It’s never too late to party in Sacramento

You’ll need plenty of time and stamina to conquer our city’s bar and club scene

It was a procrastinator’s dream assignment. Visit some Sacramento nightspots and write about them. Hell, I could wait until the weekend before deadline and hit all of them. I mean, this is the town where everything, except Lyon’s, shuts down after 9 p.m., right?

One week to deadline.

Oops. I guess I shouldn’t have put this off. Where did all of these places come from? Suddenly, Sacramento has more bars and clubs than Jennifer Lopez has suitors. (Trust me, this wasn’t always the case, even before Marc Anthony.) So, learn from my mistakes. Don’t put off until next week what you can do tonight. Venture forth and experience Sacramento’s burgeoning bar scene. Like me, you’ll probably learn a valuable lesson. There is a lot to do in Sacramento, even after 9 p.m.

Where to start

At Centro Cocina Mexicana (2730 J Street, (916) 442-2552), grab a drink and an appetizer (it’s worth a visit just for the trio of two salsas and guacamole dip) before venturing out for the night. The place usually is packed with young, attractive, upscale folks, but you’ll see people of all ages and inclinations sipping gargantuan margaritas or savoring one of nearly 100 tequilas. Centro is close to other popular nightspots, like Blue Cue, Monkey Bar and Harlow’s (see page 9), making it a super-convenient preface to a night out. It serves dinner until midnight on weekends, so it is a good candidate for a late-night nosh as well.

Load up on appetizer plates and rub elbows with couples, singles and business executives at P.F. Chang’s China Bistro (1530 J Street, (916) 288-0970) before hitting your main destinations. You’ll feel smarter than everyone waiting for a table as you sip your 22-ounce Asahi beer, grub on some spring rolls and dumplings, and catch sports highlights on the TV. The bartenders are helpful and attentive, and the alcohol selections are traditional and classic rather than trendy and fruity. Don’t leave without visiting the restroom to wash your hands. Even if you haven’t had much to drink, you’ll think you’re hearing voices—and you are.

Billing itself as an “upscale dive bar,” Hangar 17 Bar & Grill (1630 S Street, (916) 447-1717) is more like a happy place between the two. Granted, it has certain dive-bar staples—a golf video game, fruity shots, big-screen TVs, domestic beer and a jukebox (this one, however, lets you download songs from the Internet)—but it also has refinement: a serpentine granite bar; copious plates of slightly adventurous food; and dozens of martinis, quasi martinis and specialty cocktails. Start off with a signature mojito—a sweet, coma-inducing concoction of flavored rum, soda water, lime juice and mint—and the rest of your night is sure to be good.

Other places to start

Impeccably designed Icon brings really big celebrity portraits and late-night munchies to Sacramento.

Photo By Jill Wagner

Tapa the World, 2115 J Street, (916) 442-4353. Linger over a pitcher of sangria, tapas and live classical-guitar music.

Tokyo Fro’s, 2224 Fair Oaks Boulevard, (916) 648-1115. Lots of drink and sushi specials, a party-like atmosphere and singles honing their pickup lines before hitting the club circuit.

Where to start … and stay

Early evening is a good time to visit the Sky Bar Cafe (908 15th Street, (916) 441-1500). A jazz band or pianist plays while the TV, sans sound, shows the Kings or another sports team within a 90-mile radius. At 6 p.m., you’ll likely have the place to yourself, but don’t get used to it. Around 9 p.m. or so, the crowds pour in for live jazz. You might plan to start your night here and then stagger out six hours later. Definitely bad news for any pub crawler on a deadline.

The Riverside Clubhouse (2633 Riverside Boulevard, (916) 448-9988) manages to be a good restaurant, bar, lounge and nightspot all under one roof. Belly up to the sleek bar to watch sports on the plasma TV, pick on some appetizers (not-so-subliminal message: spinach-and-artichoke dip or fries with three dipping sauces) or have dinner on the open-air patio near a large copper waterfall. Then, linger in the lounge and sip fashionable concoctions like a lemon cream pie martini (vodka, vanilla schnapps and lemon juice) by the fireplace, or mill around the crowded bar, trawling for phone numbers. An aside for Kings fans: Riverside offers free round-trip rides to Arco Arena for every Thursday-, Friday- and Saturday-night home game.

Spicy Caribbean food, colorful décor, toxic sangria, and lounge music give Celestin’s (1815 K Street, (916) 444-2423) its “staying power.” After all, why go anywhere else when you can get pitcher after pitcher of spiked Kool-Aid, listen to inventive music in the Voodou Lounge or kick back on an outdoor patio? Most nights, a DJ plays lounge, jazz, swing or world music, usually without a cover charge.

Other good places to start and stay

Harlow’s, 2708 J Street, (916) 441-4693. Dine in a restaurant inspired by 1930s-era Hollywood; boogie to live ’80s dance tunes, classic R&B or disco; or enjoy DJs spinning house music and multidimensional jazz in the MoMo Lounge upstairs.

