For a couple of months now, Epic's neon art-deco sign has lit up the corner of 5th St. and 2nd Av. N. in downtown Minneapolis.

But what's going on inside this former location of the infamous Quest nightclub? Eager clubgoers will finally get a peek when Epic opens in early December.

While the concert schedule hasn't been finalized -- concerts being the club's primary focus -- a few events have been booked for the next few weeks. Your best bet might be Epic's big New Year's Eve party. There's also a fashion show Dec. 14 and an afterparty for R. Kelly's Dec. 20 concert at Target Center.

The space at 110 N. 5th St. was a nightclub for 16 years, first with Prince's Glam Slam and then the Quest, which closed in late 2006 after a string of problems, including licensing issues with the city and then water damage from a rooftop fire.

When the building's owner, Ned Abdul, went looking for a new tenant in early 2007, he found Karma owner John Barlow. The two created a new team and founded Epic. Barlow has said the club does not plan on having regular dance nights. Instead, Epic is positioning itself primarily as a concert venue and special-events hall (it's already booked for several events during the Republican National Convention next September).

I got a look this week as construction workers put the final touches on the lavish nightspot. While the general layout is familiar -- those pesky pillars in front of the stage are still there -- all remnants of the Quest are gone.

The new owners gutted the space and rebuilt it at a reported cost of $3.5 million. Here's a quick look at Epic's biggest bells and whistles:

• The first thing you'll notice is the addition of a grand staircase that takes you to the second level.

• Up top, the Ascot Room has disappeared. The second floor is much more open, with the back part dubbed the 110 Lounge, a massive VIP area that overlooks the stage. Also on the second floor are individual VIP balconies with some nice views.

• The stage is much bigger now and thrusts out a bit.

• The Quest's bathrooms were always lackluster, so here's some good news: There are lots of them now.

With its size -- capacity around 2,000 -- Epic could be a major player in the Twin Cities music scene. Its name seems to stake that claim.

Bubble tea at the U

One of my favorite late-night spots that doesn't involve drinking is the Tea Garden. Well, it involves drinking, but here it's bubble tea -- those flavorful shakes so popular at local Asian eateries. Fans of the funky drink will be happy to hear that the Tea Garden has expanded its mini-empire with a third location, this one on the University of Minnesota's Minneapolis campus. While most bubble tea joints have come and gone, the family-owned Tea Garden is thriving, mostly due to its fresh ingredients and cool digs. The new spot at 825 Washington Av. SE. is about the same size as the Uptown and St. Paul locations, but its high ceilings give it a nice, airy feel. Plus, it has DJs and is open until 1 a.m. on weekends. More info at www.teagardeninc.com.

Danny Hoch is coming

Fans of hip-hop theater -- you're out there, I know you are -- will want to check out Danny Hoch next week. The New York actor and playwright moved the culture's aesthetic into the theatrical realm, where he explores the complex boundaries of race, sex and class. Starting Thursday, he'll spend three nights at the Playwrights' Center performing his latest solo piece, "Taking Over," a work in progress about urban gentrification in which Hoch embodies various characters. (7 p.m. Dec. 6-8, 2301 E. Franklin Av., Mpls. $20. 612-375-7600 or www.walkerart.org/tickets.)

More places to laugh

Comedy showcases are on the rise in Twin Cities bars and clubs. One worth checking out is "Now That's Funny," every other Thursday at Baggan's Pub in Fridley. The night is run by a postal worker (Joe Tanner) and an airline pilot (Mike Orensteen), who moonlight as comedians. Funny, right? Next Thursday they'll perform along with three other comedians, Elaine Thompson, Bill Young and Mitch Hanson. The duo also plans to expand into other metro suburbs such as Little Canada and Bloomington. For more info, check out www.minnehahacomedyclub.com. (8 p.m. Thu. 3720 East River Rd., Fridley. $8 or $20 with dinner included. 763-788-0882.)

Four hours of Farina

House-music fans will have a full night on their hands at Foundation when superstar DJ Mark Farina returns for a massive four-hour set. He'll spend the first two hours playing "mushroom jazz," a house genre he pioneered (it's a fusion of down-tempo house and jazz). The second two hours will be straight-up house. He's touring the country behind a new album, "Live in Tokyo." Also, this is the first time in three years he'll be playing an 18-plus show. (10 p.m. today, 10 S. 5th St., basement level, Mpls. $15. 18 & older. 612-332-3931. www.foundationmpls.com)

Takin' it back to 1995

Like, whoa: Montell Jordan, the R&B crooner who gave the world "This Is How We Do It," is at Dive Bar tonight. (10 p.m. today. 3035 White Bear Av. N., Maplewood. $20. 18 & older. 651-779-2266. www.divebarmn.com)

thorgen@startribune.com • 612-673-7909