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Mark Grange says he works hard and parties just as hard.

But the 27-year-old engineer from San Mateo says partying in San Francisco involves too much hard work.

“Why train it to The City when there are plenty of bars here?” Grange said.

Not long ago, residents living in the once-sleepy suburbs of San Mateo County had to catch a northbound train to The City for quality barhopping or wine-tasting.

These days, however, fast-growing Peninsula cities are experiencing downtown renaissances that have brought a more vibrant nightlife to the locals, said Stephanie Fermin, spokeswoman San Mateo County Convention & Visitors Bureau.

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“The Peninsula is becoming more of a hot spot then before,” she said. “A lot of people think San Mateo County is suburbia and that’s really not the case anymore.”

In fact, because the county’s population rose nearly 6 percent since the late 1990s, it is one of the few in the state this year that is offering a slew of new alcohol licenses to restaurants, bars and corner stores — 58 in all, according to the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. There are currently more than 1,600 liquor licenses — for restaurants, bars and retail sales — on the Peninsula, roughly one for every 435 residents.

Greg Hawkins, owner of Mandala Lounge in San Mateo, said he worked in San Francisco’s bar business for 15 years — running everything from big clubs to smaller “‘boutiquey’ places” — and then decided the Peninsula needed a “good alternative to S.F.”

His clientele has an age range of 24 to 45 — a sophisticated, professional crowd, he said.

“It’s so great to have a place to go where we don’t have to drive to The City,” Hawkins said.

San Mateo County also boasts five wineries, for those looking for the Napa Valley experience without the drive, and four microbreweries.

Brian Snelling, owner of a 2-year-old wine bar and retailer in San Mateo called 750ml, said his business has benefited from steady growth on the Peninsula. He said a downward economy and soaring gas prices are keeping locals closer to home.

He also said Peninsula cities, which are increasingly becoming inundated with quality restaurants and high-end retailers, are now offering a more cosmopolitan feel for residents.

“There’s def­initely been a resurgence of people going into downtown San Mateo,” he said. “People who move out of The City to neighborhoods like San Mateo and Burlingame are looking for an urban experience, and we meet that need.”


Drinkers drain a few on Caltrain

Pictures posted to the Web site Flickr of a recent Caltrain pub-crawl show a group of 20-somethings smiling and holding up bottles of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale while riding on the train.

Drinking alcoholic beverages is allowed on Caltrain, so San Mateo revelers buy multi-zone passes for about $11 in order to make multiple bar stops in the downtown areas of Mountain View, Palo Alto, Redwood City, Belmont and San Mateo.

Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said allowing alcoholic beverages on trains “harkens back to the days when trains had bar cars.”

More importantly, she said, the privilege offers alternatives to drunken driving.

“It’s a service to the community,” she said.

The policy has not been without its problems, however. In 2006, Caltrain announced a ban on open alcohol containers after 9 p.m. following a special event, citing “several events involving disruptive behavior by intoxicated passengers.”

Dunn said there are few alcohol-related disruptions these days, although Caltrain does increase train security after Giants games, due to unruly, drunken fans.

Train conductors are tasked with calling police if passengers become unruly or if they suspect the passenger who is drinking is under age, she said. — Mike Aldax

Does the county have a drinking problem?

Along with new drinking opportunities on the Peninsula comes an influx of dangerous drinking habits.

Binge drinking — defined as having more than five drinks in one sitting — has soared among men in the county, according to a recent report from the county Health Department.

Among 18- to 24-year-old men, nearly 45 percent reported they had participated in such binge drinking — up from 24 percent in 1998 and the highest figure in a decade, according to the report.

The alcohol use is “notably higher among men, adults with higher education/higher income, whites and residents of the mid-county or coastside regions,” according to the report. Health officials, however, said such drinking is not necessarily more of a problem here than in other counties.

“Our overall binge-drinking rate for the county is really pretty close to the national and state averages,” said Stephen Kaplan, director of alcohol and drug programs for the county. “Once you get into the out-of-high school and college ages, you will get increased rates for pretty much anything, so you can’t really compare those numbers.” — Mike Aldax

By the numbers

  • 705,499: People living in San Mateo County as of 2006
  • 1,621: Licenses issued in San Mateo County to sell or serve alcohol
  • 435 to 1: Ratio of residents to alcohol licenses in county
  •  313: Restaurants with licenses to sell alcohol in the county </li>
  • 61: Bars and nightclubs with alcohol licenses
  • 5: San Mateo wineries
  • 4: Microbreweries in the county

Source: California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, San Mateo County Convention and Visitors Bureau

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