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
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
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
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
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
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
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.”