Jason Matheson, host of Fox 9's "The Jason Show" and MyTalk 107.1's morning show, is part of a new ownership group that's reopening and reimagining Lush Lounge and Theater in northeast Minneapolis.
"I've always had it in the back of my mind that one day I'd like to own a bar," said Matheson, who has teamed up with his Betty & Earl's co-owner Jen Lueck and local performers Andrew Rausch and Jared Lawrence. Their partnership came as a result of a confluence of timing.
Matheson and Lueck were looking for expanded commercial kitchen space for their Betty & Earl's Biscuit Kitchen wholesale business outside of its original location at Rosedale Center's Potluck food hall. At the same time, Rausch and Lawrence were hoping to revive the popular performance space at Lush, which closed in summer 2020 after the ownership group dissolved.
On a recent trip to Dallas to celebrate Matheson's birthday, Lueck brought him to her favorite gay bar in the city, and the wheels started turning. "There were people of all different colors, body shapes and ages on the dance floor together," said Lueck. "And I was like, why? Why can't we have this in the Twin Cities?"
Matheson, who has long been an advocate for those who have experienced bullying, also bemoaned the lack of an all-inclusive space that could host live performances, and wanted to create a safe zone for those who feel "othered."
"I remember how Boom made me feel," Matheson said, referring to the gay bar of the early 2000s, the state's first to sport actual windows. "I want people to feel that way at Lush. There is a missing element in the Cities and we want to be that space."
Rausch was already experienced in operations at Lush. He worked at the bar and had performed as Crystal Belle. "When Lush initially closed, there were a lot of hurt feelings," he said. But there were good memories, too.
"I met my husband there," he said. And it's Rausch's words that have been emblazoned in neon on the bar's newly decorated walls: "Be kind and have a good time."
Rausch also said many have experienced a lot of personal growth during the pandemic. "I've grown up a lot. I want Lush to grow with me." That includes not being open past 1 a.m.
"It's important to me to bring my experiences to this project as well, as a BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, people of color] woman," said Lueck.
Fans will likely remember Lush as the imposing concrete building on Central Avenue, which Rausch described affectionately as a giant garage. A refreshed design, leans into the name with plush velvet curtains, plenty of greenery and sumptuous spaces.
The small theater space is entirely white and black with Art Deco touches. The only art is a large portrait of late Minneapolis drag legend Roxy Marquis. In her honor, drag performances will return (co-owner Lawrence has performed for 13 years as Nikki Vixxen), but the theater will also play host to local jazz, comedy nights, private events and more.
On the restaurant side, the food will be casual but focused, with burgers, sandwiches and entrees using seasonal ingredients. While it won't be entirely biscuit-focused, Betty & Earl's signature item will make appearances and likely play a starring role in the weekend brunch service, expected to launch in the new year.
Lush, at 990 Central Av. NE., will operate Wednesday through Sunday from 4 p.m. to midnight when it opens later this month.