All-ages Eden: Luigi’s Fun Garden

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Inside the Fun Garden during opening night.

Inside the Fun Garden during opening night.

While Luigi’s Fun Garden moonlights as a live-music venue, they also hold birthday parties (for the kids) and corporate events.

Luigi’s Slice and Fun Garden

1050 20th St.
Sacramento, CA 95814

(916) 552-0317

Sometimes I wonder if the city views live music in Sacramento as a Hieronymus Bosch-like free-for-all—sweaty, debaucherous, frontloading 20-somethings wreaking havoc without respite. “Keep those heathens out of Midtown,” the suits whisper. Boy, they’re dead wrong.

To prove this point, Luigi’s Fun Garden, Sacramento’s latest all-ages, live-music venue, opened its doors on Monday to much hoorah and zero hooliganism. It was all about the music—as it always is.

That said, you must be wondering: What the hell’s a fun garden? I’ll get to that.

First things first: Luigi’s Fun Garden is the neighbor of Luigi’s Slice, which is located in Midtown’s MARRS complex. Greg Brida and Linda Fuentes-Brida run both the pizzeria and the venue. Luigi’s is known for its pies—duh—so, fittingly, Charles Albright and Matt K. Shrugg’s local indie-punk band the Pizzas inaugurated the Fun Garden.

“OK, I have to ask, ‘Luigi’s or Pieces? Luigi’s? Pieces?’” Shrugg egged on a crowd of nearly 50, which is the venue’s capacity. “Luigi’s,” the audience roared back—no surprise. The Pizzas left no Super Mario Bros. or pepperoni joke behind. The crowd ate it up, the band jammed their quick ditties, Shrugg stepped atop the bass drum and leapt, ripping into his guitar. Drummer Christine Shelley kept the beat. Albright peppered the back-and-forth with Shrugg and laid down the bass.

The Fun Garden is a long, shotgun-style hall with a stage for bands about three-fourths the way in. Behind the stage, there’s room to store gear; eventually, there’ll be an arcade in this area. A door near the entrance opens to the neighboring Luigi’s Slice.

Longstanding local deejay and promoter Rick Ele books the Fun Garden’s KDVS-sponsored shows, which are 18 and over and will run about $5. Lineups will include a combination of local and touring acts, and since these out-of-town indie groups typically might skip Sacramento on tour—or end up playing a basement or living room (which is cool) for a paltry few bucks—the opportunity to gig at a Midtown venue where they can earn some cash and crank up the volume will be a boon for Sac’s music scene.

The owners want a place where local independent and unknown acts can gig, but where you don’t have to dress up to the nines to catch a show, grab a beer and a slice and have fun. KDVS no doubt is a staunch advocate of such easygoing ambience, so it’s fortuitous that the couple met promoter Ele, which was by happenstance: Ele gave Luigi’s a positive review on Yelp; they were appreciative and invited Ele back for a free piece of pizza. The rest is just a slice o’ live-music lore.

Ele played the role of good promoter and adoring fan on Monday: long, curly locks bopping to bands’ tunes, busily making sure things ran smoothly. The Pizzas grabbed a to-go box and wrote “the” in front of “pizza” and taped it to the bass drum. Several concertgoers commented on how it felt weird—otherworldly—to see these bands smack-dab in the grid.

And the Fun Garden has charm. The red-velvet curtains that enclose the backside of the stage are a nice touch. A long shelf along one wall is great for leaving your beer safely unattended. There’s even one of those de rigueur beams that you often see at mid-sized venues: It doesn’t obstruct any lines of sight, but nevertheless is conveniently placed near the stage so that inevitably the tallest reveler—usually a dude with a fro or something—can lean up against it for a stageside view without pissing off the masses.

And there’s a bit of history to that name, Fun Garden. Locally, it comes from the original Luigi’s pizzeria on Stockton Boulevard in south Sacramento (still open to this day). They had a fun garden, an indoor arcade and lounge area, where owner Brida came to know the term. But, he informs, “fun garden” originally was an East Coast expression: Inside New York pizza parlors, there wasn’t room for entertainment, so they built small gardens off the back of restaurants where people could drink, smoke and goof around. A little slice of Eden, indeed.