By Scott Thomas Anderson
The Stockman Club opened on a hangover from the Roaring 20s and made itself the drinking den that got Fair Oaks through the Great Depression and straight into the war years.
Nearly eight decades later, the landmark holds the second oldest liquor license in Sacramento County. And it feels a bit hidden from the world – a little anonymous, as it’s just over a nondescript hill along a forgettable section of Sunrise Boulevard. But if one makes that windy turn and finds The Stockman around the bend, its character immediately jumps out. There’s a California-western tint to its steadfast façade, while the inside has ball caps hung from bull horns and matching golf bags anchored to the bricks just over a vintage saloon mirror. The place is a beautifully blue-collar cave to run from the afternoon in.
Last Saturday, The Stockman Club hosted the memorial service for Jay Eisenberg, a veteran of Golden State’s music industry and beloved show promoter in Downtown Sacramento. The reason The Stockman was the site for Eisenberg’s send-off was that, though he’d continued supporting local performers to the end, he had spent the last 12 years of his life behind its bar, acting as something of a neighborhood storyteller and subtle, drink-pouring psychologist – all while sporting a killer Wyatt Earp mustache, to boot.
Born in New York, Eisenberg hitch-hiked across the country to Los Angeles when he was young. There, he worked as a doorman at the famous Troubadour in Hollywood. Music got in Eisenberg’s blood. He eventually landed a job at PolyGram Records, spending years handling sales and helping musical artists that he liked get airplay on the radio. Eisenberg later ended up in Sonoma County, tending bar at The Mystic Theater and booking live entertainment at Zebulon’s.
Sacramento’s current crop of musicians got to know Eisenberg when he moved to Rancho Cordova and started working as a music promoter in the Downtown corridor. The man’s vast wealth of experience helped him identify up-and-coming talent, which he would promote shows for at The Naked Lounge, as well as the late, great venue, Marilyn’s on K.
When Eisenberg’s widow, Debi, arrived at The Stockman Club for his memorial, she wasn’t sure if any musicians would show up: She reasoned that many would have played gigs late into the night the previous Friday. To say that Debi was having a stressful week would be quite an understatement: Just days before her husband’s funeral, her car was stolen from the parking lot where she works in Rancho Cordova. When Debi mentioned this to me at the wake, a rather tough-looking man in a leather vest overheard and turned from the bar, asking her, “Do I need to get my biker friends to ride into Rancho and kill someone?”
“Absolutely,” I answered for her. “I’ve got them covered in the press.”
Before long, The Stockman Club was packed shoulder-to-shoulder with men and women wearing Hawaiian shirts. Eisenberg had accumulated over 200 festive, floral get-ups within his wardrobe. As friends spread huge plates of food out across a pair of pool tables, Debi started giving some of her husband’s Hawaiian shirts away to those who had been so loyal to him. The Stockman’s owner, Scott Nyberg, mentioned to the gathering that Eisenberg would always show up an hour before his bar shift in the morning, so much so that management eventually adjusted his hours so that he’d get paid for that time. Eisenberg’s response was to start showing up an hour before that.
The previous owner of The Stockman, Dallas Bock, was the one who’d first tapped Eisenberg to tend bar there. He also spoke at the memorial.
“Jay had just an amazing ability to connect with people,” Bock reflected. “He had the sixth sense about them.”
A man who’d gone to chemotherapy appointments at the same as Eisenberg told everyone at the bar that Jay was the one who was always cheering everyone up there – always the guy with the great stories to tell.
While Debi wasn’t sure if any Sacramento musicians would make it to the wake, Billboard Chart-topping blues artist Katie Knipp took a break from practicing for her upcoming headlining show at The Sofia Theater on Oct. 28 to pay her respects for Eisenberg. Early in Knipp’s career, Eisenberg had promoted gigs for her at Zubulon’s in Petaluma and then Marilyn’s on K in Sacramento. He had remained a steadfast supporter of her work ever after.
“He was one of my biggest cheerleaders and music supporters over the past 20 years,” Knipp told SN&R at the services. “There was nobody like him … At one point, I asked if he was interested in managing me because he had such a great work ethic and genuine love of music. He supported many other musicians as well. He will be greatly missed.”
The picture that emerged of Eisenberg during that afternoon at The Stockman was that of a man who recognized potential in creative people and used his own energy and know-how to help elevate them, but also someone who could find a genuine connection with almost anyone through the art of conversation. A remembrance like that is really all the best of us could ever hope for.