and inn for Mexican-Californias displaced by the Mexican War. To the left of the Saloon’s entrance is a rock with a plaque signifying the bar’s importance.

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The menu features burgers, salads, beer, and the like.

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September 21, 2020

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