When he performed at the Warming House earlier this month, singer/songwriter and guitar ace Ben Glaros actually welcomed it whenever an audience member made a noise.
“I would’ve loved to hear the cash register or cappuccino machine or whatever, because it was so quiet in there,” Glaros said after his sold-out show. “It takes some getting used to: People are actually listening to you.”
Twin Cities music lovers are indeed doing just that thanks to three new performance venues that have taken root in Minneapolis over the past year. Like the long-beloved Cedar Cultural Center before them, these new spaces offer a more intimate vibe and cozier aesthetics than the traditional rock bar or dance club.
In addition to the Warming House — housed under a bike shop in south Minneapolis — there’s the Hook & Ladder Theatre and the Aster Cafe’s River Room, both in historic buildings. The former is a multifaceted, nonprofit space set in the Longfellow neighborhood firehouse where Patrick’s Cabaret used to be. The latter is a low-lit, wood-floor event space next to the popular Aster eatery in the St. Anthony Main riverfront historic district.
Hook & Ladder executive director Chris Mozena said such venues cater to changing demographics: aging rock fans burnt out on dingy, standing-room-only bars, and younger music lovers cynical about the sensory overload of many nightclubs.
“We intentionally don’t have any giant beer logos or other marketing insignia in our performance space, anything that might be a distraction,” Mozena said. “It’s all about the performance and the artists here.”
A singer/songwriter herself, the Warming House’s founder, Brianna Lane, envisioned her venue as a public version of private house parties — a popular trend in recent years that finds musicians performing in people’s living rooms or backyards for almost the same money they make at a club.
“I’ve always said as a songwriter I’d rather perform to five people who are listening than a room full of people not listening,” said Lane, whose room actually holds about 50 audience members.
Glaros, for one, appreciates how these new venues balance the two extremes of gigging.
“I do enjoy playing house parties,” Glaros said, “but I also like having an actual stage and sound system. So it’s the best of both worlds.”
Here’s a closer look at each of these close-and-personal spaces.
The Warming House
Location: 4001 Bryant Av. S., Mpls., below Farmstead Bike Shop.
Back story: Veteran songwriter Lane and her partners, musician John Louis and Farmstead owner Greg Neis, used a GoFundMe.com campaign for start-up money and earned nonprofit status to open the venue last May in the bike shop’s basement and backroom. They have since hosted many dozens of singer/songwriters and other mostly acoustic acts, to great response. Programming includes open-mic and new-song nights, and shows stream via ConcertWindow.com.
Lane pulled from her experiences touring the East Coast with other songwriters both in her out-of-town bookings and the overall concept of the room (she mentioned Boston’s popular Freight & Salvage as inspiration). “We really just felt like we didn’t have a venue like this in Minneapolis, and people would like it,” Lane recounted.
Vibe: Like a cool basement rec room, the performance space boasts varying chairs and even two couches all casually laid out in front of a more formal, proper stage. Behind the stage is a wall of reclaimed pallet wood, which not only looks cool but adds a warmth to the acoustics. Fans then settle in for the duration of the show like they’re watching TV. Except, of course, live music is far more fulfilling than TV.
Sodas and other concessions are for sale upstairs in the lounge area. Because there’s no liquor sold or allowed there, it’s also a great spot for younger listeners or fans who wish to avoid a bar scene — though Harriet’s Inn is just two blocks away for a preshow beverage, too.
Upcoming highlights: Michael McDermott (8 p.m. Fri., $18), Ben Lubeck (8 p.m. next Thu., $10-$12), Rachel Ries and Starfolk (Feb. 3), Uke Jam (Feb. 4), Fathom Lane (Feb. 17), Open Mic (every Sun., 6:30 p.m.), Rough Draft night (every Tue., 8 p.m.).
Tickets and info: TheWarming House.net.
Hook & Ladder Theatre
Location: 3010 Minnehaha Av. S., Mpls., former home of Patrick’s Cabaret.
Back story: When Patrick’s Cabaret vacated the historic Station 21 firehouse last year, music booker Chris Mozena and volunteers started the nonprofit Firehouse PAC to keep it as a multiuse performance space. It now hosts the Zorongo Flamenco and Jawaahir dance companies and various arts programs in addition to live music. Indoor/outdoor events such as a morel mushroom festival in June and the Roots, Rock & Deep Blues Festival in July will involve the surrounding neighborhood.
To boost the music quotient, Nobool Presents was enlisted for booking, co-owned by Palmer’s alum Mozena with KFAI’s Jackson Buck and Harriet Brewing’s Jesse Brodd. A new sound system was also brought in. “It sounds like it was meant to be a music venue, even though that’s obviously not what it was built as,” Mozena bragged.
Vibe: The H&L really feels like a smaller version of the Cedar, the way it’s split between a lounge and performance area and carries a communal, hippie personality in both its decor and its volunteer staff. Its large stage has the old firetruck garage entrance with a curtain under it for a cool backdrop. Chairs can be added for quieter shows or taken out for rockier sets. Chances are good of seeing local rock legend Lori Barbero smiling from behind the bar, too.
Upcoming highlights: Dead of Winter tribute to the Grateful Dead (7 p.m. Fri., $8-$10), Danny B. Harvey and Annie Marie Lewis (9 p.m. Thu., $7-$10), Belfast Cowboys (Feb. 3), Cornbread Harris live recording (Feb. 8-9), Slimabration tribute to Slim Dunlap (Feb. 17), Freakers Ball with White Iron Band (Feb. 18), Kent Burnside (Feb. 24).
Tickets and info: TheHookMpls.com.
The River Room
Location: 125 SE. Main St., Mpls., next to the Aster Cafe.
Back story: While live music has long been on the menu inside the Aster’s dining room, owner Jeff Arundel and booker Hannah von der Hoff — both well-known singer/songwriters in town — couldn’t resist adding it to the mix in the adjacent, 130-person River Room. Concerts primarily take place on Sunday nights around private events.
“Because the space is flexible, we use it for our concerts, as well as for weddings and special events,” Von der Hoff explained. “We schedule music there all year long, [and] are hoping to add several higher profile national acts this year.”
Vibe: With its high ceiling, brick and stone walls and worn wood floor, the River Room looks like it could be home to a hip home-goods or antique store by day, but it makes for a warm music venue at night with soft, candle-level lighting and similarly soft acoustics.
Musicians perform on a small stage near the center of the room, with folding seats wrapped around it in a semicircle just a few feet away. Big windows open up to the river and city skyline on one end, while at the other sits a large, historic copper-top bar, stocked with primo wine and other items from the cafe’s bar.
Upcoming highlights: The Honeydogs’ Adam Levy (Feb. 4), Billy McLaughlin and Jeff Arundel (Feb. 14), Ari Herstand and Chris Koza (Feb. 25), Dan Navarro (March 8).
Tickets and info: AsterCafe.com/events.