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After Hours: Sacramento's Three Hottest Nightlife Zones


Posted on December 10, 2015

It's 10 p.m. and Mom and Dad are already fast asleep. But for anyone with a pulse, the party's just getting started.

Photography by Suyen Torres

Thank heavens for the weekend. 

When Friday finally arrives, who wants to spend time wondering what to do or where to go? That Sacramento offers so many options, from dance clubs to dives, is a civilized luxury. But sometimes, you just want to get out already. So we broke it down for you, offering the best places to party in Sacramento’s three hottest nightlife zones: 15th and L, Lavender Heights and K Street Mall. 

LINES, LINES AND MORE LINES

If you’re heading to the downtown neighborhood centered around 15th and L streets, come dressed to the nines. Here the covers are more costly and the tabs tend to run high, but you get what you pay for: sophisticated, exclusive clubs with a positive corollary between waiting and wanting. (The longer the line, the more you want in.) Downtown isn’t all clubs, though: Firestone and de Vere’s offer more laid-back atmospheres, and there’s plenty of nearby late-night food, for when you’re stumbling off the dance floor.

THE PARK ULTRA LOUNGE

This club brings out the red velvet ropes to manage the line that forms along 15th Street. There’s usually a wait to enter, but once inside you’ve got free range of Park’s expansive layout, with its cavernous dance room, multiple bars, plenty of table space, even a fire pit. Drinks are pricy, but if you call ahead to get on the guest list, you’ll avoid the cover before 10 p.m.; otherwise, you’ll pay $15 like everybody else. 1116 15th St.; (916) 442-7222; theparkdowntown.com

MIX DOWNTOWN

From Wednesday through Sunday night, Mix transforms from lounge to dance party at 9 p.m. Still, this bar preserves its rooftop cabana atmosphere with an open patio, heated lamps and fire pits. Some people consider Mix Sacramento’s most sophisticated club, and with more than 25 wines by the glass, there’s reason to believe they’re right. Check out All Night Happy Hour on Thursday, with well drinks and wine at $5, and Sunday Circus for $3 “U-Call-It” drink specials. 1525 L St.; (916) 442-8899; mixdowntown.net

VANGUARD

This is one of Sacramento’s smaller clubs (which usually means a shorter wait), but what Vanguard lacks in space it makes up for with class. With leather armchairs and brick walls lined with books, it could pass for a library, though the DJ knows his mix of house and hip hop. This place appeals to 30-something professionals. Cocktails run upward of $10, but the comfortable enclosed patio on L Street is worth the price. 1415 L St.; vanguard1415l.com

THE TORCH CLUB

Depending on who you ask, The Torch is either a dive or a gem. If you can’t find the neon arrow pointing to its door, then just follow the music. With live bands six nights a week and an eclectic crowd of the young and the old, this is the place for both blues and alcoholic bargains from the upper shelf, with most shots topping out at $7. And the best part: There’s no television. So sit back and have a conversation with your neighbor. 904 15th St.; (916) 443-2797; torchclub.net

THE GRAND WINE BAR

Located in a cozy corner of the parking garage at 16th and L, The Grand may not look like much—just a small inside bar, a patio and a few potted plants—but this oasis offers a refuge from the weekend wildlife. The best downtown nook for people watching, here you can shamelessly sip a rosé while observing nightlife mating rituals. If the somm can’t find a wine to fit your palate (from one of the largest selections in town), then enjoy a cocktail or craft beer. 1600 L St.; (916) 444-0472; thegrandwinebar.com

(above) DE VERE’S IRISH PUB

Next to Mix, de Vere’s gets busy on the weekends, but it never loses that familiar, pubby atmosphere: the dark wood, nautical paintings and beer memorabilia hanging on the wall. If you need a break from the clubs, pull a board game from the shelf and play in the back, or ask barkeep Bryan Rouse for a scotch recommendation: He’s tried every one of 200 different whiskeys that line de Vere’s wall. The kitchen is open till midnight, and they cure their own Irish bacon and bake their own Irish bread. Like any true pub, de Vere’s also serves beer by the imperial pint—20 ounces compared to the American 16. (Wankers.) 1521 L St.; (916) 231-9947; deverespub.com

