NY strip steak with ssamjang, fried shallot, leaf lettuce, lime and herbs. Photo by Todd Cooper.

Sing for your Supper

Eugene concert venue opens restaurant and bar for dinner and a show

With two separate entrances on the east end of the building where Sessions Music Hall is located, and without any signage of its own, The Conservatory Speakeasy is a little hard to find. But that’s perfectly in keeping with the exclusive “if you know, you know” concept behind the brand-new bar and restaurant

Serving a Latin American, Asian and Pacific Northwest inspired menu — developed in consultation with Corey Wisun, formerly of Wasi BBQ and Membrillo in Eugene, and with head chef Faith Mollner, also from Wasi — The Conservatory opened in August after a pandemic-related shutdown.

Sessions Music Hall, formerly Hi Fi Music Hall, has long had an underutilized kitchen space, and while closed due to COVID, the owners of the venue renovated the eastern, windowless corner, adding a new bar, tables and décor with themes of music and the Roaring ’20s and a laid-back, post-fine-dining atmosphere.

Their goal was to finally take advantage of the dormant kitchen area and to offer food to concert patrons that’s a step-up from average bar fare. Patrons can move freely back and forth between different areas inside the building, including the lounge and main concert hall area, but there’s also table service available, no ticket required. 

With a full bar and a music-themed cocktail menu — serving original creations like the Notorious F.I.G. (Rittenhouse Rye, fig puree, fresh squeezed lemon juice and bitters) or the Love Potion #9 (monopolowa vodka, chambord, blood peach puree, combiere and fresh squeezed lemon juice) — the menu’s Latin American and Asian influences come primarily from Wisun, who has traveled extensively throughout Central and South America. 

Both Wisun and head chef Mollner also spent time researching restaurants in Portland.

“We wanted to bring something you couldn’t find at a typical restaurant in Eugene,” Mollner describes, mixing the exotic with the familiar, like the Oaxaca Dog, easily served on a dinner plate, but also translating well to the standing “walk-n-talk” atmosphere of a concert venue, she says. 

The Oaxaca Dog — made from housemade longaniza sausage, similar to chorizo — comes with organic corn masa, salsa morita, crema, queso fresco and cilantro. 

At the restaurant, there’s an exceptional blackened Oregon snapper, served with corn-pancetta maque choux, a traditional dish of Louisiana with both Creole and Native American influences. Somewhere between a chowder and a salsa, the maque choux functions in this instance like a risotto cushioning the salmon. It’s a sumptuous mix of smoky heat and sweetness, kept in perfect balance by Mollner: a hearty and warm choice as the weather turns cold, if only corn were in season all year long. 

Also served at The Conservatory is a grilled NY strip steak, offering a tender bite prepared Korean-kalbi-style with a deep umami, and ssamjang, a Korean spicy dipping sauce, with fried shallot, leaf lettuce, lime and herbs. 

Rounding out the menu are veggie dishes, snacks and dessert. 

The new restaurant also creates the unique opportunity for Sessions to offer dinner-and-a-show cross promotions, as they did on the evening of Sessions grand opening after the pandemic shutdown, with the ascendant the Eugene electro-swing High Step Society performing in the main hall. It was a resounding success, according to Mollner. 

The seasonal heirloom tomato salad served at the restaurant — made unique by labneh, a soft cream cheese similar to yogurt, and green schug dressing from Yemen, popping with jalapeño, coriander and cumin seeds, as well as herbs and dukkah, a Middle-Eastern medley of sesame, coriander and cumin among other ingredients — is perhaps the best heirloom tomato salad I’ve ever had, with portions big enough to split.

For this reason, one wonders how long the “no-signs” policy will last at The Conservatory. The food is great. Why not sing about it? ”

The Conservatory Speakeasy is open 4 pm to 10 pm Tuesday through Thursday and Sunday, and 4pm to “late” Friday and Saturday at 44 East 7th Avenue in Eugene. For more information, search “The Conservatory” on social media.