Q&A: Owner Garrett Van Vleck says business is booming at award-winning Shady Lady Saloon

Garrett Van Vleck, uncle to Christian, ‘17, and Tori, ‘19, is the owner of the Shady Lady Saloon, a bar in Sacramento (1409 R St.), which opened in April 2009.

(Photo used by permission of Garrett Van Vleck)
A busy night at Garrett Van Vleck’s Shady Lady Saloon.

Q: How did you get involved in the restaurant industry?

A: I have been working in the restaurant industry since I was 16. I took a break for a few years and then started working as a bouncer when I was about 24. After a couple years of doing that, I started bartending and then moved into management. During those years I met my business partners, who suggested opening a bar. At the time I was going to UC Davis to become a teacher and had never really thought about being a bar owner. It was an unexpected life path, to say the least.

Q: Was it difficult to get it up and running?

A: It was extremely difficult. It took almost two years from the time we started the process to get it open. There were so many things we had to learn along the way, and there are always unexpected complications building any restaurant.

Q: Was the Shady Lady your first establishment?

A: Yes.

(Photo used by permission of Garrett Van Vleck)
Garrett Van Vleck started in the restaurant industry when he was 16 years old.

Q: What’s the story behind the name “Shady Lady”?

A: My business partner used to frequent a bar in the Carmichael area. Behind the bar there was an old painting of a woman that they nicknamed “the shady lady.” When he brought this up as a suggestion for the bar’s name, we all loved it.

Over the two years of trying to get the place open, we had all kinds of ideas about what type of restaurant it would be, but the name always stayed the same.

Q: The Shady Lady was chosen as one of Esquire’s top 25 “Best Bars in America, 2014.” Did you think it would be so successful when you opened?

A: It was hard to know what to expect before we opened, but we were all really surprised by how quickly it took off. Overall it’s been really exciting to see how well it’s been received over the past few years.

The booze writer for Esquire Magazine, David Wondrich, came to town to speak at an event. The night before we all hung out at Shady Lady. I didn’t know he was going to include us on the list until after the article was already published. It was a really great surprise.

Q: What do you love about your job?

A: There are so many things I love about what I do. I love the room for creativity it gives me.

One of my favorite things is getting to do all of the interior design for all our spaces, along with coming up with menus and creating new drinks.

The other thing I really love is the community of people I get to work with. When you have a good staff at a restaurant, it becomes like a family. The restaurant world can be crazy, and you go through a lot together.

Q: What difficulties do you face in the restaurant industry?

A: I honestly wouldn’t even know where to begin with this. It would take me writing a short book to cover even half the things wrong with the bar and restaurant industry.

Q: What other establishments have you opened? Are you planning to open any new ones?

A: Right now we are partners in Shady Lady, Lowbrau, Block, Sail Inn and B-Side. We are getting ready to open a new place called Amaro in late August, which will be an Italian restaurant on 11th and R Streets.

(Photo used by permission of Garrett Van Vleck)
Van Vleck’s 70’s-themed B-Side bar opened in November at 1430 S St.


Q: Why do you believe there is a need for these spots in Sacramento?

A: With any new place we open, we try to fill a void in the bar and restaurant scene in Sacramento, whether with a style of food or just a unique environment. I can’t say there’s always a “need,” but when you’re opening a new place, you always want to do something different from everything else in town so that you stand out. It’s an extremely competitive industry, and if you aren’t different or better than other places, you won’t last long.

Q: What kind of atmospheres are you after?

A: Each place has its own unique atmosphere. Shady Lady is a 1920’s-inspired cocktail and jazz bar. Lowbrau is a German beer hall that serves sausages. Block is a small cocktail bar that specializes in charcuterie, and B-Side is a ’70s-inspired vinyl record bar with no food. With Amaro, we’re going in a bit of a different direction because it’s more of a restaurant than a bar.

—By Sahej Claire

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