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Mint-Condition Blues

The Mint has the urban-saloon-as-bunker look. It’s a style that’s been perfected in thousands of bars in places like PatersonJ.: the watering hole that would survive a bomb blast--and perhaps already has. The L. A. version of this is a squat flat-roofed building with a black-painted brick front and one barred window facing the street.

This popular night spot looks so gritty it’s almost embarrassing that it sits in an area an overly enthusiastic real estate broker might label South Beverly Hills Adjacent.

The most prominent architectural feature is on the roof. A green Art Deco sign from the ‘30s shines down Pico Boulevard, a piece of advertising that could hold its own on the Sunset Strip.

The club’s interior is less impressive. Just a bit longer and wider than a railroad car, the Mint seats 50 at the bar, the tables and a couple of red banquettes. There’s room for about 50 more to stand, but at that point there might be some oxygen deprivation.

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A minimum has been spent on decor. There’s a black and white poster-size picture of blues great Joe Turner; an attempt at painting one wall gold; and some wood paneling. The ceiling over the bar has been plastered with 45s. Owner Gary Stansbury describes his club as having “the clean-dive feel.”

Any place as popular as the Mint has some other treasure beside its physical attributes. And here, it’s great music. On any given night, this might be one of the best places in Los Angeles to hear rhythm and blues played live.

“The idea was to create a genuine relationship with the blues musicians,” says Stansbury, who took over the 50-year-old Mint bar with his brothers-in-law, Lance and Jed Ojeda, two years ago. The goal was to create a place where musicians “feel appreciated by the audience,” he says. “Musicians like to play here, though they’ll never get rich doing it.”

On a recent evening Shuggie Otis played to an audience of about 75. Otis calls the Mint “authentic. It’s geared into what I’m geared into.”

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Two and a half months ago, for a player like Otis, the club would have had a capacity crowd with maybe a line at the door. But post-riot nervousness about going out at night has taken its toll. “Business is down 40%,” says Stansbury, who sees most of the decline on the weekend, when more of the crowd comes from outlying areas.

Despite the drop-off, the Mint is still crowded. Ask the regulars why they come and the words comfortable and neighborhood come up consistently. Sandy Rivers (“The name is my mom’s first and last attempt at humor”) comes because “people here seem to be love the music, not the hype.” Mint regular Steven Lowy describes the club as “a place for people who love to play for people who love to hear people who love to play.”

Rita Morales said it’s not the “typical club. It’s not a pick-up joint. You can come over wearing jeans. It doesn’t take a lot of work to come here.”

When a tall, thin woman walks by wearing a short, tight Azzedine Alaia-style black dress, Morales turns to her friends and says “she wasn’t supposed to wear that here” and they all laugh.

If there’s a downside to the Mint, it’s the decibel level generated when the band heats up. The music pulsates through the room. It’s a small club with a big sound system, a sure conversation killer.

Though this might be a blues club for the soon-to-be-hearing-impaired, the Mint’s giving its patrons what they want. In the words of regular Roy Smith: “When it’s moving, it’s a real treat to be here.”

Name: The Mint.

Location: 6010 West Pico Blvd. (near Crescent Heights Boulevard); (213) 937-9630. Open 8 p.m. to midnight Tuesday through Saturday.

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Cost: Cover is $5 Tuesday and Wednesday, $7 Thursday, $8 to $10 weekends. No minimum. Domestic beers, $3.25; imported, $3.75; wine, $3.75. The menu of burgers, salad and pasta is in the $8-and-under range.

Door policy: 21 and over. And there’s a security guard who keeps a watchful eye on patrons walking to and from their cars.


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