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K Street’s resurgence

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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.

He added that when Pizza Rock, Dive Bar and District 30 opened more than a year ago, a different demographic came to 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.”

Other businesses have opened in the area recently as well, including Tequila Museo Mayahuel, Blackbird Kitchen & Bar, Estelle’s Patisserie, Plaza Café Lounge and Broadacre Coffee.

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.”

Brandon Darnell is a staff reporter for The Sacramento Press. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.

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Brandon Darnell

  • Awesome news. Thanks Randy for having faith in the K Street comeback!

  • William Burg

    “Vibrant” is developer-speak for “fully leased.”

    • nolongerinsac

      What’s wrong with that? It’s better than homeless bums and empty storefronts.

    • William Burg

      Is that the only alternative?

    • nolongerinsac

      What alternatives would you suggest? Whether its restaurants, bars, theaters, stores, or housing someone has to own the property and generally someone has to lease it.

    • William Burg

      Specific use matters. A leased office building will be as dark and vacant-looking as a vacant building at night. A leased residential building means foot traffic and residents invested in the well-being of the neighborhood in which they live, especially if it is ownership housing. Retail provides sales tax and economic activity. Bars, theaters, restaurants and nightclubs add evening foot traffic and more economic activity, although they come with consequences of higher security needs and noise, and if not well-managed can detract from other uses like residential and retail.

      A lot of K Street is fully leased, but looks pretty grim at night because the uses are primarily offices that close at 5 PM and have little or no interaction with the street on the ground floor. Encouraging office uses on higher floors, more residential units, and a diverse mix of ground floor uses will produce more of what you and I might think of as a “vibrant” neighborhood–one that is busy into the evening hours, that people call home at night, that people care about and want to visit and experience. Midtown has some of these characteristics–but there is potential for much more in the downtown core, with the right resident mix.

  • Jon Harlow

    Thank god we had strong mayor to make these changes! Oh wait….

    • William Burg

      And an arena to stimulate growth! Oh wait…

    • Marc Ronson

      The arena would have stimulated growth and the mayor did a great job trying to make that happen. What have you done recently William to stimulate the economy in such a large way?

    • William Burg

      Sorry, I don’t have $600,000 to spend on consultants handy.

    • Gee do you have to take every opportunity to take a dig at the mayor? Enough already. He has been no worse or better than any other mayor as far as I can tell.

    • Thank god we had redevelopment to bring life back to K street!

  • Carlos Eliason

    this amongst other new establishments makes me excited about k street. i’ve already eaten here too much since the opening!

  • Walked by on this block at around 3:00 this afternoon and there were several people eating at both Cafe Bernardo and Pizza Rock. Haven’t seen a post lunch, pre dinner crowd on K Street for a long time, if ever.

  • Bill Burgua

    So why did the Cosmo Cafe fail when it was specifically created for than location and Cafe Bernardo which there are several of won’t fail?

    It could be because the most prominent thing on the property is the K-Bar. So far Cafe Bernardo looks like an after thought in the back. Shifting the priority is probably smart since a huge percentage of Sacramentens would rather drink than eat any day.

    • Julie Murphy

      I was on K Street this past weekend (Saturday and Sunday) and lots of people were eating both inside and outside at Kbar/Cafe Bernardo. Tenth Street was something of a visual dead zone before the patio was installed. I think this is a welcome addition to the streetscape downtown.

    • nolongerinsac

      The problem with the Cosmo Cafe concept was that it didn’t draw people who weren’t headed to the theater. The new K-Bar / Cafe Bernardo stands on its own.

    • William Burg

      What makes this bar and restaurant stand on their own? It’s a bar above a restaurant–the previous one was a bar above a restaurant. What changed about the business model, other than the name and some interior decorating?

  • Walked by their the other day. Looked a bus from Roseville dropped off a bunch of Chads and Heathers. No thanks

    • nolongerinsac

      That’s OK, there are still plenty of crappy dive bars in town for hipsters to get their PBR.

  • Dale Kooyman

    One way to help Downtown’s economic viability and attract bar/club/restaurant customers there is to return Midtown to a business center which featured various kinds of retail that Midtowners need so we don’t have to drive to outlying areas to get them. Those needed businesses began and continue to leave one by one as the over concentration bars/clubs took over and compete with Downtown’s bars/clubs.

    • Midtown bars are evil…we get it. What I’d LIKE to get is untangled from trying to follow the eight-ball logic of your post.

  • Dale Kooyman

    Easy and common sense. I never said Midtown bars are evil, so you’re not “getting it.” We’ve had a limited number of good ones for years but the more recent “undue concentration”(ABC’s findings) introduced changes to the dynamics. It’s called competition! It is an economic reality that people have limited spendable income on “entertainment” and they will choose to spend it where they can get the most for those bucks. They consider not only costs of drinks but ease and cost of parking. Midtown has lost many retail shops and boutiques over the last few years—they can’t afford the high rents that alcohol sellers can afford. The owners who proposed “fight bar” on J made that economic reality very clear to people who attended their meeting–maybe you weren’t there.

  • Elaine Johnson

    The most obvious difference between Cosmo and Bernardo’s, which anyone who has been to both would recognize, is price point and concept. Cosmo was a fine dining restaurant, which, as stated in the article, turned out not to be able to hold its own, either in the location or against its competitors in the vicinity. C.B. is a known quantity downtown, which accepts phone-in orders, has a lower price point, and is potentially more state worker friendly for a weekday lunch crowd. It may also take some of the crowd overflow from Midtown. Whether it will thrive remains to be seen, because K Street remains a dicey proposition for some demographics. As far as the mayor goes, the most strength he could show in town, would be to hang out where he says everyone else should hang out, when he says it’s perfectly safe to hang out, and have his entourage spend cash while they’re all there. THAT would seriously stimulate the local economy!

  • Great little article. Thank you Randy for giving me an opportunity to be your Interior Designer for these two projects. Best regards and much success with the new venture!!! – Jelena Suman-Jarosz @ Narona Design.

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