Friday, October 24, 2008

Mint nightclub closes doors in Hailey

Demi Moore develops building across the street


By TONY EVANS
Express Staff Writer

It's getting harder to find a place to party in the Wood River Valley. Last week, the upstairs Mint Bar in Hailey, owned by actor Bruce Willis, closed unexpectedly. That leaves the Hailey Hotel as the dance floor of last resort in Blaine County's biggest town.

"No one said why it was closing," said Steve Hogan, who operates Chester and Jake's Seafood on the ground floor of the Mint at 116 N. Main St. "We got the word last Thursday and ran (the club) through the weekend. I suppose it was a business decision."

Valley Entertainment President Jack Pashkin was unavailable for comment. This week the building's marquee reads, "Thank you everyone, from the Mint."

Hogan's wife, Tanya, had been promoting shows at The Mint, including the local band "Straight Up" last weekend. Steve said he sent a letter to Bruce Willis' office in Los Angeles this week inquiring about the possibility of signing a lease himself to run the bar and dance floor.

"I can't tell you any more because I signed a confidentiality agreement before working for Willis," he said.

Employees of Valley Entertainment, the company representing Willis' interests in the area, have long been required to sign agreements not to discuss the Hollywood couple's business before dealing with Willis and his ex-wife, Demi Moore.

The Hogans hoped to create the one-stop, eating-and-entertainment location envisioned by Willis years ago when they moved Chester and Jake's seafood restaurant from Bellevue to The Mint's ground floor last summer.

Tanya founded "Prove It Promotions" and last year brought Windham Hill recording artist Will Ackerman and some of his friends to the Liberty Theater, also owned by Willis, for sell-out performances.

As for now, Chester and Jake's will continue to operate, providing billiards, darts and seafood seven days a week. The last upstairs party will take place on Halloween Night, featuring local band "Hoodwink."

The Mint was a dive bar for many years in Hailey before it was bought, remodeled and reopened with great fanfare by Willis in the mid-1990s. Paparazzi followed the likes of Darryl Hannah and John Kennedy Jr. to The Mint. Billionaire Steve Wynn attended Willis' premier of "12 Monkeys" starring Willis and Brad Pitt at Willis' Liberty Theatre on the next block. Jean-Claude Van Damme could be seen practicing kicks on the sidewalk.

Then Willis and Demi Moore famously separated and the limelight was turned off in downtown Hailey. A few big musical acts came through The Mint in the last few years, including Leon Russell, Buffalo Springfield and Dumpstaphunk. Until last week, The Mint had been a karaoke venue on Thursday nights, played DJ music on Fridays and offered local band music on Saturday nights. There weren't any big-name movie stars, but the high-tech sound system and wide dance floor provided a much-needed place for the younger crowd to party.

Willis was determined to provide a place to party a decade ago.

Before taking over The Mint, he operated the Dynamite Lounge in Ketchum, in a building now housing the Shang Hai Palace restaurant. He and his blues band, the Accelerators, performed there. Bette Midler and Tom Hanks danced there. Crooner Tom Jones played for Willis' 40th birthday party. Then Willis' plans to develop a two-building nightclub in Ketchum, connected by a sky-bridge, were frustrated by a City Council that felt the plans were inappropriate. He then closed the Dynamite Lounge and moved to Hailey, where he bought a large portion of Main Street, including The Mint, The Liberty Theatre, and a corner office building that came to be called the E.G. Willis building. Willis also owns Soldier Mountain ski area near Fairfield and other property in nearby Camas County.

"Maybe they are just reorganizing the management," said Steve Hogan. "I hope we will hear something soon."




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