Why can’t Johnny rock?
Junta would provide a much-needed all-ages music club downtown, but the city isn’t rolling out the welcome mat
The 700 block of K Street is one of downtown Sacramento’s darkest and most frightening. The Greyhound station on the L Street side of the block seems a kind of beacon to the destitute and degenerate more than to actual travelers.
If you enter that dingy cave and walk through the other side, beyond the small alley that bisects the dark center of a dark block, you’ll run into a small stairwell and a locked door. Beyond the door lies the dream of Troy Agid and Charles Twilling, but at this point, it looks as if that dream might never actually be realized.
It’s somehow fitting that Twilling and Agid’s dream has coalesced around a warehouse-like empty room in an alley on Sacramento’s seediest block. Agid leased the property directly under Bonehead Tattoo, a business he has run on K Street for the last four years.
Twilling recently quit the Capitol Garage, a coffee shop he had turned into one of the area’s premiere small music venues—only to see that venue change locations and completely change its focus: moving from a dingy neighborhood spot filled to the caffeinated brim with character to an upscale Midtown watering hole akin to the Monkey Bar.
Agid wanted to open a venue, and Twilling had the knowledge to do it. They settled on the name Junta and began designing an all-ages club for live music—something that would be custom-designed for touring and local bands and would be family-friendly (parents always get into Twilling’s shows for free with their kids). Junta could provide focus to the essentially nonexistent Midtown/downtown Sacramento all-ages music scene, a scene devoid of regular venues since the close of the old Capitol Garage and the area’s other beloved all-ages venue, the True Love Coffeehouse.
Agid’s property seemed a perfect fit. So, the tattoo artist and the rock booker decided to pool their interests and open a club—Agid as owner and Twilling as manager/booker—and Junta began to roll.
The path seemed straightforward, at least conceptually. After all, why wouldn’t the city be interested in a new business opening on a block that, at least by appearance, has been completely abandoned by the city? According to Agid, the city officials that the two initially spoke to indicated that the process would be easy. “First it was ‘All you need is your fire inspection, and you guys can open,’” Agid said.
But delays began to mount. Twilling had optimistically booked a full calendar of shows only to see one show after another fall on the wrong side of the locked door. “For almost a month now, we’ve been ready,” Agid said. “We could throw a show tonight if they gave us our permit.”
Twilling and Agid are wondering if they should take the hint. “We’re having our doubts that the city is gonna give us a permit,” Agid commented. “They’re certainly trying to stretch it out to the very last possible day that they can. The way they’re acting is that they might just tell us no.”
They might be a bit paranoid. After all, Twilling and Agid’s plans include 24-hour surveillance cameras and security guards patrolling the street. It’s an all-ages venue that will serve no alcoholic beverages whatsoever. At least on paper it sounds like exactly what the block needs.
But, then again, the duo’s plans for Junta could be at cross-purposes with the city of Sacramento’s plan for K Street redevelopment. Agid’s other business, Bonehead Tattoos, has been one of the thorns in the city’s side and has been entangled in the ongoing struggle between real-estate mogul Moe Mohanna (owner of two-thirds of the 700 block of K Street, according to Agid) and a group of real-estate developers and city officials who are attempting to revitalize the area.
The business interests envision a completely redesigned K Street. Upscale shops (including a Z Gallerie store) would line the street, while behind them a series of high-rises would offer upscale housing options. It doesn’t sound like the kind of place that would welcome an all-ages venue, let alone a tattoo parlor.
Michael Ault of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership noted that his organization is excited about the possibilities for a more upscale K Street, but he was hesitant to comment specifically on the plans for Junta. “Although our organization hasn’t taken a formal position on it, we would need to make sure that some of the issues that we have had some real challenges from there are addressed,” Ault said. “We would need to be very sure that this wouldn’t further exacerbate an already challenging area.”
Twilling noted that there are 24 venues downtown doing entertainment, and all of them are strictly 21-and-over. Furthermore, Twilling noted that the Blue Lamp submitted its application for a permit one day before Junta, and at the time of this writing it had begun offering live music once again. The implication for Twilling is that 21-and-over venues are receiving more expedient processing than his proposed all-ages venue. In fact, Twilling noted that there are no active all-ages venues in the city of Sacramento.
Bob Rose, the code-enforcement official ultimately in charge of Junta’s entertainment permit, said, “We’re trying to do the right and best thing for everyone concerned, including the applicant. We want businesses to succeed here. If businesses don’t succeed, the city doesn’t thrive.”
Rose noted that the police department’s report is currently one of the major puzzle pieces missing from the process and that as soon as that report is received, the department can make a determination as to whether Junta will open. (The police department declined to comment on the application.) It is this facet of the application process that might provide the biggest stumbling block for the new venue. “We have to weigh the health and safety and welfare of the general public,” Rose said. “Crime, statistical stuff, analysis from [the police department] for calls for service. … If you’re trying to open a live-music venue, and it’s right in the middle of the drug zone … obviously that’s something we’ll have to consider.”
If Junta doesn’t have the city’s go-ahead by January 14, it will have to close for good. What happens to Junta during the ongoing discussions between the city and various development moguls and property owners will say much about the goals and visions of a city trying to reinvent its downtown.
“This is Sacramento’s worst block,” Twilling said, “and I think they think it’ll make it worse. But we’ll have security; we’re getting bids on external cameras, 24-hour surveillance. We’re trying to bring this block up, not bring it down.”