The management of the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake is looking to jazz the place up a bit.
On Saturday, the complex, built near a modest man-made lake, will inaugurate a recurring dinner-and-dancing-based evening featuring live jazz entertainment.
The first performers at the Lakeside Restaurant will be the Vivian Lee Quartet, and it was Lee who Joemel Panisa, the hotel's operations manager, approached to help make this happen. She has run JB's Jazz Lounge for nine years at what is now called the Clarion Hotel. Though there have been name and ownership changes during Lee's tenure, her jazz night has remained.
"The various owners have always liked what I've done so they've kept me," Lee said.
Lee co-founded JB's with then-musical partner Glenn Hair as a Sunday evening club where area jazz musicians could play and touring acts could occasionally perform. The Clarion was called the Red Lion back then and the club inside was known as Savannah's. The jazz concept jelled, and Lee has booked and managed the room ever since. It was there she met Panisa, who was a manager of the property.
When he came over to the Red Lion Woodlake, Panisa was struck by how many employees there told him what a hot spot the hotel once was.
"It seems like a property that's been forgotten to some degree," Panisa said. "We want to bring the community back here and have them really enjoy the property. I can't think of any other hotel where you can sit and dine lakeside."
However, the location presents some challenges. Tucked near a strip of Highway 160 between downtown and Arden Fair, with 306 guest rooms, seven hospitality suites and a grand ballroom, the place, located on a frontage road called Leisure Lane, is hardly an epicenter of entertainment.
Nevertheless, the complex has a history of hosting entertainment events using its lake as a backdrop. Acts including John Hiatt, Shawn Colvin, David Sanborn and Tower of Power have performed there.
But if anyone can bring a jazz crowd to the hotel, it's Lee. With a full-time job as a surgical nurse already on her plate, Lee eventually decided she would help Panisa set up the entertainment calendar and see how it goes from there.
"I'm trying to make this completely different from what I do on Sundays (at the Clarion)," Lee said.
For its jazz evenings, the Lakeside Restaurant will seat about 40 people at tables that look out on the lake just outside the glass windows. The band stage and a small dance floor will be set at the front edge of the room. There won't be a cover charge and the restaurant will offer a special $35 three-course prix fixe menu for those who want to dine. The regular menu will be available as well.
The emphasis will not be just on listening to the music, but dancing to it as well. To set the scene, Lee said, she had imagined old black-and-white movies, where people dined at a nightclub as a big band played and couples took to the dance floor between courses.
"I'd like a romantic atmosphere for couples," Lee said.
She's also emphasizing decorum among the bands she's booking, directing them all to "dress."
"My hope is that by us dressing that people will start to dress as well," Lee said.
Lee has booked 11 Saturday nights with artists including vocalists Virginia Ayers Dawson and Cynthia Douglas, trumpeter Joe Mazzaferro, and pianists Aaron Garner and Jim Martinez.
"I wanted to mix it up," Lee said. "(I) didn't want only vocalists. I've told everybody 'Let's keep it accessible for people looking to dance.' "
Panisa has made a six-month commitment to the idea, saying he'll evaluate it every 30 days, but he knows it won't likely take off instantly.
Hermann Haastrup, Woodlake's general manager, said it's all about offering people something different. "We saw the need for it and thought since nobody else is doing (it), we could be the ones," he said.
VIVIAN LEE QUARTET
Where: Lakeside Restaurant in the Red Lion Hotel Woodlake, 500 Leisure Lane, Sacramento
When: 7-10 p.m. Saturday
Reservations: (916) 922-2020