The major music venue has returned to Hailey’s Main Street, and the woman responsible for the phoenix rising, Jenni Conrad, is justifiably giddy. A 28-year resident of Hailey, Conrad’s goal of re-opening the revered The Mint, the nightclub formerly owned by actor Bruce Willis, came to fruition in just three short months.
On July 15, a sold-out crowd packed the “Sound Check” debut concert to jam to the soulful tunes of New Orleans-based American singer-songwriter and national recording artist, Eric Lindell. But there’s more to come. A downstairs 145-seat restaurant and bar with an adjoining rustic-chic patio, featuring a customized Airstream bar, is set to serve gussied-up comfort food. A splashy grand opening is slated for October, but a couple of practice-round preview dinners will take place during September.
Conrad and her husband, Paul, along with a couple of other investors, purchased the building from Willis in April and spent the summer spit-shining the upstairs music hall to welcome guests back to the once illustrious venue. A bit more work was involved in remodeling the downstairs restaurant, but the original dark-wood bar studded with coins installed by Willis is still the room’s anchor. Willis’ basement office door labeled “Bruce Willis – Private Eye” is still there, too, along with a “green” room for bands to chill before concerts.
After the Lindell concert debut in July, The Mint held a grand opening concert fundraiser for Higher Ground on Aug. 19 that featured Reckless Kelly and Tylor and The Train Robbers. Five days later they brought in a Southern-flecked rock ensemble, Futurebirds, from Athens, Georgia.
“The acoustics in here are pretty sick,” Conrad said. Not much has changed upstairs since Conrad purchased the building. Willis tore down the original building, which housed a dive bar also known as The Mint and built a state-of-the-art sound system for the upstairs hall, which holds 369 music lovers.
Back in the day, Willis brought in big-name artists, including B.B. King and Bo Diddley. “Steve Miller and the Young Dubliners played here,” Conrad said. “Cross Canadian Ragweed played here, too,” she said. They might make an appearance again. “I just talked to Cody (lead vocals for CCR),” she said. “These bands want to come back. There’s history here.”
It’s not all live music all the time. Conrad is bringing back “Disco Trash” night, featuring a DJ spinning disco tunes and patrons dressing in their trashiest “Saturday Night Fever” garb. Look for a country-and-Western night, too, and the venue can be booked for private events, including fundraisers and weddings.
Dark No More
The Mint closed for regular business in October 2008, although sporadic musical events were held during the following year. The downstairs restaurant at the time, Chester & Jake’s Seafood, had just relocated from Bellevue to The Mint in May 2008, only to shutter the following May. For the next 10 years, whenever Conrad drove by the darkened building, a wave of sadness would settle over her.
“It’s the biggest building on Main Street, and there were no lights, no life. I just felt like it was a dark cloud over Hailey. We needed to do something,” she said. Conrad, who owns Five Star Kitchen and Bath Design, was ready for a new challenge. Conrad negotiated with Willis for months, walking away a few times, but ultimately returned to the table to make a deal.
“We’ve raised our boys here (in Hailey),” she said. “We were at The Mint all the time with our friends back in its heyday. This is what we did for fun. We could come here and cut loose a little bit. And then we could ride our bikes or walk home. It was such a blast. We missed that community feeling.”
Down Home Cooking with an Uptown Feel
Once Conrad had the upstairs music venue rocking, she turned her attention to the downstairs restaurant. She hired Hailey native Skyler Barker to oversee the kitchen. Barker, now 35, started cooking when he was 19, at Zou 75. He also trained under Chris Kastner at CK’s Real Food and was cooking for Zou 75 and the Power House when Conrad tapped him for the chef position.
“I’m thrilled to be part of The Mint,” said Barker. “Jenni’s energy is contagious. I thrive around people like that. I really think this is going to bring something back to the Valley that was missing.”
Conrad has assembled her dream team to run The Mint. In addition to Barker, she has named Adam Marcroft as general manager; Robin Shaw as special event coordinator; and Ferris Spain as project manager. Conrad is director of operations, overseeing the whole shebang.
“I’ve always loved to entertain,” she said. “I cook a lot myself and have recipes that I’ve created for years. Everything will be from scratch.” Look for a solid brisket, roast pork loin and steaks. “There’s not a lot of fried things on the menu, but there will be a fried chicken sandwich and French fries. You have to have French fries,” she laughed. In addition to the regular menu, which will feature a “build-your-own-plate” feature, look for nightly specials from Barker.
The goal, Conrad said, is to serve consistently good food with a heaping side of hospitality. “We hope to appeal to locals first and foremost, but we also think of the restaurant as a destination spot, too. We want people to stop here first if they’re going north or south of here. We’ll have a delicious burger with fries, but also great steaks paired with great wines.”
Before Conrad was in residential design, she was in the food and beverage industry. “Since I was young, I’ve managed a bar, I’ve cooked, I’ve washed dishes, I’ve pretty much done it all,” she said. “We want The Mint to be like a modern-day Cheers for our locals. Our culture is hospitality, with our food and beverage, but also with the artists we bring in and their booking agents. We are making sure everybody is taken really good care of and if we do that, they will come back.”