With bright-red lipstick, a red-plastic flower tucked behind her ear and animal-print tattoos down her shoulder, Shannon Cannon exudes the rockabilly aesthetic even more than her bar, The Starlite, which officially opens today in midtown Sacramento.
Glam-rock, four-piece Mondo Deco and DJ Roger, founder of the roving Lipstick dance club, are scheduled to get the crowd going at the boxy building on 21st Street, while American comfort food circulates from the kitchen.
Before becoming The Starlite, the two-story bar was the Townhouse Lounge. And along with a hearty scrubbing, the space received a spritz from the 1950s.
The walls are bright pink and baby blue. There’s a pool table, and the jukebox plays classic bands such as The Smiths and The Cure. The downstairs is already filled with fun oddities: a phone booth from the 1960s with no phone inside; a man-sized, blue-metal robot designed by Cannon’s husband, soon to be outfitted with speaking capabilities; an oversized gumball machine with a female mannequin’s head inside; and a motorcycle hanging above an old-school photo booth.
Cannon’s favorite conversation-starters? The transparent bar top, revealing random trinkets such as bottle caps, retro postcards and glitter, which compete with the magazine clippings from the 1940s and ’50s hanging in the restrooms.
It’s the bar Cannon has dreamed of for years.
“I just love the Midcentury Modern era,” she said. “But it’s not going to be a sock hop. I’m not going to play Buddy Holly all night.”
Cannon, 35, has worked in bars and nightclubs since she was 16. She worked her way up from busing tables to bartending to managing at the Delta King, and has credentials from the Firestone Public House, the Park Ultra Lounge and Benny’s, as well.
And apart from the unique decor, Cannon’s bar is designed to be a straightforward, neighborhood watering hole.
“I’m not trying to be a nightclub,” she said. “We’re keeping it casual.”
That means no strict dress codes and no cover charges, unless the band playing upstairs is a fairly big act. The DJs will spin “mainstream fun music that people want to hear” and Cannon might throw in the occasional ’80s dance night or dinner-show combo.
It also means no elaborate craft cocktails or local beers on tap. The Starlite offers well drinks made well for $5 along with bottles of Sierra Nevada and tall cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
But the bar food is to be elevated to continue the trend of food-truck folks taking on the kitchen duties of brick-and-mortar establishments. Cannon partnered with Papa Dale’s Drivin’ Diner, and chefs Keith Breedlove and Janine Bills will take turns dishing out small plates and sandwiches made ... wait for it ... with a farm-to-fork mentality.
“It’s classic American dishes with a modernist twist,” Breedlove said. “It’s a perfect fit, both for the style of Shannon’s place and our food.”
The Starlite’s menu will feature favorites from Papa Dale’s including a grilled-cheese sandwich stuffed with mac ’n’ cheese, bacon and apples; a monstrous Sacramento Burger Battle entry; and a BLT with sous-videhouse-cured bacon, Bloody Mary dressing and lettuce that has gone through a smoker. All plates are $6 to $9.
The food partnership, finalized just last week, brings a huge sigh of relief from Cannon, who has been working 18-hour days since she bought the building in March. Built in 1938 and poorly maintained, the space needed serious work.
Cannon declined to say exactly how much renovations cost, other than “a lot.” Cannon, her business partner, Charlie Coyne (co-owner of the Delta King) and three other investors bought the Townhouse Lounge building, a nearby apartment complex and a parking lot, though Cannon and Coyne are financing The Starlite on their own.
Though by no means a ritzy nightclub, The Starlite is significantly jazzed up compared with some nearby drinkeries, including The Press Club, Benny’s, the Zebra Club and the Old Tavern. But Cannon emphasized that her target crowd is a local one.
However, a small, vocal group has taken issue with Cannon’s renovation of the building, complaining about the removal of the Townhouse’s historic neon sign. A Facebook page titled “Bring Back the Town House Sign” called for a pre-emptive boycott of The Starlite, though the page hasn’t been active since July.
Cannon and Coyne may have taken over the property, but said they don’t own the rights to The Townhouse name, so the sign will not be restored. Cannon is still not sure what she’ll do with the enormous letters, but has contemplated incorporating a 7-foot-tall “T” into the Starlight’s decor or using it for something else entirely.
“It’s kinda cool to miss the Townhouse,” Cannon said. “It’s kinda cool to hate what’s new. But the people who have come in so far have said it looks great.”
Call The Bee’s Janelle Bitker, (916) 321-1027. On Twitter @JanelleBitker.