Sandy Sachs owns the Bourbon Pub & Parade at "gay ground zero" in New Orleans.
Many people now recognize you as an international lesbian icon. How does that make you feel?
Well, I love being a leader. I truly enjoy meeting people and the whole international aspect with the event that we are doing, Dinah Shore in Las Vegas, as well as my club in New Orleans. I get to meet a lot of international gays and lesbians, and so it's very cool to be thought of as an international lesbian icon.
You have maintained a prominent presence in the world of the LGBT community for some time now. [Sachs has a hearty laugh.] How has purchasing the Bourbon Pub enabled you to come full circle in the business of providing entertainment for that specific community?
It's interesting that you mentioned that aspect of how I have come full circle. Here is an interesting tidbit: The Bourbon Pub & Parade was the very first gay club that I had ever stepped into, when I was in college at Tulane. I came out when I was 19 years old, and so when a group of athletes (we were kind of closeted for a while) had decided to venture out, the Bourbon Pub is where everyone told us to go, and so that's where we went. And so it's really interesting that 30 years later, I have come full circle to buy the Bourbon Pub, and it's given me the opportunity to go back to New Orleans and contribute to the rebuilding of New Orleans by marketing the city and bringing people there. That's my job; that's what I see myself doing in many respects, to do outreach on behalf of the city to the rest of the country and to the rest of the world and tell them, "Hey, come see us down in New Orleans."
You own the largest gay club in New Orleans. How on Earth did you come to own gay ground zero in the Big Easy?
Well, you know the old adage: It's all about who you know. I was very fortunate that the then-owner of the Bourbon Pub & Parade [Bobby] is my very best friend. I met him in my early 20s and consulted for him in the '90s, when the new club across the street opened up. He was in need of promotional help and didn't know how to compete. He knew I was a good marketer and promoter, and he asked me to come down to New Orleans, so in the mid '90s I went down and redesigned the whole club for him. I also had worked for the original owner, Jerry Menefee, who did not like women at all. I was the first woman that he had ever hired. So Bobby got the club from Jerry [Bobby was Jerry's accountant], and when Jerry passed away and it was time for Bobby to retire, he could only think of one person who would be able to carry on the legacy of the Bourbon Pub. I had also helped to shape the new format, the new look of the Bourbon Pub that Bobby was running, and so he made me an offer that I simply couldn't refuse. I didn't actually want to buy it. I was happy being here in L.A., but he told me to 'just come on down and talk to me,' and that if I still didn't want to buy the club, it would be OK. So I went down, and it was a very surreal type of thing that you see on television, like a portrayal of when the mafia is seen doing a deal. Bobby had a piece of folded paper with the offer written on the inside. He slid the paper across the table, and I proceeded to read the contents of the note. And it was there that I read the offer for the club that I couldn't refuse.
This year's Southern Decadence came on the heels of Hurricane Isaac. How did you make out personally in terms of damage to the Bourbon Pub or any other property you may own in New Orleans?
Well, we are very fortunate that the French Quarters is the highest point of any area in New Orleans. Now, we were affected by the rain and wind. (We actually had to close the bar for two days.) Bourbon Street was a scary sight, without a soul on the street except the National Guard and their Hummer vehicles. There was a curfew in place, and everyone had to shut down their business.
How do you deal with potential security issues at the Bourbon Pub? Do you employ a posse of brutal bouncers or have something worked out with N.O.P.D.?
Well, the N.O.P.D. cannot work for anyone who has a liquor license. They used to be able to, and we had a detail in place, but that was a while ago. Now we just have a well-trained security team. And of course we have to deal with intoxicated people on a regular basis, but my team is well-trained, and I will always overhire on any given night. I like to make sure that my patrons have a safe environment, and we work very well with N.O.P.D. We can call up any of the officers, and they come right away to handle anything that could potentially become a larger problem.
How has the city of New Orleans embraced you since you took over the reins as owner of the Bourbon Pub -- especially the locals?
I think the locals are warming up. I think some people didn't know my history with the Bourbon Pub and New Orleans, so they thought I was a complete outsider. New Orleanians are a very proud group, very proud people who also are very close-knit. If you're not from New Orleans, you are an outsider, plain and simple. But once my history got out and people found out I had lived there for a while and had gone to school there and had previously worked at the Bourbon Pub, they began to warm up to me. The most difficult and challenging aspect to that process, I believe, is due to the fact that I am a woman owning the big gay boy club. I think there are still some issues with that, and perhaps there always will be. But it's something that I have faced my whole career, being a strong woman in a man's world and in a man's game. I've always had to fight a little bit harder.