(above) MIX Downtown

WHERE WORLDS COLLIDE

When Faces opened 30 years ago, Lavender Heights began establishing itself as Sacramento’s very own Castro. The neighborhood’s epicenter is the intersection where 20th Street meets K, a colorful corner with more diversity and density than any other in Sacramento. Known for the stiffest drinks and wildest nightclubs in town, Lavender Heights has something for everybody: gay, straight, bi, questioning, whatever. The block also boasts the most relaxing boardwalk patio in midtown. Don’t forget your cash, though, because some bars don’t take credit cards.

(above) LOWBRAU BIERHALL

Thanks to the bratwurst and German beers (and kudos to you if you can pronounce Weihenstephaner Korbinian), LowBrau became an instant local favorite when it opened in early 2013. Here, they craft their own tonic and grenadine, but they also serve Pabst Blue Ribbon for those who want to keep it simple. Motown Monday and Le Twist Tuesday liven up the place in the early week, and the patio packs out on the weekends. The bar is open till 2 a.m. all week long. 1050 20th St.; (916) 706-2636; lowbrausacramento.com

With 15 bar stations and three dance rooms, there’s always something happening at Faces. Daytime bartender Billy Ray—“the only gay Republican in town, and you can write that down”—hosts a sassy crew during the day, which gives way to rambunctious nights. Monday night is EDM (Every Damned Monday), with half-off drinks. Faces does have a strict dress-to-impress code, but it makes liberal exceptions for those swimming in the heated pool on Wednesday night. Thursday is Everything Happens night, with $3 Long Islands and no-cover karaoke, and Sequin Saturday offers a weekly drag show at 9:30 p.m. 2000 K St.; (916) 448-7798; faces.net

THE DEPOT

The Depot’s stainless-steel decor and early-’90s music videos may give you an involuntary flashback. If nostalgia isn’t your thing, come Monday for free pool and game night and challenge your friends to beer pong or Yahtzee. Oh, and cocktails are buy one, get one for $1. Wednesday is whiskey night from 11 p.m. to close, with a live DJ and whiskey shots BOGO for a buck. The pool tables are usually available, but no promises they won’t be used for dancing on the weekends. 2001 K St.; (916) 441-6823; thedepot.net

MERCANTILE SALOON

Known fondly as the Merc, this dive occupies a large Victorian, with a small bar space but a huge covered patio. Many have ended the night here with no memory of the preceding festivities, a phenomenon known as “getting Merc’d.” Merc bartenders pour what are easily the strongest drinks in town, and the prices beat most other bars’ specials. But bring cash. And plan to make friends. 1928 L St.; (916) 447-0792

The Guy at the Door

Weighing 340 pounds and standing 6 feet tall, Daniel “D Beau” LeBeau looks every inch a bouncer: big, bearded, definitely not a guy you’d want to start trouble with. I wouldn’t want you to, either,” he says with a laugh. “That means I’d have to do something.” The Bottle & Barlow bouncer says it takes a lot more to be a bouncer than just build, but people rarely talk to the door guy to find that out. “A lot of people overlook us,” he says. “You come to a place and you’re not thinking, ‘Oh, the bouncer: I want to talk to that guy.’ You want to talk to the cool bartender and maybe get a free drink.”

(above) Daniel “D-Beau” LeBeau

What makes a good bouncer?

“You’ve got to have a good sense of humor, be quick-witted, quick on your toes. People think we’re all assholes, that we’re all freaking jocks and meatheads, but we’re not. [As a bouncer], you’ve got to be able to talk your way out of a situation before you put hands on them.”

