Faces’ philosophy can be summed up by a rainbow-colored triangular sign posted near its front door: “You are entering a gay bar! Respect us & we’ll respect you!”
With its three dance floors, 16 bar stations and outdoor swimming pool, the midtown party palace exists not only an inclusive place to mix and mingle, but also as a rallying spot for the LGBT community to celebrate milestones such as June’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage.
“This is where friends meet and find out (about) community news,” said George Raya, a longtime Sacramento LGBT activist. “In the black community, the churches are really important. For us, the bars are like the church. This is our neighborhood and community center.”
It’s been this way since 1985 when Faces opened in a once sleepy midtown neighborhood that’s since transformed into a hub of local nightlife. However, in the midst of its 30th anniversary celebrations – which includes Sunday’s Rainbow Festival street fair – the nightclub is eying some big changes.
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Faces’ owner Terry Sidie turns 70 in October. Over the past five years, he’s contemplated selling several times, saying he’s ready to retire after decades of late nights.
Meanwhile, the club’s Lavender Heights neighborhood is evolving. It remains an epicenter for LGBT businesses, including bars such as The Depot and the Mercantile Saloon, but a new wave of merchants, including LowBrau and other MARRS-building tenants, are bringing a different demographic to this lively area. In addition, the Sacramento City Council recently approved plans for a six-story building on 21st and L streets, which would include a Whole Foods market and 141 apartments. The project essentially will be built in Faces’ backyard, about a mai-tai’s throw across an alley from the club’s pool.
“When you build an apartment building in the middle of an entertainment district, you should already know you’re going to have a bunch of problems,” Sidie said on a recent afternoon. “I can see what they see. But they don’t see what it was like 30 years ago.”
Sidie, who often sports a stately cowboy hat as a nod to his upbringing on a Wisconsin farm, recounted how this neighborhood once was a dead zone. Before Faces opened, the building housed Christie’s Elbo Room, a prime rib house where Randy Paragary worked as a busboy. The Mercantile Saloon had been in business down the street since the late-1970s, but that was about it.
“It was nothing,” Sidie said of the neighborhood. “It was broken-down garages, an empty funeral parlor. (There) was a rundown bar called The Western. Lewis Florist was falling into the ground. It wasn’t called ‘Lavender Heights.’ They didn’t even call it ‘midtown.’ ”
Faces helped changed that, supporters say.
“I always liked the metaphor where you think about those empty ocean beds where (people) create life from artificial reefs,” said Councilman Steve Hansen, who represents the area. “Faces was that initial piece of life that built this reef of activity here.”
Faces is Sidie’s second nightclub. His first, Bojangles, opened on Folsom Boulevard in 1976, as Sidie was finishing up his time in the Air Force. As an operating room tech at Mather Air Force Base, he intended to pursue a career in nursing.
At that time, gay nightlife still was an underground scene, he said. Until the early 1970s, most gay bars were in West Sacramento, housed in windowless establishments to ensure privacy. They were similar to what Sidie saw when he visited his first gay bar in Detroit in 1965. “You walked down some steps and knocked on the door,” Sidie said. “This little thing would open and if you were with someone they knew, they’d let you in.”
Sidie remembers an exclusionary attitude at many gay bars. Drag queens were sometimes banned. African Americans often were denied entrance. Straight people were shown the door. “It was sad that when I opened Bojangles, some people in the community said, ‘Don’t let the drag queens in,’ ” Sidie said. “It was pretty rigid in those days, (but) I said, ‘I’m going to let everyone in.’ ”
The name Faces is a nod to its inclusive nature, Sidie said. It came from contest won by Paul Fitzgerald, owner of the former Incredible Edible restaurant on Alhambra Boulvard. The club’s goal is to cater to as many communities – or faces – as possible. Tuesday’s are “Latin Night.” One dance floor is geared for hip-hop and urban music. Straight folks are welcome, which remains a point of contention for some.
“Gay people kind of love having only gay people around them in a bar,” Sidie said. “Gay people have to be respectful of the straight people, too. Those are the kinds of things we’re still breaking down, and it’s not easy all the time.”
The crowds have remained faithful over the years. On a typical Saturday night, some 1,400 patrons will pass through the doors – a number that Sidie checks regularly on his phone via an app. The average club-goer is 30 years old, he said. As there’s plenty of competition for those drinking dollars in the neighborhood, Sidie said he keeps the cover charges and drink prices low. He’s designed Faces to be the opposite of a dive bar, a flamboyant place that enchants with lights and sound – or even a dip in the pool.
Beyond a destination for dancing, the 18,000-square-foot club has emerged as a key player in supporting local LGBT politics and organizations. The club has hosted voter drives for the Stonewall Democratic Club, an LGBT rights group, and held fundraisers for Assemblyman Kevin McCarty. Sidie also co-founded the Rainbow Festival in 1987 to raise funds for local LGBT charities and organizations.
“Every organization that I’ve belonged to at one time or another has held fundraisers (at Faces),” Raya said. “The (Sacramento Gay and Lesbian Softball League) held its first organizational meeting there at Faces. Terry has given his own money to get us more political power. It really is a community center.”
The area was dubbed “Lavender Heights” in the mid-1980s after Faces and other gay-friendly clubs opened. The Sacramento LGBT Community Center, co-founded by Sidie, later joined the neighborhood. In May, the Sacramento City Council approved plans for rainbow-colored crosswalks at the intersection of 20th and K streets.
Sidie said he worries Faces will receive noise complaints once the Whole Foods is built and the tenants move into their apartments. But Hansen believes the club can coexist with the upcoming mixed-use project, which should start construction this spring. Prospective tenants will be well briefed on the neighborhood’s activity level and required to sign disclosure agreements, he said. The apartments will contain soundproofing to help with noise.
“It’s a natural kind of fear, but at this point I don’t think it’s well founded,” Hansen said. “We’ve worked very hard to make sure the projects coming in like Whole Foods are respectful of the neighbors around them. I expect that a lot of LGBT people will want to live there, right in the heart of 20th and K. It’s not a secret that entertainment districts can unsettle the more quiet types. The suburban empty-nester that wants the tranquillity of a quiet street at night, this is not going to be the place for them. ”
Sidie’s already turning down the volume on his nightlife career. At his busiest, he owned Faces, Club 21, Bojangles, Head Hunters, the Verona Village Resort in Sutter County and a Wisconsin farm. Now, he just owns Faces and the resort.
He said the club has been for sale for five years. He’s received offers, but he’s not quite ready to stack the chairs at this decades-running dance party. Instead, he’s mulling a renovation of Faces’ front lounge, creating a space geared for the 40-and-up set.
“I love the name ‘Faces’ because it really holds true today,” Sidie said. “There’s all different kinds of faces now, so it’s even better.”
What: Co-founded in 1987 by Faces owner Terry Sidie, the annual Rainbow Festival has become one of Sacramento’s largest LGBT events and fundraisers. This year’s musical acts include Hayley Glines, Postmodern Horror, ONOFF, Hero’s Last Mission and other entertainment.
Where: 20th and K streets, Sacramento.
When: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday