The opening of Cafe Bernardo and KBar on K Street in the past two weeks by local restaurateur Randy Paragary are the latest steps in what many see as the street’s return to its former status as a vibrant shopping and entertainment district.
“What we’re seeing is a return of the nightlife centers to K Street, and that’s historically something it traditionally was,” said local historian William Burg. “A lot of it was forcibly done away with during the redevelopment era, but from the Gold Rush to the 1960s, K Street was where it was at.”
Burg said the street was, until the latter part of the 20th century, a hub of activity – from retail to restaurants and nightlife spots. In later years, buildings emptied and, despite there still being activity on the street, perceptions changed.
The new KBar and its adjoining Cafe Bernardo on the corner of 10th and K streets is the fourth Cafe Bernardo for Paragary. It replaces Cosmo Café, which he said he opened in 2007 to serve patrons of the Cosmopolitan Cabaret Theatre.
What started off as a strong business model took a hit during the recession, and even now that the recession is technically over, Paragary said the concept didn’t fit the area.
After considering how to fit in with the neighborhood, Paragary said he embarked on a $400,000 remodel of Cosmo Café to change it to a business model he said is designed to appeal to those who frequent the area for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late-night eats and drinks.
Cafe Bernardo is billed as a European-style cafe with entrées ranging from under $10 to about $14, a midrange venue in the district that he said is dominated by higher-end restaurants such as Ella Dining Room & Bar, Grange and his own Esquire Grill, which opened about 13 years ago.
“You had a lot of those finer-dining places, and then you had Blimpie and Subway,” he said. “For the people around here, they aren’t going to the high-end places every day. Those are occasional places for retirements or birthdays.
“This is not Google’s headquarters,” he added. “This is California’s headquarters, and a lot of the people around here are state workers.”
Paragary said that if midrange dining options such as the nearby Ambrosia and Cafe Bernardo succeed, it will likely make others take notice, and he speculated that businesses such as Jack’s Urban Eats and Chipotle might take an interest in the downtown portion of K Street.
“We’re open from 7 a.m. until midnight, and our neighbor, Pizza Rock, is open until 3 a.m. serving food,” he said. “People are coming down here more and more.”
Burg agreed with Paragary that the area is reclaiming its former status as a destination within the city.
“It absolutely has seen a resurgence,” Burg said. “Just in the past couple of years. That project on the 1000 block of K Street – in some ways it was used as the butt of jokes and the bludgeon against redevelopment, but it worked.”
Lisa Martinez, spokeswoman for the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, said that in the past year, 43 new businesses opened downtown, with four of them located on K Street and another eight located in the immediate vicinity, six of which are on the numbered streets.
“The city is looking beyond J, K and L as thoroughfares and seeing how they can make what they call the numbered streets more vibrant,” Paragary said.
Cafe Bernardo features a large elevated patio capable of seating about 22 along 10th Street. He said city officials made the process easy, allowing him to get it built and operational without having to face multiple hurdles.
Martinez credited the businesses on and around K Street with taking it from a blighted area to moving in the direction of regaining its former status.
“I think that over the past several years we’ve seen a lot of promise with K Street with a lot of new business owners coming in,” she said. “They’re creating a good, vibrant area in that space.”