Former actress Sandy Sachs took a disowned video lounge and rebuilt it into The Factory, one of the left coast’s largest and most consistently successful gay venues for both men and women.

By Daphne Carr

The Factory is a 15,000-square-foot, ultra-modern, Euro-style nightclub with great sight lines and sleek, futurist wall treatments. The building in which it’s housed is part of the legacy of Los Angeles. It started off as a camera company, was converted to a bomb factory during World War II, and in 1968, was owned by Frank Sinatra, Tony Curtis, Anthony Newly, and Sammy Davis Jr. It’s a space filled with star-making potential, and always ready, ahem, for a bang.

Today it is co-owned by lawyer Nate Goller and club manager Sandy Sachs. Sachs is no mere manager however: She built the club up from ruins, and with her girlfriend Robin Gans, created the largest lesbian-only party in the United States. On Friday night, her Girl Bar attracts over 1,000 women to the dancefloor and adjoining lounge – women won over by Sachs’ 10-plus years of making her club not just the best place to be for gays, but the best place, period. She may run the cleanest ship sailing through the night, and as one of the few female owners of a superclub, you can bet she’s got the best bathrooms.

New York is your hometown. What brought you to L.A.? The first reason was for a girl. Robin [Gans] moved out here with her girlfriend and we had already had an affair and I knew she was the one, but I was too young. Then they broke up and she called me. I wanted to be an actress so I said, “Okay,” and moved out.

Had you worked in the industry before moving to L.A.? I DJ-ed when I was in college at Tulane. Then in New York, I ended up bartending at Private Eyes, which was the place to be at the time. Madonna met Sean Penn there. It’s Cheetah now. I had been going in to the city since I was about 15, because New Jersey didn’t have picture IDs, and all I needed was one that was 21 with the right height and weight.

So if you went out to L.A. to be an actress, how did you end up owning a club? I got a job at a men’s video club, like Private Eyes, called Revolver. Within a week, the manager and his staff had quit and I was made general manager. They wanted to make me look the fool, but I went to the owner and said, “I can only make this work if you let me hire my own people,” which he did. So I hired Robin, who had run a big restaurant in New York, to do the back office. And then I turned it around and made the time I was there the highest grossing time in the history of the space.

How did Girl Bar start? When women heard that a gay woman was running the place, they just started showing up. It was disorganized, so I decided to open the back bar up as Girl Bar. It had it’s own entrance and everything. Soon, those Thursday nights were crawling with women. It moved to one Wednesday a month, and we charged a cover to keep the boys out. Then the guy who owned Studio One offered us a bigger space in which to do it. That was in November 1990, and that club became The Factory.

Was that the end of acting? Well, I had a few speaking parts in movies, but it just wasn’t moving fast enough for me. I was fearful of getting older and not owning anything. It wasn’t a hugely conscious decision, but at some point going to auditions got in the way of getting other things done. I’d cancel auditions, where I knew people who were leaving their kids at home to go to them. I thought, “I don’t really want this.”

Once you shifted gears, did you know you wanted to own?
Well, the three owners of the club had basically run it into the ground. When I stepped in as manager, they abandoned the club and left me holding the bag. They all moved out of town. When the lease came up in 1999, I said “Listen, I want to buy the club. Either you sell or I’m out,” which wasn’t exactly true since I wouldn’t just walk away. The landlord was a lawyer and had been helping me understand some things about the business – workmen’s comp, which is a big thing in California, serious stuff because no one is on the take (unlike in New York). I went to him and said, “Give me the lease and I’ll make you my partner.” It was pretty hardball, but it had been nine years of my life and I wasn’t about to continue being a slave. He agreed, and in May 1999 we shut down the place and did a $2.5 million renovation.

We gutted the entire place. Nothing was worth keeping. I got Martin Audio to do the whole thing, and dropped everything you would ever want into the booth. I told them, “I want the system to be so good that the DJs can never blow a speaker.” There are really two separate clubs: The Factory and Ultra Suede, the lounge, with two booths and separate systems.

