Back Door Lounge

Sacramento, California

Johnnie's Tavern - Columbus Dive Bar - Exterior

In Short

While many dive bars can be described as hidden gems, Sacramento’s Back Door Lounge takes the ‘hidden’ part to a new level, a dive bar lounge in a tourist-heavy Old Sacramento district tucked away down an alley away from the meandering crowds. Opened in 1968, the space is an explosion of red carpet, red wallpaper, red lights, red brick walls and deep brown wood throughout, very much earning the lounge distinction that comes with the name of this Sacramento staple.

Field Rating

8

out of 10

Soak in the classic red carpet, red brick, red awning vibe.

Field Note

Sometimes the word ‘lounge’ is included in the name of a dive bar as an ironic reference to old school, classy ambiance that doesn’t always match the image of dollar bills stapled to wood beams or graffiti scrawled along a bathroom wall. Back Door Lounge in Sacramento is, without a doubt, a true lounge, a hidden oasis in Old Sacramento, a location frustratingly difficult to find for first timers in a way that keeps out tourists milling only a block or two away.

As far as urban tourist districts go, Old Sacramento is not a bad one, a stretch of the city along the Sacramento River intentionally laid out to resemble a wild west patchwork boardwalk complete with train display and the fonts on signage you’d expect to see advertising grainy Wild West photos complete with props for the family. But Back Door Lounge offers something completely different, hidden in plain sight down one of the alleys that connects two of the busier areas within the district. The experience of finding Back Door Lounge is made all the more enjoyable by the low slope in the road that creates a very back-door-to-the-basement feeling when stumbling upon the Sacramento dive bar’s red doors for the first time.

Opened in 1968, Back Door Lounge feels like a place opened in 1968 and that is a very good thing in contrast to the manufactured Old West feeling outside.

Opened in 1968, Back Door Lounge feels like a place opened in 1968 and that is a very good thing in contrast to the manufactured Old West feeling outside. The Sacramento dive bar was opened by Frank Dick before selling to a group of investors, only to see his daughter, Gail, buy the dive bar back in 1980 and keep it in family hands until her death in 2021. Luckily, her daughters decided to carry on the family tradition, meaning Back Door Lounge remains a family-owned institution today and one that certainly looks like a dive bar pleasantly untouched by time.

The red paint along the bar’s exterior wall and its red door spoil a bit of the surprise that this is a profoundly plush, red interior of a dive bar lounge. Red string lights line the area above the bar to the left of the front door, the light reflecting off of mirrors behind the bar that break up red, patterned wallpaper underneath. A ridge around the top of the bar includes a short, red awning contrasted against black padded stools and old school tavern lamps underneath.

A short staircase to the bar’s second level carries with it a swooping red awning with the name of the bar imprinted above red carpeted steps. And indeed the red carpet is pervasive throughout the space, the color playing off of the red brick that lines most every wall within the Back Door Lounge. The vibe is heightened even further by black leather booths playing off of the red interior, all of it capped off by a small but grand-style piano in the corner of the dive bar’s main room that sits next to a small stage that features live music on a rotating basis.

Deep brown wooden chairs that look like they were ripped from the set of Cheers provide the balance of seating throughout the space.

Deep brown wooden chairs that look like they were ripped from the set of Cheers provide the balance of seating throughout the space, including on the second level that serves as a bit of a dive bar terrace, black wrought-iron banisters ensuring that the space feels like one, open lounge. White columns provide a bit of color relief, but all together, Back Door Lounge looks a classic Las Vegas casino-style lounge only without the pretense and manufactured nature that comes with Vegas. This is a Sacramento original and earns its status as the second oldest operating business in the densely packed Old Sacramento area.

Long known for its heavy pours (as it says in the bar’s redesigned logo), Back Door Lounge also holds a reputation for large portions during the bar’s breakfast & lunch hours. As you might expect within the old school confines of Back Door Lounge, the breakfast offers are old, diner-style favorites like biscuits and gravy interspersed with a modern omelet here and there. The doors open at 9 AM and don’t close until 2 AM most nights, offering ample opportunity to cap off that breakfast plate with a late night shot some 17 hours later.

The hunt is worth the inevitable misplaced turn that comes with visiting Back Door Lounge for the first time, in addition to fighting with the metered parking that surrounds the Old Sacramento area. But the reward here is a hidden, tucked away dive bar oasis that feels like a spot that someone has to know about to seek it out rather than stumble upon it accidentally. And that secluded, in-the-know feeling only heightens the experience of grabbing a drink while soaking in every ounce of the dive bar’s red, red and also red décor.

Photos

The Basics

1112 Firehouse Alley
Sacramento, CA 95814

Classification:
Downtown Dive

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