Best eye-popping people watching

Welcome to Glitter Gulch, the heart and soul of Sacramento

Illustration by Don Button

I saw her again the other day, from my second-story office window overlooking Glitter Gulch in the heart of Midtown. She was tall, willowy, wearing turquoise thigh-high stockings with a matching garter belt and a way-too-short ultra mini-dress. She isn’t exactly a pretty woman—I use the term loosely, because at some point in her life she had obviously been a man—but she just might be the sexiest thing I’ve ever seen around these parts, and that’s saying something.

Glitter Gulch. That’s what I call the conglomeration of gay nightclubs, swanky bars, restaurants, coffee shops and high-end retailers in the vicinity of the intersection of K and 20th streets. It’s been the home of the Sacramento News & Review for more than a decade, during which I’ve watched the area grow from a small, fairly cloistered gay neighborhood known as Lavender Heights into the sort of free-spirited entertainment district you’d expect to find in a world-class city.

On weekend nights, Sacramento’s “No. 1 dance club,” Faces, hauls out the spotlights and beams them into the blackened sky. Without fail, like moths attracted to a flame, the revelers, gay and straight alike, descend upon Glitter Gulch seeking entertainment, love or perhaps a night of full-bore debauchery. If you want it, you can get it here.

For the first timer, the scene inside Faces, with its multiple bars, stainless-steel dance floors and a swimming pool, is something to behold. Young, muscular men in designer underwear writhe on pedestals like go-go dancers. Luscious drag queens with flawless makeup and the latest high fashions could be mistaken for Hollywood starlets. Straight men dragged into the club by their girlfriends can’t help but wonder where they went wrong as their dates dance wildly with gay men.

Glitter Gulch is centered on the gay night-life scene, but in recent years, it’s become something much more. After developer Michael Heller renovated the block-long concrete warehouse across the street from SN&R two years ago, retailers began flocking to the newly renamed MARRS complex. The influx of new businesses might have detracted from the district’s freewheeling character. Instead, it has only added to the glitz.

Tenants now include Asha Yoga and Azul Mexican Food and Tequila Bar. Cocktail aficionados get their Rat Pack on at Lounge on 20. If disco isn’t your scene, you can grab some pizza and listen to some punk rock at Luigi’s Slice and Fun Garden. And if you can’t decide whether to downward dog and you don’t know much about music, you can still pick up something to read at Newsbeat, the finest magazine store in Sacramento.

Of course, I’d be remiss not to mention Peet’s Coffee & Tea, the favorite morning watering hole for many SN&R staff members.

All the new business has brought money—lots of it. Tricked-out BMWs and Ferraris, slinky females dressed to the nines, and well-groomed businessmen with bulging wallets have become regulars on 20th Street. Recently, I ran into a New Yorker driving a Bugatti who claimed someone had hawked a loogie on his windshield out on the freeway. “I’m a Brooklyn Jew!” he proclaimed. “If I ever catch up to that guy, I’ll fuck him up good.”

Faces owner Terry Sidie, in his signature cowboy hat, poses with the friendly faces of Glitter Gulch.

Photo By Kyle Monk

I guess the rich are different than you and me. No one spits on our cars.

Not that Glitter Gulch has gone completely upscale. As the economy has unraveled, the area’s homeless denizens have increased in number. There’s Bucket Bob, a veteran with a hernia the size of a grapefruit hanging from his abdomen. There’s Sunny Jim, the shirtless vagrant who camped out on the edge of the SN&R’s parking lot for more than a month, just soaking up the rays. Panhandlers, hip to the fact that the area has become popular with the well-to-do, loiter on street corners, preying on easy marks.

If all this doesn’t sound too glittery, a visit during the holiday season is highly recommended. The trees and lampposts are festooned with decorations and Christmas lights, and sometimes they don’t take them down until February. That’s why I started calling the place Glitter Gulch. That, and those spotlights.

So far, the name doesn’t appear to have caught on. Perhaps the natives prefer to recall simpler times when Lavender Heights was under the radar and The Depot was a working-class gay bar called the Western. I sometimes wonder if Faces owner Terry Sidie wears his omnipresent cowboy hat to recall those lazier days. I don’t know Sidie, but I crossed paths with him just the other day. I blurted out “Howdy!”—which is what I imagine you’re supposed to say to someone in a cowboy hat. He said “Howdy!” back.

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SN&R will soon shove off from this land of make-believe, bound for the rougher shores of Del Paso Boulevard in north Sacramento. Perhaps before then, I’ll once again spot her, that tall, willowy woman wearing thigh-high stockings and a way-too-short ultra mini-dress. Maybe I’ll even work up the nerve to talk to her. I know exactly what I’d say.

“You’re beautiful.”