Wednesday, December 2, 2009

A drinking, dancing phoenix rises

Whiskey Jacques’ set to (re)open this month

Express Staff Writer

Preston Zeigler, of Sawtooth Construction, and Jim Kuehn, Whiskey Jacques’ owner Karin Martin’s partner, share a laugh during the construction of the bar. The new Whiskey’s is scheduled to open on Friday, Dec. 18. Photo by Willy Cook

Don't be surprised if you see people dancing in the street at the thought of dancing indoors this winter.

With the new Whiskey Jacques' on track to open its doors on Friday, Dec. 18, residents and tourists will once again be able to enjoy holiday revelry at Ketchum's most popular live music venue.

It's been more than a year since one of the Wood River Valley's most beloved watering holes was reduced from a Main Street institution to a pile of rubble and ash.

In the early hours of Sept. 15, 2008, a fire began in the vacant building to the north and quickly spread through the old buildings' timber framing and wood siding. The fact that the two structures were icons of Ketchum's Western heritage only served to help the flames spread on that tragic day, their long history explaining the absence of sprinkler systems.

Though town historians had difficulty ascertaining the age, it's estimated that the building that housed Whiskey's two bars, small stage and notorious "dark corner" dated to the 1880s.

Despite a series of oft-lamented steps that led from the bar to the dance floor and less-than-pristine bathrooms, Whiskey's spent three decades as an entertainment hub for the community.

As winter sets in, Whiskey's is set for resurrection, the finishing touches being put on a building that looks to retain the spirit of the original while improving upon the above-mentioned blemishes.

Kristin Derrig, who worked at the bar and restaurant for over a decade and will be one of the managers when it reopens, said that if construction continues on schedule, the amplifiers will be turned on and the beer taps opened a week before Christmas.

"It's going to be great just having live music back on a regular basis," Derrig said. "And it's always good to add a little variety to this town—I think that really appeals to both locals and tourists. People don't want to go the same place all the time."

Getting the opportunity to test out the new stage will be The Bobos, a longtime local band that played frequent gigs at Whiskey's during the 1980s. Derrig said Thatcher Marsted, the bar's entertainment manager, has already booked bands through February, including perennial favorite Micky and the Motorcars on Jan. 2.

While the bar retains its familiar layout, along with two paintings from noted artist Crosby DeMoss, the stage will be one of many immediately noticeable differences from the original, standing over a foot taller to give the audience a better view of the band.

Last week, with less than a month to go before opening, the building was a hive of activity with carpenters, drywallers and electricians swarming over the three-story building.

While Hailey-based Sawtooth Construction is in charge of most of the work, Whiskey's former, and future, employees are even pitching in to help speed the process along. Derrig said 15 employees, from doormen to cooks, will be returning to their old posts. In the meantime, they're coming in at the beginning of the day to clear away trash and debris.

Whereas the old structure had a single floor, the new Whiskey's has a large basement and a second floor with two decks, one fronting Main Street and the other at the back of the building with unobstructed views of Bald Mountain.

The square-footage of the building is about twice the size of the original.

Though the upper level won't be open to the public until February, since completing the ground floor on time is owner Karin Martin's top priority, it's the most obvious change.

"The second floor is definitely one of the biggest improvements," Derrig said. "I think the decks are going to be really popular in the summer and I'm already getting calls from ski clubs and people looking to hold wedding rehearsal dinners up there."

Derrig said the interior of the second floor will be mostly used for private parties and as overflow during busy periods.

Downstairs, sports enthusiasts will have no trouble watching their favorite events on seven large-screen TVs and patrons will surely enjoy the tiled bathrooms more than the previous facilities.

"Yeah, the bathrooms will see about a 110 percent improvement," Derrig said.

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