Are there bouncers who look for trouble? 

“The people that do are the guys you don’t want. They’re going to end up costing you money, or a lawsuit. When I come to work, that’s the last thing on my mind: breaking up a fight. I’m more worried about cleaning up the bathroom.”

Why did you become a bouncer?

“For me, it was fun. You get tested every day. How much can you know about yourself until you’ve been in a fight? You never know how you’ll react until you’ve been in a fight. You could react on pure instinct or do what your mind tells you to do.” 

What was your first night like?

“My first night (in 2002 at Rage), I saw dudes getting hit with bar stools, bouncers chucking dudes out. It was crazy—pure adrenaline. I didn’t know what the hell I was getting into. This big dude—a regular, they called him Big Steve; I don’t know how tall he was, but taller than me and heavyset—had another guy pinned against a table. So I come running across the stage, I had to clear a railing, and I just dove over it and jumped on his back. That was my first time breaking up a fight.

“That same night, I had a guy in a headlock, and I didn’t even see who hit me. I just felt rabbit punches hit me. I don’t even know where it came from, but I didn’t care either way. It was fun at that point. I liked it. That first night I was sold.”

How do you spot somebody using a fake ID?

“If you ask for their info and they know it like that,” he says, snapping his fingers. “I’m 33, and if you ask me what’s on my ID, I don’t remember!”

What’s your biggest pet peeve?

“The expectation from other people for you to know who they are. I’m going to ask you for your ID no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you know the bartender inside.”

What advice would you give to other bouncers?

“Be nice to people and treat them as you want to be treated.”

And if people aren’t nice?

“It comes back and bites you in the ass when you mess with the wrong person—especially the door guy.” 


On the Grid, Off the Radar

The nightclubs haven’t monopolized the dance floors just yet. For those wanting to put on their blue suede shoes but dance to more than Top 40 music, the grid offers a few gigs that tend to fly under the radar.

THE LIPSTICK WEEKENDER

Old Ironsides, 1901 10th St.

First Saturdays, 9 p.m., $5 cover 

With its painted frigate outside and Cheerslike atmosphere inside, Old Ironsides has been midtown’s blue-collar go-to since the 1930s. Every first Saturday, DJs Shaun Slaughter and Roger Carpio man the helm of this old ship, mixing tracks ranging from Brit pop, indie pop and indie dance, with some of your favorite tracks from the ’80s and ’90s.

DANCE PARTY WITH DJ LARRY

Press Club, 2030 P St.Every Sunday, 9 p.m., no cover

Regulars call it Church and attend religiously. Every Sunday night, the dark and divey Press Club switches on the black lights, illuminating the psychedelic posters that set the stage for the ’70s funk mixes of DJ Larry. Dance like your salvation were at stake, and if the music doesn’t get you grooving, the stiff drinks will. 

LE TWIST TUESDAYS

LowBrau 1050 20th St.

Every Tuesday, 9 p.m., no cover

LowBrau is mostly known for its bratwurst and kickback atmosphere, but every Tuesday night, the German bierhall transforms into Le Twist Tuesdays, weekly alternating between live band performances and the table-turning styles of DJ Sam I Jam. Sip a beer on the patio while watching stock footage project on the inside walls, or make some friends while dancing to Sam’s latest electronic mix.

DIVERSITY ON THE KAY

K Street Mall hasn’t had the best reputation for many decades, but that could change very quickly. With the advent of the new arena, expect to see new businesses, restaurants and bars cashing in on the K Street revival. There is already an allure to this urban area, with the sound of the light rail, the hustle and bustle. Come late night, K Street closes to traffic, making the area ideal for those roaming bar to bar. Plus, like any healthy city, this neighborhood’s nightlife typifies eccentricity: From mermaid aquariums to video games, these bars offer something unique.

