Capitalized on Fun
City sings blues without Randy and Simon
By R.E. Graswich
Back in March, when my friend and saloonkeeper Simon Chan died from COVID, I wanted to figure out what Simon meant to Sacramento. I contacted another friend and saloonkeeper, Randy Paragary. “Simon was here for the best of times,” Randy told me. “Not as much fun now.”
Five months later, Randy was dead from a virulent pancreatic cancer. Simon’s death was drawn out over months with hospitalizations and respirators. Randy went fast, barely four weeks from diagnosis to last breath. Sacramento was at its best with them and will never be as much fun without them.
Randy and Simon were different people with different stories. Simon owned one bar and restaurant. Randy owned dozens. Simon was raised in Hong Kong and earned money as a handsome teenaged model. Randy was a Sacramento kid from C.K. McClatchy High School. As a teenager, he was a waterski champion who once stole beer from the Land Park Golf Course snack bar.
In other ways, they were the same. Both ended up in the hospitality trade because they loved to have fun, especially in bars, especially at night. Neither had pretentions about being anything other than saloonkeepers and restaurateurs, business owners whose success depended on showing customers a good time. They were impresarios, showmen. This was something they never denied.
Politically speaking, they were brothers, two old-school conservative businessmen. This was something they kept quiet, understandably, given their reliance on Sacramento’s elected officials, political consultants, lobbyists and civil servants, mostly Democrats who remain considerably more liberal than Simon and Randy ever were.
It’s a testament to the taciturn professionalism of the city’s two premier saloonkeepers that few customers could assign any political allegiance to Randy or Simon. Both loved to talk about politics, just not their own.
When politicians called from City Hall or the state Capitol and asked Randy to donate food for a fundraiser, he rarely said no. At Simon’s the walls were plastered with photographs of politicians regardless of party, though Simon sometimes removed pictures of election losers.
Randy and Simon had friends at City Hall—it’s hard to be successful in business and fight your local City Council member—but what they really wanted from City Hall was to be left alone.
Their most exasperating experiences happened when they engaged with the bureaucracy, seeking permits or dealing with health inspections. They operated in old buildings with imperfect insulation and plumbing. When they were cited for minor problems it made news, just because it was Simon or Randy.
Simon leased his 16th Street location from the Capitol Area Development Authority, a public-property landlord that was either his ideal partner or worst nightmare, depending on who ran the agency. Now CADA is demolishing Simon’s bar.
Randy owned the real estate at his bars and restaurants at 28th and N streets and 15th and R, plus his new hotel at 28th and Capitol. But he was an epic renter.
Centro Cochina and his former Downtown sites were leased. He was upset when false rumors claimed he received city subsidies for a restaurant, theater and nightclub at 10th and K. The developer—Randy’s landlord—was subsidized, not Randy.
The only time Randy relied heavily on government subsidies was in Stockton. City officials begged him to open a restaurant in a refurbished hotel. They provided free rent. Even then, the project failed. Fun is a tough business.
Randy and Simon never talked about retirement. I think they feared it. COVID devastated them, but they weren’t ready to quit. “We have no money coming in. We have no employees. We’re on hold,” Randy told me last year. Simon said something similar: “All I can do is wait until I can reopen.”
Randy was 74, Simon 69. Neither made preparations for death. They expected to keep living. Now Sacramento has to replace them, find new saloonkeepers who can draw crowds and create fun for four or five decades.
I think that’s impossible. But it’s hard to be objective when you knew and admired and loved two guys who made fun look so easy.
R.E. Graswich can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento