Jerky and theater may not sound like an appetizing combination.
But when the Jack Link’s Legend Lounge opened its doors for the first time Wednesday ahead of the highly anticipated “Hamilton” premiere at the Orpheum Theatre, it not only signaled an unusual partnership but the beginning of a new era for the Hennepin Theatre Trust, which operates the Orpheum, State and Pantages theaters.
The new jerky-themed lounge operates on the ground floor of the 900 Hennepin building, the former home of the Solera restaurant, next door to the Orpheum. The lounge offers Jack Link’s inspired cocktails and jerky snacks 90 minutes before each show and also during intermission.
“The assumption that people have when they hear ‘jerky cocktail’ is that it’s going to have a meat stick in it,” said Jack Link’s executive research-and-development chef Wes Castelsky, but he added the lounge’s drinks will be more sophisticated.
The first two cocktails that the lounge is offering give a nod to the “Hamilton” production as well as a brush of the wild side that customers usually associate with Jack Link’s. One is called the “Boston cream pro-tini,” a martini made with pepper jerky infused vodka, Irish cream, chocolate liqueur and a garnish of jerky chew for that extra something special. The “sasquatch rattle-skull” is a take on a drink preferred by colonial maritime sailors that blends rum, dark porter, lime juice and smoked simple syrup.
The lounge has the same North Woods vibe as the Jack Link’s offices that staff moved in down the street in the Mayo Clinic Square earlier this year and the retail store the jerky maker opened in Target Center last November. There’s the deer antler chandelier, wood accent pieces and the obligatory framed portrait of the company mascot sasquatch.
Recently, Jack Link’s has refocused some of its marketing to try to broaden its appeal outside of the “hooks and bullets” outdoorsmen who were some of the earliest customers of its meat snacks.
“Jerky is not just that traditional grab-and-go snack anymore,” Castelsky said.
The Jack Link’s Legend Lounge is just one part of the transformation of the building, which the Hennepin Theatre Trust purchased in 2016 for $2.3 million and recently finished renovating.
In addition to the Jack Link’s space, there is also a 700-square-foot art gallery (currently featuring the work of Ta-coumba Aiken) and the PNC Encore Lounge, a 1,100-square-foot private lounge for donors, sponsors and other VIP guests. The lounges provided much- needed space that the theaters haven’t been able to provide because of their layouts, said Andrew Johnson, event manager at 900 Hennepin.
“The old theaters are gorgeous, but they are not really built for waiting,” Johnson said.
On the second floor, there is a 1,000-square-foot terrace and modern offices that currently house the trust’s approximately 35 employees. The Hennepin Theatre Trust had previously been squeezed into space on the first floor of the City Center building next to its now-closed New Century Theatre. The third floor includes 2,800 square feet of event space that could be used for up to 300-seat productions. The space is also used for the trust’s master classes and workshops. The 1,300-square-foot rooftop terrace is the cherry on top.
All the spaces in the building are available for rent for private events. The Jack Link’s lounge was already rented out as early as the Super Bowl for corporate events.
“We actually have visibility on this street,” said Mark Nerenhausen, president and chief executive of the Hennepin Theatre Trust. “It lets the community know that there is actually an institution behind these theaters.”
The new space and partnerships with companies like Jack Link’s is similar to what performing-arts groups are doing across the country to stay relevant in their communities, Nerenhausen said.
“This is very much part of the evolution of these types of organizations,” he said.
Funds for the building purchase and renovation came from a variety of sources including a loan from the city, donations from a capital campaign and contributions from corporate partners.