Is there life before 21?

Surviving Sacramento nightlife without a license to imbibe

It’s a sad injustice to be a young college student. You’re old enough to drive, vote, enlist in the military, and live on your own, but not to patronize most nightclubs and bars. Of course, the fact that you’re old enough to drive but not to drink actually will keep you out of a lot of trouble, but that offers little solace when it’s 11 p.m. on a Saturday night and you’re bored to death. So, where do you go to meet other like-minded and unlicensed college students to fulfill your destiny of staying out all night, or at least until 2 a.m.?

Club it

True, if you’re only, say, 19, you’ll be turned away from Sacramento’s hottest dance clubs on a Saturday night. But, if you like to dance, listen to music, and don’t mind being out late on a school night, there are plenty of places where you can party, even if you’re still considered a teen.

On most nights, urban-industrial Empire (1417 R Street, (916) 448-3300) is packed with people 21 and older who are showing off their club clothes and practicing their pick-up lines. But on Wednesdays, the club welcomes anyone 18 and older for Empire of Sound, with DJ Eddie Edul spinning “house, upscale hip-hop and flashback.” The cover charge begins at 8 p.m. and is $12, but if you show your college ID, you’ll get $2 off. If you’re going to Empire, leave your collegiate sweatshirt at home—the dress code is strictly enforced and T-shirts, athletic wear, baggy jeans, sneakers, and hats are not allowed.

With its DJ-enhanced “Glo Bowl,” Country Club Lanes is a popular late-night spot for under-21 college students.

Photo By Kathy Phillips

Don’t let the name fool you. Club 21 (1119 21st Street, (916) 443-1537) is Sacramento’s top—and pretty much only—lesbian bar on the weekends. However, it is popular with all genders and persuasions on certain nights of the week when those under 21 are welcome. On Wednesdays, Club BoJangles starts at 9 p.m., with a $5 Sunday cover charge to hear DJ Markie Mark spin “Hi-Nrg and house music.” On Thursdays, those 18 and older can listen to goth, industrial, EBM, NuWave, ’80s, and alternative music for a $5 cover charge. Club BoJangles returns on Sundays, with DJ David Anderson spinning latin and salsa.

The Rage (1890 Arden Way, (916) 929-0232) gets mixed reviews from college and non-college students, but, as one of the few bona fide 18-and-over clubs in the Sacramento area, it merits your attention. With two dance floors, two large patios, plasma screen digital displays, and computer-animated lighting and lasers, the Rage does its best to provide a true nightclub experience. Wednesdays and Fridays are college night, with Top 40 music and hits from the ’80s and ’90s. On Sunday nights, The Asylum offers EBM, goth, NuWave and industrial music from DJ Bryan Hawk. In May, The Rage began SacTown Idol, a contest to send one grand-prize winner to the 2006 American Idol auditions.

For students who don’t mind trekking to the suburbs, Club Retro (6521 Hazel Avenue, Orangevale) and the Underground Café (2401 Olympus Drive, Roseville, (916) 786-7940) are popular all-age venues that attract their share of high-school and college students for live music. Both clubs operate in churches, but that doesn’t mean the good-clean fun is strictly Christian in nature. The café at the Underground can hold 70 people, and the main concert area can accommodate a standing-room crowd of 400. Underground manager Ken Winkler says most of the kids who come to the club “listen to most of their music off the Internet,” so he researches which bands are having their music downloaded most frequently and tries to book them at the club.

Get bowled over

Bowling isn’t just for kiddie birthday parties and middle-aged men … in Sacramento, anyway. Country Club Lanes (2600 Watt Avenue, (916) 483-5105) is one of the most popular late-night hot spots for under-21 college students. The alley is open 24 hours a day and has a live DJ and glow-in-the-dark bowling every night, lending a party atmosphere to a staid pastime. Glo Bowl, as it is known, is perfect for under-age night owls who want to stay out until the wee hours before dawn. It runs from midnight to 3 a.m. on Fridays, and from 2 to 4 a.m. on Saturday nights. However, many lanes usually get rolling well before that with mingling college students. The cover charge on weekends is $5, which bowlers can put toward their lane or shoe rental. Admission also gives you discounts on standard bowling alley fare—sodas, nachos and hot dogs for only $1.

Luna’s Café and Juice Bar, offering frequent live music and cheap food, is a fun gathering place for all ages.

Photo By Kathy Phillips

It’s not all about the bowling, either. Couples on dates often relive their youth in the prize arcade, where they can play games like Skee-Ball and Pop-A-Shot basketball so as to win prizes. Frequent visitors can save up their prize tickets for such high-value items as round-trip tickets for two on Southwest Airlines, DVDs, VCRs and speaker systems. Competitive types even can play laser tag in a 3,500-square-foot arena until 2 a.m. on weekends. A lounge with pool tables, air hockey, and other games is available, but closed to patrons under 21 after 9 p.m.

Safety is paramount at Country Club Lanes—off-duty sheriffs and other security personnel patrol the place constantly, which is great news for people carrying their stuffed prizes out to the car at 4 a.m., but not so welcoming for those 19 year olds trying to steal a swig of beer from their of-age friends.

Laugh it off

Sacramento has two comedy clubs that offer entertainment for young adults. Laughs Unlimited (1207 Front Street, (916) 446-8128) is open to anyone age 17 and older. Cover charges typically run from $10 to $20 with a two-drink minimum, which includes coffee, soda and other non-alcoholic beverages. Shows usually are held at 8 and 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturdays, giving you plenty of time to have dinner or get ice cream in Old Sac before or after the show.

Punchline Comedy Club (2100 Arden Way, (916) 925-5500) has hosted such comedians as Damon Wayans. It is open to patrons 18 and older and also has a two-drink minimum. It is located on the second floor of a shopping plaza, not far from the California State University, Sacramento, campus, and has ample free parking.

Just hang out

Sacramento has a lot of other random places where people of all ages can convene for various forms of entertainment. Luna’s Café and Juice Bar (1414 16th Street, (916) 441-3931) is open to all ages, all the time, and offers live music, poetry, art shows, and healthy food and beverages. Those who like live music, but don’t want to blow out their eardrums listening to it, can find low-key acoustic jazz or rock several nights a week. The popular Poetry Unplugged series attracts first-time readers and nationally recognized writers every Thursday at 8 p.m. Luna’s serves a variety of coffee, tea, beer, wine, smoothies, and food at reasonable prices, making it an appealing destination for college students on a budget, no matter their age.

If sitting around kibitzing with your pals over coffee isn’t your idea of fun, try hanging out, literally, at Sacramento Pipeworks (116 North 16th Street, (916) 341-0100). The indoor rock-climbing facility has 10,000 square feet of terrain and offers classes in basics like knot-tying, braking and using belay equipment. On Friday nights, you can rent gear for $6, and climb all you like from 5 to 10 p.m. for another $7.