Shady Lady Saloon in Sacramento among Esquire’s ‘best bars in America’

When longtime friends Jason Boggs, Alex Origoni and Garrett Van Vleck opened Shady Lady Saloon in 2009, they aimed for something “unique in Sacramento.” Now they can raise a glass to national recognition, as Esquire magazine has included Shady Lady on its annual list of the top 25 bars in America.

“I got really excited when I heard about it last night, and I’m going to run over to Barnes & Noble to get a copy of the magazine,” Boggs said. “For a national magazine to recognize Sacramento is pretty cool, and we feel very privileged to be singled out, given all the talent we have in this town. This is a win for all of us, but the accolade should go to our employees. They’re the ones in the trenches day in and day out, and they put their all into the bar.”

“We’re really proud, especially to be the first bar in Sacramento to get a recognition like this,” Van Vleck said. “It’s good for Sacramento and the up-and-coming bar and restaurant scene. We’re superproud of all the people who have come out of our bar program and gone on to other bars and restaurants in Sacramento and around the country.”

The Esquire best-bars package was spearheaded by David Wondrich, the magazine’s cocktail columnist and author of five books on the history of America’s cocktail culture. He was also one of the curators of the Museum of the American Cocktail in New Orleans, an exhibition now undergoing transition.

“I’m a cocktail nerd, and (Wondrich) is the closest thing to a superstar in this industry,” Boggs said. “His books are page-turners for cocktail geeks like me.”

Last year, Wondrich came to town to host a seminar for Midtown Cocktail Week, Van Vleck recalled. “Somebody picked him up at the airport and they called me and said, ‘I’ve got David Wondrich here, and the first place he wants to go is the Shady Lady.’ I said, “Oh ... I’ll meet him there.’ That was exciting and a huge compliment,” Van Vleck said.

With so many Sacramento-area bars and restaurants with cocktail programs, what does Shady Lady bring to the barroom table that’s different? “The cocktail scene in the U.S. has matured so much in the past 10 years that now you see a lot of new-age techniques and styles, mixing outside of the box,” Boggs said. “We have that, but our backbone is the classics made right. (Also) we make sure we have the most skilled and knowledgeable bartenders at all times.

“We’ve always said we’re the working man’s cocktail bar, and we try not to be pretentious,” Boggs added. “(For instance), we’re the largest seller of draft Olympia beer in the U.S., so you can get an $8 cocktail if you want one, or have a $2 beer.”

Although many cocktails come and go, the consistently best-selling drink at Shady Lady is the Old Fashioned, with some ingredients that are seasonal. “It’s always right there at the top,” Boggs said. “Some people like it with bourbon, some with rye. It’s one of those cocktails where the spirit is the rock star in the glass. When somebody orders one, we ask if they like spicy or sweet. That way, I get the chance to talk with them about our whiskey list and get them involved in the (drink-making) process.”

What about Boggs’ own go-to? He thought about that for a minute, then said, “I like a really good mai tai in the summertime, or a good scotch any time.”

Along with libations, Shady Lady serves lunch, brunch and dinner. It’s at 1409 R St., Sacramento; (916) 231-9121,