Watcha gonna do?
The Man clamps down hard on the Golden Bear
It’s almost like a scene from an Old West flick: The mustachioed sheriff and his deputies amble slowly around the bar, squinting at everything and everybody, stopping every now and then to inspect an entryway or a broken light switch. Then something really bad usually goes down. In this case, nobody takes any fists to the face. No one’s shot with a revolver or slides across the bar into a hooker. But, in some people’s eyes, something perhaps much worse happens: Drinkers are forced to leave. Everybody’s favorite saloon is in serious jeopardy, maybe in danger of shutting down for good.
While he’s no mustachioed sheriff, when Sacramento Fire Prevention Officer II Steve Bodick walks into your establishment with a bunch of cops, the tendency is to clench your ass cheeks together, offer him a drink, hope for the best and pray nothing goes wrong. But unfortunately, it did.
On July 20, when Bodick, along with a couple Sacramento Police Department officials, walked into the Golden Bear on 2326 K Street, they noticed a few things they claimed weren’t up to snuff. The place presents a grave danger to the public and most of the people would have to clear out, Bodick informed.
That night, two-thirds of the customers cleared out, and they’ve been gone ever since.
Having only 49 people at a time at the Golden Bear—which in previous incarnations has been known as Café Paris, Café Montreal and Drago’s—is now the law and will be until some serious structural changes are made, authorities say.
Sacramento Fire Captain Jim Doucette says the boom was lowered because the historic building is being used for something other than its Class B license intends. Having music, food and overcrowding in a place that’s not structurally ready for a fire presents drastic exit issues if there was to be one.
“When you get a place that’s overcrowded and people are drinking, it doesn’t take much to get people killed,” says Doucette, whose words immediately inject mental images of the deadly February 2003 Providence, R.I., nightclub fire—even though Great White and pyrotechnics are not Golden Bear coming attractions.
Grim? Yes, but Doucette says there’s no choice but to crack down on businesses that aren’t following safety guidelines.
The reduced occupancy limit leaves the Golden Bear’s co-owner Kimio Bazett in a tight spot. Especially when he says that just weeks earlier, Bodick inspected the restaurant and told him as long as there were 49 people inside and 101 outside (on the patio), then they could continue operating as they had been.
“So that’s what we’d adhere to. That’s what we’ve been doing,” Bazett says. “The fire department is going back on their original assessment on the situation.”
However, Bazett is smart enough to know that disputing fact, no matter how vital to his business, would be futile. In every case, he’d lose. Now he’s just trying to absorb the impact of lost business any way he can. The income of the Golden Bear, he says, has been cut in half. “We’re losing tens of thousands of dollars,” he says.
Bazett’s had to cut shifts and even get rid of bartenders. “That was a painful situation,” he says, especially since many of his employees have children. It’s what he terms a “heavy human casualty.”
In light of the occupancy order, the Golden Bear took out an advertisement in the July 26 SN&R that apprised patrons of the fire order. It ended with the following: “Rest assured that we are doing everything in our power to fix this situation as quickly as possible. We have fought to do business in this town since day one, and we don’t intend to stop now. Thank you for your love and support Sacramento.”
The owners say they have not been able to afford advertising since.
And Bazett tells us he’s impressed by the way the city is working with him to find a solution. He just thinks it would have been nice for the fire department to keep him in the loop. He says when Bodick showed up for the second time last month, it was “out of the blue.”
Which brings up a good point: Why exactly was Bodick walking around to establishments that night with the police department? Was it a routine inspection or just a night out on the town with the boys?
“Well, you’ll have to talk to PD,” Bodick says. “We were out with them that night.”
“They’ve had complaints about overcrowding,” Doucette says of the cops.
Bazett has no idea when this thing is going to be resolved, but luckily, while he works with city officials, lawyers and architects to mend the bar’s structural problems, he hopes his patrons are loyal enough to stick it out, even if the place doesn’t seem as lively anymore.
“Could be worse, I suppose,” he says, still managing to keep his sense of humor. But to be honest, the man sounds pretty tired. Every day since “the night everything went down,” Bazett’s life has been a series of meetings in an attempt to get his place up to code so more people can hang out and get drunk in one of Midtown’s favorite bars.
Until then, despite the lack of clientele, “It’s still a good neighborhood bar,” Bazett says.