Blue Cue, 1004 28th Street, (916) 442-7208. Eat basic pub fare at one of the high-top bar tables, mingle with fun-loving yuppies and then practice your pool game on one of eight tables.

The bartenders at Ink will help you find your second wind.

Photo By Jill Wagner

Where to play

Where you want to spend the bulk of your night can depend on a variety of things, including your style, social skills, fashion IQ and, in many cases, love life. Fortunately, Sacramento has enough nightspots to fit any situation.

If you don’t own any midriff-baring tops or you think “house music” means singing bartenders, opt for a no-frills live-music venue like the Torch Club (904 15th Street, (916) 443-2797), where people in their 30s and 40s listen to good blues music and get nostalgic; or the Blue Lamp Lounge (1400 Alhambra Boulevard, (916) 455-3400) for blues and reggae in a dark and intimate setting. Better yet, head to an unpretentious neighborhood joint where you won’t feel maligned for wearing jeans and a T-shirt (see “Love thy neighbor”).

If you fancy yourself a trendsetter or a clotheshorse, and you don’t mind waiting behind velvet ropes for the opportunity to mingle with other young stylish and upwardly mobile people, visit one of the city’s most popular dance clubs. Modern but elegant Avalon (805 15th Street, (916) 553-4277) is part South Beach and part New York City. It attracts upscale 20- and 30-somethings with its large dance floor, conversation-friendly booth seating area, and DJs playing everything from R&B and house to salsa and club hits. The urban-industrial Empire Events Center (1417 R Street, (916) 448-3300) is more than just a dance club. It hosts a variety of events, like the MTV Laguna Beach cast party, lingerie contests and nationally touring acts like the Psychedelic Furs. The place was once a warehouse, so there’s plenty of space, including four bars and two cocktail lounges. 815 L Street (815 L Street, (916) 443-8155) is a popular “meet” market, especially on Thursdays, when a DJ plays house, R&B and club classics.

If you’re a contrarian rather than a trendsetter, check out Sacramento’s weekly and monthly “underground” club scene. Every Tuesday, Old Ironsides (1901 10th Street, (916) 443-9751) becomes Club Lipstick, with DJ Shaun Slaughter spinning indie, Brit-pop, glam and ’60s garage music. Lipstick also features live bands and record-release parties with giveaways from independent record labels. DJ Slaughter returns to Old Ironsides on the first Saturday of each month for Vicious, an “over-the-top dance disaster focusing on the songs that make you lose control.”

Where to end up

If you drink too much at Empire, and your consciousness resurfaces at Icon (1431 R Street, (916) 492-0004), you might think you inadvertently latched on to a junket to Los Angeles. The space is classy and cool. High ceilings, modern and satiny lounge chairs, portraits of entertainment icons (Jim Morrison, Madonna and Jack Nicholson to name a few) and beaded room partitions are just a few of the touches that make this former warehouse feel sophisticated and über urban. After 10 p.m., a DJ entertains from a perch atop the bar. After 2 a.m., intoxicated patrons of Empire stumble over for some alcohol absorption and a last chance to avoid going home alone.

Is Ink Eats & Drinks (2730 N Street, (916) 456-2800) a diner or a nightclub? It’s hard to tell, because one night I saw a 12-year-old kid there with his parents an hour after the bartender was dancing on the bar. The colorful décor (murals of tattoo art on the ceiling, a profusion of red) and DJs spinning electronica make it fair game as a final destination. But the real attraction at Ink is the fact that it serves good food late at night. There’s probably no better place to get alcohol-absorbing comfort food—think grilled cheese, mini hamburgers with pickles and onions, and macaroni and cheese—at 3 a.m. Patrons either love or hate the “back room”—a cozy alcove with wall murals, two tables and a TV—which is within earshot of the bar but secluded enough for private conversation.

Although it’s traditionally a gay bar, The Depot (2001 K Street, (916) 441-6823) attracts people of all sexual inclinations, especially after 2 a.m., when it is one of the few places still open in Sacramento. Watch videos, listen to music, shoot pool, people-watch or smoke on the back patio while you sober up. If you thought you’d never again see the video of your favorite 1980s one-hit wonder, guess again. For $1, you can pick from hundreds of videos to play. If you get hungry, go next-door to Hot Rod’s and grab a burger, fries, a shake, a hot dog or a grilled cheese sandwich.

Other late-night options

The hot-dog cart at 29th and E streets. Stumble down from the Pine Cove Tavern or points around the city for a quick, cheap and greasy sausage or frankfurter.

Willie’s Burgers & Chiliburgers, 2415 16th Street, (916) 444-2006. Don’t wear white if you want to end the night with one of these messy, decadent and delicious treats.