I'm here to do a Q&A piece with Todd Christiansen, the current owner of the Mint, which dates back to 1937. Christiansen greets me with a firm handshake, and proceeds to give me a tour of the Mint, as well as an adjacent property which is where our interview will ultimately be conducted. I inform Christiansen that I recall coming here before, on at least two occasions, but as of the time of this writing it may be three. After giving me a thorough tour of his club, we commence with the Q&A.
Q: For the record, what is your direct relation to the Mint?
A: I am the owner of the Mint.
Q: The Mint has been around since 1937, and unless you have found, bathed in, and continue to possess the fountain of youth, it's probably safe to assume you haven't owned it since then. When did you become owner?
A: I have owned the Mint since 2004. I've been in the business of owning clubs for about 20 years now. My first club I started in the early '90s was called 14 Below in Santa Monica. Throughout the '90s I always thought that the Mint, for a mid-sized club was the best in town. I always admired the bands, and the quality of bands that they put into the club over the years. And so when I had the chance to get it, which was kind of happenstance, the way it happened, I went after it and wound up getting it.
Q: Can you briefly describe the physical outlay of the club for the readers?
A: Well as you know it's been around since 1937. You have the main part of the club which contains the stage for the bands, the bar, and the tables and booths for the various occasions. In addition to that we have a green room that sits aside from the stage itself, a green room upstairs in the back, and lastly a recording studio downstairs in the back that sometimes doubles up as a green room and can be used for VIP events.
Q: Can you share with our readers the names of some of the cats who have been in some of the greenrooms as of late?
A: Sure, I was recently sitting in one of the rooms talking with George Clinton, of the Parliament-Funkadelic. And just a couple of weeks ago I was having a brief chat with Tom Waits, and sitting next to him was Johnny Depp. We frequently get celebrities in the club.
Q: You've now owned the Mint for 8 years. When you first took over ownership of the Mint, were there any immediate changes that you felt you had to make or did you just keep things status quo?
A: Well, when I first took it over the club had been closed for almost a year. They were not in a very good trend at the time. Back in the '80s and even up to the late '90s the Mint had been established as the frontrunner in terms of L.A. music, but in the '00s, they slipped up a bit. And so I wanted to come in here and bring the quality and integrity back to the club and also to physically do a few things to the club to make it more comfortable and more inviting to come to. We renovated the club back in '04 and '05.
Q: Where would you like to see the Mint a few years down the road?
A: I want to be able to continue to do what we have been doing, and stay consistent. There are always things you can do to make a club better. We are constantly retooling and fixing things up to make the club better. In this age of cyberspace we are also focusing on what we can do from both marketing and booking standpoint to take advantage of social media. I want to keep going and keep at it. And while expansion is not really possible at this location, it's possible that we could open up another Mint somewhere else down the road. I do own a second club in Santa Monica called Central SAPC, which is like our sister club.
Q: What is the easiest way for someone to see a list of some, if not all, of the great musicians who at some point in time or another has played here at the Mint?
A: They should go to our online site at www.themintla.com. They can then click on "roster" to see some of the many acts that have taken the stage. I can tell you that Ben Harper, Macy Gray and the Wallflowers all got their start here. Lady Antebellum played here before they got big, as well as others. We are also a conduit for New Orleans based music. We talked about the Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Sams Funky Nation, the Preservation Hall Jazz Band... the list goes on. Stanton Moore has a residency coming here in July every Wednesday, and the last Wednesday he will be accompanied by the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, sharing the same ticket. Leo Nocentelli from the Meters is one of our favorite artists, an original member of the Meters from New Orleans. Ivan Nevel with his Dumpastafunk just played here a little while ago. The Honey Island Swamp Band will be here soon. We get a combination of local and national touring acts coming in here. Now some bands eventually get too big for the room, such as Jackie Green and Alejandro Escovedo amongst others. And so the natural progression of things is for them to then play the Troubadour. Bernard "Bernie" Worrell, Jr., the keyboard player for Funkadelic, played here recently too.
Q: How much emphasis do you place on sites such as Yelp?
A: You know from time to time I will take a look at the Yelp page and try to address and answer some people's questions. I have a full time marketing guy -- all he does is social media. You have to do it these days. Back in the '80s and '90s it was all word of mouth, passing out flyers, etc. Now everyone is on the phone, doing the text messaging, etc. One of the things we do on our ticket website is if you buy an advanced ticket, we will give you a discount if you refer a friend or recommend it or share with a friend that you are in fact buying a ticket. It's all about creating awareness at our shows. There is a lot going on here in L.A... people have a lot of options here. You have to do something to get people's attention.
Q: Where are you originally from?
A: I'm from New Jersey. I came out here after high school, actually hitchhiked out here in the late '70s. I lived in Europe for a couple of years but have more or less lived out here in L.A. for most of my adult life.
Q: Are you happy with where the club's standing is now in terms of it being one of the top choices for live music here in Southern California?
A: I am very proud of the establishment and I'm proud of the quality of the work that we have put in here. There is still a lot of work yet to be done, but yes, I take pride in both the Mint and Central. I think, logically, it would be great for us to get a third place. It is sometimes easier to promote three places rather than one or two. We are looking around town... downtown Los Angeles and even Culver City, Venice. Venice is where I first moved to when I came to L.A. The West Valley area is another possible location... especially the Woodland Hills area. But I'm not pounding the bushes now, but if something comes up, I'll definitely take a look.
Q: Are there any individuals who came before you in terms of ownership of the Mint whom you may care to give mention to?
A: One of my predecessors, Jed Ojeda, who I would be remiss in not mentioning, was largely responsible for developing a legit music scene at the Mint. He remains a close, personal friend of mine. He personally walked Stevie Wonder from the front door to the stage... took him by the elbow and guided him all the way in. That was a real honor for Jed, and it meant a lot. The Harlem Globetrooters with Curly and the whole crew once came in here as patrons, too. Another story I'd like to share that was interesting was when I was speaking to a young lady when there was a film shoot going on here. She proceeded to share a bit of her family history with me. She told me that her grandmother; way back in the late '40s, was at a show at the Mint when the late, great Nat King Cole was on stage and suddenly stopped in the middle of the performance-teary eyed to announce that his daughter, Natalie Cole was born that night! He then proceeded to invite the entire staff and crowd back to his house in Hancock Park that evening to party and celebrate this news!
6010 West Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, CA 90035
Phone: 323-954-9400 / Fax: 323-938-2994
21 + Nightclub
Follow Robert Gagnier on Twitter: www.twitter.com/robertfgagnier