Raising the bar

Sacramentans want more nightlife, just not in their backyards

Jon Heinzer and his wife, Diane, say Midtown has enough bars. They’re joining their neighbors to oppose a new watering hole on 21st Street.

Jon Heinzer and his wife, Diane, say Midtown has enough bars. They’re joining their neighbors to oppose a new watering hole on 21st Street.

Photo By Larry Dalton

When it was announced in May that big changes could be in store at Cheap Thrills, neighbors quickly began to mobilize. They wrote e-mails. They contacted police. They talked among themselves.

The neighbors weren’t upset that the landmark Midtown costume and clothing shop, in its current location since 1969, could be forced to move, to make way for new business. They weren’t losing sleep either because the transients who often loiter on Cheap Thrills’ porch playing music after hours would be gone. The protest is more about what the building currently housing Cheap Thrills could become next year—a bar.

Building owners Stephen Tokuhama and Rodney Williams applied for a liquor license May 17, said John Carr, public-information officer for the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). Carr said Tokuhama and Williams, owners of the G Street Pub in Davis, applied for a Type 47 license, used for a bar and restaurant. They also are planning to build second-floor loft apartments. Cheap Thrills won’t move anytime within this calendar year, and extensive renovations also are needed to make the former Victorian, with its large front staircase, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). But many throughout the neighborhood are already bracing for change.

Tokuhama, who bought the building at 1217 21st Street in 2002—and who has leased it to Cheap Thrills since—told SN&R that plans for a bar have been developing for two years and that he and Williams “felt that it was the perfect location for it.”

Some neighbors see it differently. Midtown Business Association President Shawn Eldredge said that within two days of a public notice being posted at Cheap Thrills announcing the liquor-license application, he started getting e-mails from concerned neighbors. As of last week, he’d received roughly half a dozen such e-mails, none especially positive. “It’s a tone of expecting the worst,” Eldredge said.

The concerns are just the latest over entertainment, as Sacramento’s central city moves closer to becoming a 24-hour hub, with watering holes and residences sharing close proximity. Eldredge noted the thousands spent in the last year by the owners of Blue Cue, Harlow’s and Centro’s to appease neighborhood complaints of noise and crime.

Now comes protest geared seemingly by fear of the unknown. Samara Palko e-mailed Eldredge after receiving a standard notice from the ABC in late May. The Winn Park Capitol Avenue Neighborhood Association board member, who lives a block from Cheap Thrills, said she’d feel better if she had more information about Tokuhama and Williams’ intentions.

“It seems like they’re doing stuff behind the scenes that’s not forthcoming,” Palko said.

Palko’s husband, Peter, claims the notice about potential liquor sales posted on the window at Cheap Thrills has been half-covered by clothing. The Palkos’ next-door neighbor Jon Heinzer said he gave a picture of the obstructed notice to police. “I think we got enough bars,” Heinzer said.

Both residents and neighboring business owners fear parking problems, long a neighborhood issue, will grow worse. Heinzer spoke of a time 10 years ago when neighbors couldn’t get a spot in front of their buildings to unload groceries. It hasn’t gotten much better.

The stylists at Trendsetters, a hair salon next-door to Cheap Thrills, fear their business will be negatively affected. “When people start parking from the restaurant, it’s going to be a real issue for us,” said Diann Velaga, a stylist.

For his part, Tokuhama said his architects are working diligently with city officials to ensure the building is made ADA-accessible and that he intends to use private parking. While his planned establishment lacks even a name right now, and won’t be large enough for live music, Tokuhama promises swank.

“We’re not gonna be an operation where we put a sign up in the window, put a couple of beer taps in and call it a bar,” Tokuhama said. “We’re spending a good deal of money to do this right.”

What’s funny about all the protest is that Cheap Thrills, due to move a half-block in early 2007 to storeowner Fred Smith’s other location, Zoots, has never had the greatest reputation among the neighbors.

Peter Palko avoids the building because of the homeless who loiter around the premises, after business hours. “You can’t walk through [the alley],” he said. “You can’t walk in front of the building. … They have a history of not being good neighbors.”

No liquor license can be granted until August 17, while ABC conducts a standard background investigation, confidential for now. Carr said that if anyone protests the bar, a hearing would be held within 60 days.

“I think we’re just in the beginning stages,” Samara Palko said. “So we’re going to come together collectively, put our voices together and make sure we’re all on the same page.”

However some in the neighborhood welcome the proposed new bar, like Ronnie Alvernaz, owner of The Distillery at 2107 L Street.

“The more the better,” Alvernaz said. “It brings people.”

Eldredge himself said he wished Sacramento could have the cosmopolitan identity of a Chicago or New York. While Eldredge is all for families living comfortably downtown, he fears entertainment being pushed out. He said live music suffered in San Francisco in the mid-1990s because of persistent noise complaints.

“We’re going to lose our cultural environment if we’re not careful in protecting it,” Eldredge said. He suggested Williams and Tokuhama make a presentation to those concerned, saying, “We should be thinking of how to make it work.”