City Beat

Old bar in the crosshairs of Sacramento development

The old bar on 16th Street.
The old bar on 16th Street. Sacramento Bee

Rich Borgquist keeps a diary on his iPhone of all the old apartment buildings that have been torn down or left to crumble around the city. He reads their names like a list of dead relatives – Merrium, Francesca, Bel-Vue.

“I like the old, beat-up places,” he said, working on an iced tea and a bowl of ice cream at Simon’s.

Borgquist was in the old place last week, sitting alone at a bar that over the years has fed and boozed governors and mayors.

Simon’s is right in the middle of the city’s most active stretch of development, a three-block span of 16th Street. It’s shadowed by two large condo buildings that opened in recent months. The foundation is going in for another 118-unit apartment building up the block.

That means Simon’s one day will very likely become another name on Borgquist’s phone.

A lot of that stretch of 16th Street is owned by the state and operated by the Capitol Area Development Authority. And CADA has been very upfront about its intentions for Simon’s.

“That property sits on what has always been identified as a development site,” said Wendy Saunders, head of CADA.

Saunders said it’s too early to talk details. A state crew is cleaning up the ground next to Simon’s, a contaminated lot where Mercury Cleaners used to stand before it was torn down last year. And CADA won’t know if it can do anything with the Simon’s property until it gets an idea of just how dirty the soil is – and that could take a few years.

But Saunders is also being honest. She envisions an apartment building one day replacing Simon’s, probably six stories tall with a good amount of affordable housing. Those sound like pretty specific plans.

“If the land were clean, we’d ask the state for permission to go today,” Saunders said.

Simon Chan has owned the bar with his name on it since 1984. He hears the rumors about the club’s demise. He said he doesn’t want to worry about something that could be a few years away, but recognizes his future is cloudy. The state is keeping Simon’s on a month-to-month lease.

“It’s premature to speculate what will happen,” he said last week. “Naturally, I hope I can stay. I’ve been good for this neighborhood.”

His bar is old school. The walls are covered with framed photographs of famous patrons. There are multiple pictures of Gov. Jerry Brown and one of Mayor Kevin Johnson. Kings legend Vlade Divac is in another photo, next to pictures of big downtown developers and Capitol staffers.

But is Simon’s losing its reverence?

“It’s a throwback to the days when legislators and lobbyists hung out with each other, smoked cigars and pounded back a few,” said Steve Maviglio, a new CADA board member and a longtime political operator in town. “For better or worse, those days are largely over – or at least that’s not the kind of thing you want captured on an iPhone taken in a bar like Simon’s.”

The bar still has its regulars like Borgquist and it still has its nearly iconic sign facing 16th Street. Maybe it will survive all the progress around it. Or maybe it will become just another old, beat-up place that you used to be able to go in Sacramento.

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