Why San Jose Ain't San Jose Without the Sharks

8 min
Photos of San Jose Sharks players adorn the walls of Henry's Hi-Life in San Jose, a famous bar during home games.  (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

So much has changed in San Jose since the Sharks first came to the city in 1993. Its population has spiked to more than 1 million, the median home price is around $1 million, and the SAP Center (aka the Shark Tank) isn't the only development getting attention anymore.

The outside of Henry's Hi-Life. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

While the city's identity has become intertwined with the tech boom that's changing San Jose, at least one thing has remained the same: the city's love for its professional ice hockey team.

The Sharks season ended after Tuesday night's 5-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues in the Western Conference finals.

But Sharks fans seem to stick around through the victories and the disappointments. That's because in San Jose, the Sharks are more than just a sports team; they're part of the city's identity.

The SAP Center opened in 1993, drawing foot traffic to San Jose's downtown and its businesses. Less than a mile away from the center is Henry's World Famous Hi-Life -- the bar that touts a line out the door during home games.


Inside, the walls are adorned with autographed photos of Sharks players. Hall-of-famer Owen Liam Nolan's jersey hangs on the wall, too.

Sharks fans have made Henry's Hi-Life part of Sharks fan tradition. But the players themselves have also left their stamp there.

Paula Schnur, a bartender at Henry's Hi-Life who's worked there for 29 years. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

In 1995, just two years after the Sharks came to San Jose, the Guadalupe River running parallel to Henry's Hi-Life flooded. Sharks players helped sandbag the place, but that didn't keep the water out.

"We opened the door and the meat and the mushrooms were just pouring out of the front door," said Paula Schnur, a bartender at Henry's Hi-Life who has worked there for 29 years.

The flood completely damaged the inside. Sharks players returned.

"They all helped us clean out the place, all the mud and everything else that came with it," Schnur said. "They're a great community neighbor."

'It's An Identity Thing'

For a city struggling to keep an identity separate from the tech boom, the Sharks play a critical role.

The SAP Center in San Jose, less than a mile from Henry's Hi-Life. (Ericka Cruz Guevarra/KQED)

Gregory Baumann owns Teske's Germania restaurant in San Jose. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and has been in San Jose for 30 years. He's also been a Sharks fan for about that long--ever since the Sharks' Cow Palace days.

When Baumann was a kid, Silicon Valley was much more of a farming community. When the tech boom hit, the Sharks gave Baumann a sense of clarity and stability about San Jose's identity.

"Rather than associating the Silicon Valley all the time with high tech, the Sharks give us a respite or a chance to say to ourselves we are associated with a major professional team," said Gregory Baumann, who owns Teske's Germania restaurant in San Jose.

"It's an identity thing," he said. "But the Sharks give San Jose its identity."

UPDATE: This post previously contained an error about the number of professional sports teams in San Jose. It has since been corrected.

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