What ethnicity are you?
I'm half Ukrainian and half Panamanian.
Has the Decadence experience been altered for you now that you see it through the eyes of an owner-operator as opposed to merely being someone who has come down to party their you-know-what off?
No doubt! Every year, because it is the peak of hurricane season, the stress factor is just killer. I sit there for weeks ahead, going, "Oh, my god, oh, my god, I hope we don't get hit with a major hurricane." As a patron, it's like, "Hey, great, if we make it, if we don't, it's OK." Bottom line is that the investment is not there as a patron, whereas for me it's a huge investment on that weekend, a nice piece of change, for sure. And so it's very stressful to know that Mother Nature could whisk it all away in one fell swoop. So, yeah, when Mother Nature complies, it's great to be the owner of the Bourbon Pub during Decadence. When Decadence gets hit by hurricanes, I'd rather be a patron.
Can you mention the names of any celebrities who have come to party at the B.P. since you became owner?
There are so many who come in and out, but recently we had Kelly Ripa come in with her husband. We've done a party with Adam Lambert, and Brian Singer, the director, is one of our best patrons. He flies everybody down there on his jet. I'd love to be him!
What separates the B.P.'s Decadence experience from that of some of your competitors?
Well, the Bourbon Pub is considered ground zero during Decadence because we are the largest club, plus I have the store across the street, which we use as the headquarters for the event. I'm smart enough to put together a pamphlet, and people can come on over to pick up their tickets. But people have a tendency to bar hop down in the French Quarter, because so many of the bars are so close together. At the end of the day, everyone wants a change of scenery, and so it works out fine. Everyone gets their fair share of the action -- we get the most, because we're the biggest and can fit the most -- but every bar has their own little flavor, so it depends on what flavor you're looking for on what night. But the completion between the bars works out very well.
How is the V.I.P. pass different from the weekend pass during Decadence at the Bourbon Pub?
The V.I.P. pass gets you an entirely private entrance, your own open-bar cocktail party, all you can drink for two hours, and an awesome gift bag, which includes the commemorative Southern Decadence T-shirt as well as other goodies.
The Bourbon Pub is the only gay nightclub in New Orleans that remains open 24/7. Who on Earth is still partying between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.?
Scary thought, but I have to tell you that there is no time in that 24 hours where there is no one in that club. I have customers come in that have a cocktail before they go to work -- no lie. A Bloody Mary, a mimosa, you name it. They stop by, grab their cocktail, and go to work.
Can you comment on the level of endurance one may need to get through a full Decadence weekend of partying and losing all inhibitions?
An unbelievable amount -- and that is because it is round-the-clock partying. When you are in Vegas, you have a lot of distractions. You have some gambling, you have the shows, etc. When you get down to New Orleans and go to the French Quarter, you are going to fabulous restraints early, and then you're drinking until its daylight.
Do you have any plans to create and or own a club that would ultimately cater to a predominately lesbian clientele in New Orleans?
Well, Tuesday night is Girl Bar night in New Orleans at the Bourbon Pub. We do extremely well on that night. We do a drag king show, and we pack 'em in on a Tuesday night. Lesbians do not go out with the frequency that gay men do, and so one would be dark quite a few nights if they opened up a specific business for lesbians. But we do the one night for lesbians, and it's working out fine.
You have used the B.P. to embrace larger issues that sometimes have political implications, such as the Trevor Project and NOH8 Campaign. What motivated you to take up these causes, and will you continue to do so?
I've always believed in partying with a purpose. Being a leader in the community, it's important to embrace our causes and issues that affect the LGBT community and bring it to the forefront of my patrons and people in the community. When I brought Adam Bouska down to New Orleans, you would have thought it was Christmas in July. People lined up around the block. By the way, the director of the Trevor Project is an old, dear friend of mine, Abbe Land. So a lot of what happens at the Bourbon Pub I bring in from Los Angeles. I basically import it to help bring New Orleans a bit more current and in-the-know about our exciting political events. It's my way of trying to give back to the New Orleans gay community.