Dry your tears Santa Fe barflies. Yes, WilLee's is closed, but it will be re-opening in March with a new name, new owners and a new vibe that harkens back to old-school Santa Fe. Co-owner Mikey Baker is known far and wide in the City Different as the guitarist for many musical ventures (Moby Dick, Love Gun, The Gluey Brothers, Zozobra) and is joined in his new venture by partners Soren Uhl and Dan Oesterling.
Disclosure: Baker is an old friend of mine, but when he broke the news of the new bar on Facebook, I just had to call him up for a friendly interview.
SFR: So how did this all happen?
MB: [WilLee's] was up for sale and my partner Soren Uhl is kind of friends with those guys and had been around there…he been doing some work at my house because he's a contractor and had brought it up, kind of in passing, and I was like, 'Gee, that would be great.' But I didn't really think much of it, then I was talking about it with my my girlfriend, and she was like, 'Why don't you go for it?' The asking price was really cheap and, you know, I've always had this idea in my head for a bar in town. And WilLee's really fits the bill about 90 percent.
What was the idea you've had in your head for a bar in town?
Really, primarily, to re-create Club West if I had to put it in a couple of words. It's definitely about creating a space that is a medium-sized venue focused on live music and there just hasn't been any kind of place that is the right location and space. I loved the Paramount, but it was just too fucking big. Drama Club was pretty close. Here, there's room to dance, there's a decent sized stage for a band, there's kind of enough room to be comfortable.
So, like Club West, you'll have local and touring bands?
That's it exactly, that part of Club West. Really try to get mid-level touring bands coming through that don't really have a place to stop. You're from Denver and you're heading to, say, Austin…there's a lot of bands that really do that route and there hasn't been much of anything to do here. There's the [Santa Fe] Brewing Company, which is definitely a great venue, but it's really inconvenient and they don't have [a full bar], which isn't that big a deal I guess, but it's really tough to get people out there.
I remember trying to see Taj Mahal at Club West, but I was underage and they wouldn't let me in, so I just sat outside and listened.
I did that so much when I was a kid, there was Steve Morris, Eric Johnson, all those cats…they were coming through town and it was a Tuesday or Wednesday.
Are you going to let underage people stand outside and listen to music, then?
I'm definitely going to look into that and see what we can do. We're going to be serving food, so we'll see how we can [work on having all-ages access].
What's the story with the food?
The phrase I'm going with is 'value driven lunch menu.' We'll start doing classic pub fare at night, primarily appetizers, nachos, wings, that kind of thing for the bar clientele. During the day, we're really looking at stepping up a whole lunch menu and having downtown delivery, probably like 11 am to 2 pm. I know from working downtown, there's really not much to be had. We're going simple, we're definitely not going for any sort of high end thing by any means.
Will your band be playing at your club?
Grandpa will be coming out occasionally. I'll be doing something for sure, but it's definitely not about me and my bands. We might see The Gluey Brothers there before we see Moby Dick.
Are you scared?
I sat in the meeting when we were doing the signing, and I really signed my life away. But…just in terms of the response, even though the only official outing has been on Facebook, the response has been just amazing from everyone I've talked to. Everyone is really hungry for this sort of thing.
You're making some changes to the physical space?
Yes. We're moving the stage, to make the space more music friendly, which makes for a bigger dance floor…We're moving the entrance so you're not coming in of Guadalupe, and not walking right into a crowded bar, to make it more comfortable for people who are sitting and people on the dance floor. We're moving it around so [you enter] through the side entrance and it's great, when you first come in, the visual down the length of the club changes the feel. And we will be cleaning the bathrooms.
And what will it be called?
Corazón. Heart. I'm not sure if it will actually be El Corazón…but everyone keeps saying just Corazon.
Where did that come from?
Honestly, I was taking a shower, and I have all these great Mexican tarot cards that the previous tenant pasted up all over the shower in there, they're vinyl or whatever. We had decided we wanted to keep the Day of the Dead Virgin of Guadalupe that's in [the bar], because the vibe we're wanting is Day of the Dead Meets El Farol and The Dragon Room and Evangelos' from 20 years ago; that classic comfortable Santa Fe bar. So I was thinking along those lines and, I don't know, I was taking a shower, and I was like, 'that's fucking perfect.' [One person had said], 'Oh, you should call it The Bakery,' but I didn't want it to be that kind of nepotistic thing and I didn't want it to be another combination of names. Corazón just summed it all up: The heart of the Guadalupe District, the heart of the music scene.