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This Mint Is Solid

The Pico club has been enlarged and refurbished with taste and style--and it offers a good menu.

June 26, 1997|HEIDI SIEGMUND CUDA | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The latest incarnation of the Mint is the club Los Angeles has been waiting for, and it's only a matter of time before word gets out. The Pico Boulevard club, a half-block east of Crescent Heights, closed in January of '96 and has been carefully refurbished.

It reopened in April, and the clarity of thought that went into the remodeling is immediately apparent. The cozy spot, which has been around since the '30s and was most recently a blues-based club, has tripled in size without losing its intimacy. A simple, moderately priced but quality menu has been added for diners, and the physical changes aim for comfort and class.

The Mint's original 1937 green and blue neon sign has been given a face lift and makes it easy to locate the venue, and once you get there, its staff makes people feel welcome and at ease, something that should be a Clubland given but often isn't.

The new layout conjures up a nostalgic, speak-easy feel, with the club made up primarily of a big room containing a good-size stage to the left of the entrance, the Mint's original bar on the right and a dance floor with a smattering of tables in the middle.

New additions include antique chandeliers, wood panel walls, burgundy leather booths and velvet columns, and they work to evoke an old-time Hollywood sense. Also nice are the ceiling displays above the bar and the stage area, which are plastered mosaics of old 45- and 78-rpm records.

Of course, the changes at a club with the musical history of the Mint--artists ranging from Stevie Wonder to the Wallflowers have graced its stage--wouldn't be complete without an enhanced sound system, and they've done a bang-up job. FYI, those who like their music primarily in the background should go elsewhere because this joint jumps.

A small recording studio has been added adjacent to the stage and is used to record live performances. (Beatles fans might enjoy this bit of trivia: The recording studio contains a vintage console that was hand-made in 1963 and was used at Abbey Road. "It's like butter on a biscuit," says an in-house engineer of the console's sound quality.)

The club is staying true to its bluesy roots by booking such acts as Harry Dean Stanton, Paul Warren & the Wreckers, and this Friday night's performance by the Blazers. One of the Mint's most popular nights is Thursday, when Ollywood Swingin, featuring guitarist Oliver Lieber, takes over.

The group performs soulful cover tunes from artists ranging from James Brown to Al Green, and the performance is enhanced by guest vocalist Billy Valentine, who can sing Green's "Love and Happiness" like nobody's business. Last week, Christian Slater and Vlade Divac were among the guests bopping along.

One battle the club has to face is getting people reacquainted with making the trek to Pico Boulevard, which in simple terms means the neighborhood ain't no CityWalk. In the old, more brazen L.A., location wasn't that big an issue. But in post-riots L.A., a time when it's hard enough to get people to go out to clubs like they used to, let alone one in an un-Disney area, the Mint's got to really go the extra mile. To some degree, it already has with its brand-new exterior, brightly lit sign and competent valet parking, all of which work together to offset some people's initial phobias.

Ultimately, one of the most positive elements of the old Mint was the ease with which L.A.'s various inhabitants mingled together, all brought together by a shared love of music (hey, when Bonnie Raitt, Jimmy Witherspoon, Ben Harper or the late Jeff Buckley are playing, people tend to listen). Now, with all its upscale changes not offsetting a down-home attitude, it's nice to think the same can happen this time around.

BE THERE

The Mint, 6010 Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (213) 954-9630. Full menu, 21 & over, cover varies.

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