As microbreweries’ popularity continues to surge, it was probably inevitable that the design boundaries of taprooms would be pushed.

With its new stand-up comedy venue, Sisyphus Brewing in Minneapolis has sailed right past those conventions and upped the ante on what a taproom can be.

While the decor and feel of the taprooms can vary from starkly industrial to cutting-edge hip, very few are set up to actually function in any way but serving glasses of the brewers’ product. Until now, that was how the taproom at Sisyphus was.

But with the opening of a second, 1,300-square-foot taproom in the same building near Dunwoody College of Technology, the young husband-and-wife ownership team of Sam Harriman and Catherine Cuddy are betting on something new in the Twin Cities market — a craft brewery space specifically designed as a live entertainment venue.

The original Sisyphus taproom, which opened last year at 712 Ontario Av. W., like many others found in older industrial buildings features tall ceilings and an “unfinished” feel with exposed brick. It also has a small stage tucked in the corner for stand-up comedy performances, which were held there monthly under the couple’s former entertainment license.

About the only thing the new, 88-person-capacity taproom across the hall has in common with the original is that it serves the same lineup of small-batch microbrews. Rather than industrial, the new room has been designed to feel like and function as an intimate comedy club, from the table-and-chair floor arrangement to the marquee-style “Sisyphus” sign behind the bar.

The 30-year-old Harriman, himself a stand-up comic, says that with an upgraded entertainment license in hand, he aims to book comedy in the room weekly and wants to position the space as a key local venue for up-and-coming local talent as well as for touring national performers on the cusp of breaking out.

“Live comedy has been at a low point, but I think it is on the verge of an upswing, especially at smaller venues, because people are looking to get out more and experience things again,” he said. “Especially with my generation of college grads, what they really value are unique experiences, and I’m hoping that being able to say you saw a great comic in an 88-person taproom would fit into that.”

Harriman said he and Cuddy, 29, realized that the design of the $100,000 space would have to be completely different from anything done previously in a taproom.

“I’ve played in a lot of different places and I had a really strong vision of how to do a good comedy club in a taproom,” he said.

It starts with a low ceiling — necessary for the crucial feeling of intimacy with the audience. Then comes “warm” decor, such as cork lightshades and “barn wood” finishes behind the bar. The idea, he said, is to blend the softness of an intimate setting with the harshness of an industrial one.

And, because it’s a comedy club, the stage has a brick-wall backdrop, framed by curtains.

“You’ve got to have brick behind you if you’re going to do comedy,” Harriman cracked. “When you come into this room, you can just tell right away that’s what it’s for.”

Unlike some microbrewers, Harriman and Cuddy have no ambitions to grow Sisyphus into a national brand or land a distribution deal. Instead, their model is to produce just enough to keep the two taprooms stocked with a rotating four-beer selection while focusing on programming their new space.

Beyond stand-up comedy, Harriman says the plan is to use the taproom for music acts and other events, creating what is in essence the first taproom event space in the Twin Cities.


Don Jacobson is a freelance writer based in St. Paul. He is the former editor of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Real Estate Journal.