(above) Oishii

OISHII SUSHI BAR & GRILL AND KARAOKE LOUNGE

Oishii might be the area’s best-kept secret since it’s so hard to find. The entrance, a nondescript stainless-steel elevator, is jammed between neighboring buildings. Upstairs, you’ll experience sushi boats and private karaoke. Oishii has 15 private rooms that accommodate up to 40 people, with service buttons, a television and two microphones, even outlets in case you need to charge your phone because you took so many selfies. Both the kitchen and karaoke are open until 3 a.m. Friday and Saturday. 1000 K St.; (916) 557-8088; oishiisushikaraoke.com

KBAR

The bar that takes this area’s name is central to all its comings and goings. Open till 2 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, KBAR’s patio is the best nest from which to watch nightlife fly by. On Monday, the place offers happy-hour prices all night long, with $3 well drinks and a dollar off cocktails and draft beer. But even without happy-hour prices, drinks are cheaper here than at many places downtown, plus there’s no cover for the weekend DJ. 1000 K St.; (916) 446-9800; paragarys.com

(above) Coin-Op

COIN-OP GAME ROOM

If it weren’t for the light emanating from the 40-odd classic arcade cabinets, Coin-Op would be just another dark basement. Instead, this bar is like a time warp from the late ’80s or early ’90s. Donkey Kong, Pac-Man, The Simpsons four-player arcade game and multiple pinball machines line the walls around the central bar. Here you might very well see a businessman in a suit dueling a mohawked kid at Tetris. There are 18 beers on tap and a full bar, plus pizza by the slice served till 1 a.m. And for the kid in you, the arcade games are free every last Sunday of the month. 908 K St.; (916) 661-6983; coinopsac.com

DIVE BAR

There is nothing divey about Dive Bar, which is a bit like Absolut meets Monterey Bay Aquarium. Directly above the fully stocked bar is a 7,500-gallon saltwater tank, replete with live fish and the occasional mermaid. Sipping a cocktail while watching the light reflect through rippling water is a surreal experience. The bar also offers Monday Mutiny, parties with themes from white and gold to onesies. With live bands on Tuesday, open mic on Wednesday, funk music on Thursday and a DJ set over the weekend, there’s never really calm waters at Dive. 1016 K St.; (916) 737-5999; divebarsacramento.com

PARLARE EURO LOUNGE

If you’ve ever driven down 10th Street at night, you’ve seen the crowd across from Grange. This two-story nightclub is open Wednesday through Saturday, featuring guest DJs on the weekend, when drinks are 50 percent off until 11 p.m. It’s a little more upscale than the area’s other nightclubs, so leave your baseball cap at home, and don’t mind the scented candles at the bar. Arrive before 10 p.m.; otherwise, the cover is 10 bucks. 1009 10th St.; (916) 448-8960; parlaresac.com

DISTRICT 30

What other nightclub boasts a 3-foot mirror ball and a color-changing floor? This beige-and-gray bar, with its contemporary curves and globular light fixtures, looks practically futuristic. Popular with a slightly younger crowd, it’s open Wednesday through Saturday until 3 a.m., making this one of the city’s later-night clubs. The biggest draw, excepting a special event, is no cover charge. 1022 K St.; (916) 737-5770; district30sacramento.com

When you’re not pouring,where do you grab a drink?

“I love to eat and drink my way through a city,” says Grayson Lobosky, bartender at Coin-Op Game Room, “but I really love dive bars.” For Lobosky, Round Corner Tavern (2333 S St.) is “the dive of the dives. There, I can be a fly on the wall where no one knows me. I can sit in the dark and people watch, and everyone is friendly.”

LowBrau’s Aimee Chilson doesn’t wander too far from her bar: There’s just something about Lavender Heights, she says. “There’s nothing ordinary about this corner. Everything goes.” Plus, she adds, “the gay bars have the best drink specials in town.” But as 2 a.m. approaches, Chilson prefers to walk a few blocks to The Golden 

Bear (2326 K St.). “It’s always fun there, and they never do last call early,” she says. “You always know you can get in and get a drink.”