We put two bars in each part, dressing rooms, took up half of the kitchen, and added bathrooms.

The Factory hosts parties for both gay men and gay women. How do you cater to two different audiences in the same building? Gay men party differently. It’s difficult to plan parties, because lesbians don’t like the sweaty, druggy atmosphere. I’m trying to program more comedy and dinners to give people alternatives to dancing. I mean, there’s a whole segment of the gay [male] population that doesn’t dance, and I just realized, hey, what do they do?

That caused me to start Twist and Pop Starz in the lounge, Ultra Suede. One Saturday I was on the floor and I heard two guys, who were maybe two of the seven who still had their shirts on, saying, “Do you know this music, because I don’t.” So [the new] nights appeal to that crowd, to guys who like pop music and less intense conditions. They’re packed, and there’s very little crossover between them and the Saturday crowd.

In general, I think that lesbians aren’t very musically savvy. They crack me up, ‘cause they think that the music we play is on Saturday for the boys is “techno” because it’s electronic and has a steady beat; it’s boom-boom-boom all night long, with smooth beat-matching. One of my DJs who played for the Girl Bar crowd said, “You know, if I don’t change genres after five songs, they’ll leave the floor.” And so I get my DJs to stop beat matching for Girl Bar, to change tempos and genres up constantly. The girls scream now when a new, unexpected track comes on.

I’ve read about your door policy to screen out straight men on girl nights. Really? Well, we go overboard to set the tone, telling them explicitly from a card read to them before they come in, “This is a club for women by women.” If any woman reports that a guy has gotten out of line, we kick him out. No questions asked. They don’t abuse it, and very few men feel they’ve been unjustly ejected. The guys who come to Girl Bar walk on eggshells.

Do you see yourself getting out of the business? Well, I would like to get out of the face of clubbing. I really enjoy putting together ads, developing ideas and talking to promoters. It’s not like it was when I started, that the promoter had to do everything, so in some ways I think the people coming in have it a little easier. I mean, if it’s a bad night, they still get paid. Still, I’ve been able to mentor people on all the nights but Girl Bar: I can’t find anyone who would be good doing it, which is kind of hard to believe.

And I love DJ-ing. I’ve been doing some downtempo stuff in Ultra Suede, understated stuff that gives people the chance to lounge and chat.

What do you think of the future of The Factory?
Well, people don’t go out as much as they did. Computers have really screwed up our business. We lose a lot of people to the Internet – meeting in safer environments, with less fear of rejection. That’s why we’re boosting our online Lesbian Network, which is going to be a paid, sophisticated meet-up search engine. We have 1.5 million hits on the site a month, so we hope that it will be a sort of virtual Girl Bar.

You and Robin have been in a long-term relationship for the entirety of Girl Bar’s history. Has that affected your relationship? And has being a lesbian in the nightclub industry had any negative repercussions? Robin and I are pretty secure and we’re not out to prove anything. People aren’t intimidated by us, and I don’t think we’ve ever been discriminated against. Really, it just causes a lot of intrigue to strangers, and since I put business first, I don’t really make it an issue if people don’t know.

Really, I’ve had more problems with the gay men’s community than the straight world. I mean, at least straight men like women. Now that I’ve clawed my way to the top, I think that they might see me as a gay man. At Revolver they wouldn’t hire me, but I kept coming back every week until the bartender let it slip that they were looking for an assistant manager. The manager wouldn’t interview me, so I asked him for the owner’s phone number. When I got hired, the manager quit and took his staff with him. He thought he could just screw me. But I hired Robin, I hired my own VJ from NYC, and I turned that club around.

Do you have a favorite spot in The Factory where you watch things unfold? There’s a corner right by the bar where I can see the entire dance club, people dancing and people coming in. I like to stand there and be introspective, or to check out how everything is working. Am I the only one who notices three Trackspots are out? Why does it take me to notice? That’s what I’ll ask the guys the next day, and they tell me how tired they are. I say, “I get up every day at 6:30, so don’t talk to me about being tired.”


Copyright 2004 Club Systems International Magazine
Copyright 2004 TESTA Communications