If you're in the mood for a drink, Santana Row has a lot to offer. The downside, though, is all the effort you may spend trying to look hip but casual or squeezing in elbow-to-elbow someplace for a cocktail.

And that's what makes Cielo the best-kept secret at the upscale San Jose shopping center. The rooftop bar on the seventh floor of the Hotel Valencia is open evenings from mid-May until sometime in October, depending on the weather.

There's a full bar, but no stunning menu of craft cocktails to be had. The meager list of bottled beer -- the most exotic choices are Amstel Light and Heineken -- would make a craft-brew snob spit out her foam. And there are fewer than two dozen red, white and sparkling wines to choose from, which isn't a lot for a place marketed as a "wine bar."

Cielo, the rooftop bar at the Hotel Valencia at San Jose’s Santana Row, is open on summer evenings.
Cielo, the rooftop bar at the Hotel Valencia at San Jose's Santana Row, is open on summer evenings. (Sal Pizarro)

And I am entirely fine with all of that, because the atmosphere and view are what really make Cielo.

The Mission-style decor, accented with a lot of greenery and patio umbrellas, has the casual, relaxed atmosphere of a cabana bar in Mexico. No doubt it has the best view of the Santa Cruz Mountains of any bar in San Jose.

Cielo tends to get a mix of Hotel Valencia guests and Santana Row regulars. I visited on a recent evening, sitting on a high-backed wooden stool at the smooth, granite-topped bar, where I had a few companions who seemed to fit both descriptions. There was a guy quietly working on his laptop who stayed for a couple of drinks. And there was an older married couple at the bar, playing Gin and drinking Manhattans.

There are couches set up all along the short side wall with its breathtaking view of the mountains and the valley, and it's the best place to see a spectacular sunset.

There were a few small groups sitting here, and they were typical of the fashionable set that you'd expect to find at Santana Row. I'd swear that their sunglasses must have cost twice as much as my shoes.

They were watching the sun go down and having a variety of drinks, including glasses of the immensely popular Rombauer chardonnay ($14), or as one person called it, "Danville crack." That, the Coppola "Director's Cut" cabernet sauvignon ($16) and the Domaine Chandon pinot noir ($15) are the most expensive glasses of wine on the menu, with most in the $9 to $12 range (and all the wines are available by the bottle, too).

If you're in a very celebratory mood, you could always order a bottle of Dom Pérignon 2004 ($350), and if you're in a celebratory mood and a rock star, you can upgrade to a 2006 Cristal for $450.

Being neither, I decided on a crisp sauvignon blanc from Provenance Vineyard in Rutherford and struck up a conversation with my card-playing neighbors. It turns out that they live in Puerto Vallarta but were up here visiting and celebrating her birthday, which seems like they've got the whole thing in reverse.

Cielo features a menu of nine appetizers, which are prepared a few floors down in the kitchens of the Citrus restaurant. The Truffle-White Bean Hummus ($9), served with sea salt, olive oil and pita chips, sounded good, as did the Cajun Shrimp Crostini ($12), which comes on grilled focaccia with Spanish chorizo and lemon butter.

But I was in the mood for something heartier, so I went with the Jerk Chicken Wings ($10). The six wings were much meatier than expected, slathered in sticky, spicy Pickapeppa sauce, and accompanied by a little cup of ranch dressing. I gave up trying to eat the wings with a knife and fork and figured there was no shame in eating with my fingers, even at Santana Row.

The spicy snack put me in the mood for something besides wine, so I ordered a margarita ($11), which David the bartender made with Patron Silver and fresh-squeezed lime juice. Because if you're having a margarita on a rooftop bar, it might as well be as good as the view.

CIELO

Hotel Valencia, 7th floor, Santana Row
www.santanarow.com/dine/cielo_wine_bar;
408-551-0010
Open 4 to 9:30 p.m.
Monday to Saturday, from May through October, weather permitting