Business woman, outspoken advocate, sex symbol, party queen: all are ways people could and have described Sandy Sachs. She’s perhaps most famous for involvement with Girl Bar and the expansion of the Dinah Shore weekend which has become the world’s biggest lesbian gathering. Her business savvy has given her a reputation as a cutthroat businesswoman. She’s also been credited as the inspiration for the beloved Dawn Denbo on Showtime’s The L Word. Her latest investment brings her back to one of her favorite places in the world, New Orleans, where she is the new owner of the iconic Bourbon Pub and Parade (check out Sachs' breakdown of things to do in New Orleans on Out Traveler's "My City" section!). OUT sat down with Sandy to talk business, the Big Easy, and what it means to be sexy over 50.
OUT: Why New Orleans?
Sandy Sachs: Sometimes it’s hard to describe. Everybody says, “I love the architecture, food, and music.” Which is great. I brought some friends who came down and they were looking around saying, “I feel like I’m in Europe!” but there’s just an underlying energy. It brings the crazy out in people, which is just great. New Orleans embraces crazy. People let go and let their wild side out. That’s why they call it the Big Easy; because everyone’s easy about everything. Then they go back to where they are from and have to put themselves back in the box. New Orleans encourages people to get out of their box.
How did an LA businesswoman end up running the Bourbon Pub and Parade?
SS: I have a long history with The Bourbon Pub. I worked there in the early 80’s under the original owners. It’s been controversial having a woman owning one of the biggest gay boy nightclubs. The former owner of the Bourbon Pub is my best friend, Bobby Revere. He wanted to retire. He was ready. He’d been doing it since 1986.
Did you make any changes?
SS: It’s cleaner now. I’m a clean freak. If people are gonna eat and drink somewhere they have to be comfortable. It’s run tighter, more attention to detail. Make sure the people running it aren’t fucked up on drugs and alcohol. And bring more innovative DJs and acts. I’m bringing France Joli for Southern Decadence. These are people working with me for years and it’s just a phone call for me.
How did you end up in New Orleans?
SS: I grew up partially in New York and partially in Denmark. I was born in New York and moved to Denmark when I was six and moved to New Jersey at ten. Then I got a tennis scholarship at Tulane in New Orleans.
Is tennis where the drive to push yourself comes from?
SS: I think so, because of the competitiveness. I think the challenge. It’s easier to run against yourself than to run against someone else. I love competition. It really gets me going. One of the things that I love about tennis is that it taught me discipline. I had to give up a lot to play tennis. When everyone else is out having fun and going to parties, you’re going to tournaments. But I’m grateful because it kept me out of trouble. I got to learn what it means to lose and learn what it means to win. I like winning better. When I have a loss I really take that opportunity to learn. You do learn more when you lose.
It doesn’t sound like you lose much anymore.
SS: I had a big loss three years ago. That’s the lesson. In my case, when a window closes a garage door opens. I believe in karma and trying to do the right thing as often as you can.
What was the hardest decision you’ve had to make in business?
SS: I’d have to say the hard comes after. You realize something is hard after you’ve made it. The toughest decision I’ve had to make was the restaurant cause it didn’t work out. I had to close it. Emotionally it was tough. From a business perspective it was tough.
Is it tough to do the right thing in business?
SS: I think the question is, do you know what the right thing is? If people knew what the right thing was they’d do it. Often that option is sitting right in front of me and in doing the right thing I might lose a little something but I get a greater good in the end.
Do you see yourself as a tough business woman?
SS: When I look at myself I don’t consider myself tough. People look at a good decision as sometimes being tough. I don’t see it as tough, I see it as making good decisions. How it impacts other people is what people see as tough because it might not be the way that they want it.
What were you like as a kid?
SS: Precocious. My mom said that from the day I could walk and talk I defied her. What I’ve come to realize that I didn’t really defy her, I just knew who I was and wanted to do it my way.
How important is it to discover your own way?
SS: It’s ultimately one of the most important things for anyone; to get to know and be comfortable with that. If people perceive you as doing things in a bad way, that’s too bad. It’s only someone else’s opinion anyway.
When did you come out?
SS: I came out to my dad first. Dads always take it better, unless you’re a boy. I came out when I was 25. I came out to my mom when I was 28. My dad was cool and said, “As long as you’re happy.” My mom cried for a week.
What do you think it means to be a modern OUT women?
SS: It means that there is some responsibility. It means that I’m a leader and I need to take responsibility to be a good example. Unfortunately in my life I always choose the harder path. I just figure that there are more lessons on the harder path. The Bourbon Pub and Parade was an opportunity but it wasn’t an easy path. At the age of 49 I had to uproot my entire life and move to a city that has had a hard time. I wanted to be part of New Orleans putting itself back on its feet. Now I’m on a plane and constantly living out of a suitcase. But I do what I have to do.
What can you tell us about the Golden Gays?
SS: It’s groundbreaking! People told me, “No don’t do it! It will ruin your image.” What image is that? Why not show people that at 51 your life isn’t over. It’s The Hills, a Real L Word, all of that stuff with people over 50. We all have very full lives. The main cast is four men and two women. Part of my image is that I’m this tough ruthless business woman, but I would answer something with my truth and they would say, “Say it like Sandy Sachs would.” And I’d go, “Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?” Vallia is on the show, I actually know her from the Girl Bar days. We had a great funny scene at a restaurant. She was trying to pitch me to invest in this overnight spa business. They had her bring these rocks to lunch and put them in front of me and I’m looking at her like, “Are you kidding me?” It’s gonna be a good show. They shot Dinah Shore, they shot White Party, they shot Fashion Week in Palm Springs, and Mardi Gras. I think what’s gonna be great about it is that people are gonna see what after 50 is really like. It’s going to air on Slice in Canada.
What is sexiness at 51?
SS: I think people are the sexiest after 50. I think sexiness has to do with really knowing yourself better than you’ve ever known yourself and being ok with whoever you are. I go to the Abbey and get the younger women hitting on me in their twenties and I don’t get it. They’re pretty to look at it but I look at them and think, they don’t have a clue yet. Sexy to me is someone who feels good in their own skin.
You also keep yourself in pretty good shape too right?
SS: I started boxing a few months ago because I needed to shake it up a little bit. I needed a wow factor. Unless you do it, you can’t imagine the shape you have to be in to do it. Also I’ve never done drugs contrary to popular believe. People don’t believe you can be a club owner and not do drugs. Totally not true.
If you ran into the young version of yourself today, what advice would you give her?
SS: I’d say, “Good for you. Keep doing what you’re doing because you already know what your way is.”