What’s the wildest thing you ever saw on the other side of the bar? 

“I had a guy ride in on a donkey on Cinco de Mayo,” laughs Lobosky. “I had to tell him no burros inside the bar. So he went off to the next bar, kind of leaning sideways, with a sombrero on and a poncho, riding a donkey down the street.”

“I saw a guy get naked once,” says Chilson. “There was a confrontation out front in the street. We were closing the bar, but somebody began yelling, ‘There’s someone naked outside!’ Two guys were fighting, and one was puffing up, coming at [the other] aggressively, saying, ‘Let’s go, bro, let’s go.’ And the other said, ‘OK, let’s go,’ then literally takes off all his clothes, 100 percent butt naked. The other guy looked him up and down and said, ‘It’s cool, bro, it’s cool.’ That was one of the best things I’ve ever seen.”

As a bartender, what’s your biggest pet peeve?

“I’ll get angry at drunk idiots who are falling over,” says Lobosky. 

“When you say, ‘Yes, I’m ready,’ but turn around and have five friends and ask them what they want,” says Chilson. “If you come to the bar, then be ready.” 

Last bit of advice?

“Remember, we’re human beings with good days and bad days,” says Chilson. “I’m not a vending machine.”


Last Call

After the last drink is poured and the crowds go home, a bartender’s night is just getting started. Where do our tappers go when they’ve tapped out? Sacramento magazine asked a couple of local bartenders to share some of their favorite destinations when they want to squeeze in a final nightcap, along with tales from behind the bar and advice on how not to upset your barkeep.

Munchies at Midnight and Beyond

Food always tastes better with a drink, but when it’s 1 a.m. and you can’t remember the name of your last shot, what’s on the menu usually doesn’t matter so much as finding a place to eat. Despite the usual post-bacchanal carb cravings, that hangover hunger doesn’t have to be satisfied only by burgers and pizza: Sacramento has a surprisingly diverse selection of late-night eats, many of which you won’t have to stumble far to find.

Petra Greek

Gyros, falafels and plenty of pita, and only a few doors down from Firestone Public House on the corner of 16th and L. Open till 3 a.m. Wednesday through Saturday. 1122 16th St.; (916) 443-1993

Pizzeria Urbano

If New York style pizza is your thing (or just pizza in general), grab a slice at Urbano, where a slice is probably larger than your face. Open until 2:30 a.m. on Friday and Saturday, and conveniently near LowBrau. 1050 20th St.; (916) 447-1255

Willie’s Burgers

Though it’s just off the grid, Willie’s bacon cheeseburger should be a late-night staple. People actually have complained the onion ring portions are too large. Open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. 2415 16th St.; (916) 444-2006

La Garnacha

Everybody loves Mexican, and since La Garnacha is open 24 hours, you can grab an obscenely large breakfast burrito at 3 a.m. and feel a little less guilty for staying out all night. You just wanted a head start on the breakfast crowd, anyway, right? 2101 16th St.; (916) 441-2009

Capitol Casino

Not only is its Asian menu available until 3:30 a.m., but the Capitol Casino also offers options to stay out a little later, assuming you haven’t already spent your money on drinks for your friends. 441 N. 16th St.; (916) 446-0700

Bike It To You

Finding food on the grid isn’t that difficult after all, but getting the grub might be. So when you can’t drive or if you’re already home and sinking into a stupor, call Bike It To You, a couple of bike-loving midtowners who deliver whatever, wherever, until 3 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. (916) 215-8111; @bikeittoyou (Instagram)

Ink Eats & Drinks

The industry go-to for late-night eats—in other words, Ink is one spot your bartenders probably end up when they wind down. The mac and cheese is a must. Open until 2 a.m. on Wednesday, 3 a.m. on Thursday, and 4 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. 2730 N St.; (916) 456-2800