Man, I wish I had me some start-up capital
I am staring at a truly great business opportunity.
Of course, I’m probably the wrong person to be opening a big gay bar. I don’t drink, and I’m not gay, and as a businessman, my skills leave a hell of a lot to be desired; balancing a checkbook has never been my forte.
Still, crazier things have happened. And so here I sit in a Peet’s Coffee & Tea location at the corner of 20th and J Streets in Midtown Sacramento, looking across the ice-skating rink at a two-story red-brick building. I know that building; I used to work inside it when the Sacramento News & Review was housed there. I used to think about what a great drinking establishment it could make, given its history. And I knew for a long time that the News & Review was planning a move out to its sharp new green-tech headquarters in a converted supermarket on Del Paso Boulevard in North Sacramento — a move the weekly paper finally made a couple of weeks ago.
Ah, why am I wasting my time daydreaming about this? It’s probably been leased or bought already by one of the two mixed-drink moguls who vie for dominion over the 20th and K intersection nearby. It’ll have some cheesy branding, probably centered around one of the Village People characters who haven’t yet been honored by a theme bar in that part of town, yet: bikers, or construction workers, or cops, or maybe an Indian chief. It will be all the rage for a while.
Still, I’d like to make a case for a nightclub that would occupy the former Miller & Skelton Funeral Home location.
First, the name: Let’s call it “Stiffs.”
Yes, Stiffs is a double entendre, one that refers either to an erect penis, or to a dead body. I suppose you could have both. Anyway, a double entendre that references sex and death would be especially potent as a marketing peg, wouldn’t you think? I mean, as a club that caters to a fashionable crowd, gay and straight, might find more of a plus than a minus in playing up the death angle. We’re all going to die eventually. So why not have a good time getting embalmed with your friends in a convivial atmosphere, one that transforms a repugnant theme into something much more celebratory?
Second, let’s talk about the exterior: The outside elevations of 1015 20th Street are bright red today; when Miller & Skelton abandoned it in the early 1980s to merge with Culjis & Herberger on Alhambra Boulevard, the building was Pepto-Bismol pink. I propose it be painted black. Which might be slightly problematic in the summertime, but NASA scientists probably know of at least one kind of black paint that doesn’t automatically turn an object into a solar oven. A big black brick building housing a bar called Stiffs is the way to go.
Third, the graphic identity: Edward Gorey (1925-2000) was a writer and illustrator whose books depicted a cartoonish Victorian and Edwardian sense of the macabre, which would provide the perfect look for a nightclub trying to establish a keen visual presence as a mortuary converted into a drinking establishment. A color theme limited to black, white and warm gray would be recommended, at least in all the advertising and promotional materials. This would convey the proper gothic image.
I’d leave it to whatever talented interior designer jumped at the chance to doll the place up inside, but I’d humbly suggest that the accoutrements of the afterlife be featured prominently, with caskets — and coffins, with six sides rather than four — either displayed for decorative purposes only, or provided for clandestine sexual activities; various tools of embalming, such as trocars, surgical instruments and the like, could be mounted on walls for atmosphere, too. The iconography of Victorian and Edwardian mortuaries can supply a rich field of visual ideas for the designer. In addition, a stylish uniform-design language for employees can be found in Gorey’s work.
A few other possibilities: A coachbuilder could be contracted to fabricate a special stretch hearse model, to ferry V.I.P. clients home if they’ve gotten themselves a bit too embalmed to drive. A Victorian horse-drawn hearse might be employed for promotional purposes. And special rooms could be set up, wherein clients could pay extra to experience embalming in a hyperbaric chamber, or get “cremated” on tanning beds. Most likely, many other creative ideas will arise.
I think a drinking establishment branded as Stiffs, and fitted as I’ve described above, could be a huge hit, and would be the best possible use of the building at 1015 20th Street in Midtown Sacramento. —Jackson Griffith