MAMMOTH LAKE, Calif. —It's 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside, with a little lazy swirl of snow in the night sky, but Hyde Lounge at Mammoth Mountain is starting to overheat. Never mind that almost 10 feet of snow have fallen on the remote Sierra ski town in the previous week; at 10 p.m. on a Saturday, a well-heeled crowd begins pushing through the door of the new club, packing the place to capacity with a clientele that Mammoth has never adequately served before: the nightclubbers.
Mammoth finally has an honest-to-God dance club, and there are people there whom you'd never see otherwise.
Oh, you could always hoist beers at Whiskey Creek or the Clocktower Cellar, or swirl wine fireside at storied institutions such as the 50-year-old Yodeler, or even get a decent mojito at the excellent Whitebark restaurant and lounge at the Westin. But with the arrival of Hyde, the third in the chain by L.A.'s SBE group that also includes Hyde Sunset and the new-ish Hyde Staples, Mammoth has updated its rustic image as a refuge for ski purists to be a party destination.
Aspen or Park City, it's not — but Mammoth now definitely has game.
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"This must be where all the women were last night!" said Lucia Bodine of Santa Barbara, waiting for a table. "We were at the Clocktower last night, and it's all men."
"Mammoth really needed something like this, for drinks and dancing," she added.
"I worked in L.A. and Vegas, so when I came here I thought, 'Uh-oh,' but we've been slammed since Day One," said a young but tired-looking Tommy Smith, general manager of the club.
The club is a bit of a hybrid, combining the dance club boom of SBE properties such as Area with the misleadingly simple menu of SBE's Katsuya restaurants. It's a formula that seems to have grabbed hold: On only its third Saturday, Smith reported the club served 840 dinners and had more than 1,000 people through the door. Those are massive numbers for Mammoth. But can it go on churning like that?
"Los Angeles is the biggest feeder market for Mammoth Mountain," pointed out SBE Chief Executive Sam Nazarian via e-mail, calling it a "win-win situation for both SBE and Mammoth Mountain." Nazarian owns a stake in the Mammoth Mountain ski resort.
The 5,000-square-foot place, formerly a sports bar called Boards, is fittingly dark, with lots of candles and comfy new furniture and walls of recycled wood. Skis are hung in the structural steel high overhead, and plasma screens scream winter sports. Located directly at the base of the gondola to Mammoth's Village condo and retail development, the room holds 120 diners and can take 200 more out on the patio. That is, when the sky isn't dumping snow.
Chef Marcelo Han, on loan from Katsuya Brentwood, had to tweak his menu to accommodate the offbeat location. He can't get his fish and produce delivered fresh each day.
"It's a tough environment but really rewarding," Han said. "We took some things off the menu, like hamachi, because it took a week to get. It's very important for us to use super-fresh ingredients."
The results look rustic but hide sophisticated details. The lunch and dinner menus are full of mountain comfort food such as chili and chicken noodle soup, but the stocks and preparations are beyond Mammoth standards — except at places like the Westin or Frederic Pierrel's tiny Lakeside restaurant at nearby Tamarack. Hyde's unusual and delicious smoked salmon pizza, for example, is a whole-wheat flat bread with a dollop of herbed mascarpone and topped with (among other things) boiled eggs and a caper vinaigrette. The trio of short rib tacos features a peanut sauce and a crispy shell. The big lunchtime home run is the Southwest chicken club, which features an over-easy fried egg that bursts through the sandwich as you bite in — sloppy but ingenious and super-satisfying.
The food reflects the ways that this Hyde is different from the Hydes in L.A. Yes, there's still a velvet rope, and girls stand outside in their heels in the snow, but they are also wearing parkas and they all get in. This is a ski town. The idea was to be inclusive rather than exclusive.
"We attract that upper-echelon crowd, but it's a very humble environment," says Smith. "You've got to serve the locals. There's no dress code. We're trying to work with the Westins and the Whiskey Creeks and all the other venues around town to bring something that didn't exist here before."
Like, for instance, the Burning Mango cocktail: mango vodka, muddled jalapeno, sugar on the rim of a martini glass. It's weird, it burns, it works. It's one of the house's most-requested drinks.
"These are all very L.A. cocktails," admits Smith. "We're trying to adapt, but we haven't done the cocktails yet."
No matter. At 10 p.m., they sweep some of the dining tables off the floor, the DJ climbs into his booth, and people dance. And, yes, this is where all the women are.
Overheard hot tub conversation back at the motel: "Have you guys seen that new place, Hyde? We went by there last night as our last stop. The place was going off!"
HYDE LOUNGE AT MAMMOTH MOUNTAIN
Where: 6201 Minaret Road, Mammoth Lakes, Calif.
When: 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Mondays to Thursdays, with food service ending at 10 p.m.; 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Fridays, with food service ending at 11 p.m.; noon to 2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, with food service ending at 11 p.m.
Price: No cover charge
Contact: (760) 934-0669; hydemammothtablessbe.com