Blue-collar speakeasy

Jason Boggs

Photo By carolyn king

Some call him a culinary whiz. Others a sultry, Snobby saxophonist. Either way, if you’re well versed in the city scene, then you already know that Jason Boggs, 38, is downtown staple. Residing in the capital city for nearly his entire life, Boggs and his business partners are slapping the recession in the face by opening a new hot spot: Shady Lady Saloon. From the solid walnut 25-seat bar made by a family friend to the homemade ginger syrup in the ginger ales, the Shady Lady feels like it’s been built with love from the ground up. (The original sunken trolley rails from 1890 remain in the concrete floors.) Here’s what Boggs has to say.

I have to admit, I haven’t seen a place like this.

Well, that’s what we want! We’re going for that “Roaring ’20s” kind of feel. The sconces, rich colors, real wood—this is the real deal. We want everything centered around the bar. With 25 stools, everything else is surrounded by booths, which are angled to bring the focus toward the middle. We’ve got a small stage tucked away in hopes to revive the jazz scene in town. It’s going to be lower-level music so that you can still have conversation.

There seems to be something missing.

That’s right, no TVs. We purposely have no TVs here. Our main focus is to be the antithesis of an ultralounge. After two years of working with R15, there are only so many ESPN highlights I can watch. We want people to slow down, to talk to each other and have a conversation.

That’s refreshing.

It just seems like this town has tried all that. We have a very intensive training program for our bartenders. A lot of the old-world drinks are going to be here. You’ll know where the gin comes from. We’ll be making our own tonic, our own bitters and grenadine. We’re working on a cola syrup, too. And all the cherries will be brandied in house.

So what do you want to do that’s different?

The whole bar culture has sweetened—wham, bam, curacao! There’s a lot of triple sec, sweet and sour, things that mask what you’re drinking. We want to bring back the defining tastes of real liquor. We’re going to have an extensive bourbon list. We want people to be educated; if someone likes a Jack and Coke, maybe I can move them onto something more refined. It’s all about the craft cocktails.

But at the same time, we don’t want to be pretentious. We’ll still have a good, cheap well. This will be a working man’s place, more blue-collar. You won’t have to break your wallet to have a quality time.

What else?

One of my good friends, Kevin Ritchie, is coming from San Francisco to be our “chef de cuisine.” He’s been living there for six years, but he’s coming to work for us. We’re trying to take food of this era, with the same approach that we’re taking with the cocktails, into the kitchen. We’ll be doing a lot of small plates that can give us a lot of range. Nothing elaborate, everything will be between $7 and $13. We’re opening a Depression-era bar in a recession.

I was going to ask.You know everybody’s broke, right?

(Laughs.) If it wasn’t for the recession, we may not have been able to afford to do this.

We are very fortunate that a lot of people are helping us out. The owners of this building really believe in this concept and want us to be an anchor to this particular block. We’ve had another local, Whitney Johnson from Monighan Design, create our interior. And that’s a lot of what we want to be about. We want to use as much local talent as we can.

So then, what do you think of some of the other development deals that are goingon around town?

You know what, I’m not worried. People are always going to be coming in and out of town, trying to make a buck. I’ve lived here my whole life. I’ve been a musician here. We as residents have something you can’t buy. That’s real knowledge of what people want downtown. We don’t need some kind of high-priced focus group to figure out what this town needs. We’re just thinking, “Where’s a place that me and my friends want to hang out?”

What’s one way you plan to be different?

Well, we were looking for a solid location for over a year. And a lot of these developers … they want so much a square foot and a certain percentage of our profits. That’s the way that business used to be … and now you see a bunch of empty buildings all over downtown. Everybody’s talking about developing this, developing that—the only way things can get done is if business owners and building owners are coming together. Have it be about the business, not the bottom line.

I love this town. I don’t want to give up on this city. We need people who are going to want to stick around and make this a great place. Forget going out of town, forget going to San Francisco. Let’s keep it in Sacramento.