Local Current Blog

Photos: Inside the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge, Longfellow’s newest venue

Inside the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge in Minneapolis. All photos by Emmet Kowler for MPR.

South Minneapolis’s 3010 Minnehaha Avenue has seen a lot of history. In 1894, it was built as one of the southernmost fire stations in the city (with the original street number 3006). Through the years, it went from Chemical 10 (1894-1901) to Fire Station #21 (1901-6) to Hook & Ladder #8 (1906-61), and the station relocated to 38th Street soon after the building’s decommission. In 1999, non-profit Patrick’s Cabaret moved in and brought community-driven art to the space, but due to lease issues, the non-profit moved out on May 31, 2016.

Just a few months later, former Patrick’s Cabaret music coordinator (and former Palmer’s booker) Chris Mozena announced some big news: the space’s reopening as the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge, run by new non-profit the Firehouse Performing Arts Center, of which Mozena is executive director.

Now that the Hook’s doors have been open for some weeks, I biked over one Saturday for a free LoLa Art Crawl afterparty/chili cook-off. The meal revolutionized my idea of chili, but even more than that, it taught me about where the fire station has been and where the new Firehouse Performing Arts Center is going (think solar panels, artist-curated open stage hours, days reserved for the community, a songwriter residency program, concerts, plays, and much more). Before the afterparty kicked off, Mozena sat down with me to talk about the Hook and Ladder.

On the set-up of the space:

CM: We’re a multi-use space, and we can configure the space about nine or ten different ways. Seated, standing-room only, and hybrids and combinations of the two. We can do weddings. We’re also making ourselves available for community meetings and community events; instructional classes.

The two stages we have are relatively unique, I think, in the Twin Cities. In outdoor festivals, it works so smoothly. So instead of the opening band that builds, builds, crescendos, and then a 30-minute break, we’re just going to go back and forth all night long. It should allow us one extra slot to feature an emerging artist. At that point, the exposure is super important. And that’s part of our mission: finding revenue-generating performance opportunities for artists.

Even though we’re a really old, repurposed facility, the acoustics are great. The most significant investment we made in the transition was a brand-new, digital sound system. It’s been really evident in the handful of shows we’ve had that it was the right investment.

On the remodeling process:

CM: We took over in June and started working on the stage and putting a sound system in and monkeying with the lights. In July, we took over the Twin Cities Roots, Rock and Deep Blues Fest. It was a festival I started before coming to Patrick’s Cabaret. We didn’t want to see that go away, so we figured out how to host it and work it into the remodeling schedule. And the festival really informed what the new identity of this space is going to be: more music-focused.

On keeping the building in shape:

CM: We’re implementing a $1-per-ticket facility upkeep charge just to help us. Two weeks ago, the air conditioner went out. Thirteen hundred bucks. We’re in the process of some new fire code work on the stairs and the back hallway. As an executive director, it feels completely irresponsible of me not to have some reservoir — some resource — to deal with these things as they come up.

On recognizing the building’s legacy:

CM: Patrick’s Cabaret was founded by Patrick Scully 30 years ago. He’s a provocateur, dancer, artist, orator, storyteller. A real talented dude. He had exited the cabaret about six or seven years ago and is really concentrating on his art, and he teaches at the U. But he’s coming back in mid-October to do a six-show run called Leaves of Grass.

We’re really excited to have that kind of continuity with the space. He came into it so many years ago and did his thing, and now he’s coming back in the first solid month of our programming and participating here. That feels good.

On the Hook’s community focus:

CM: Minneapolis is a really big small town. We’re hoping this space can be a hub of connection for artists and collaborative stuff as well as performance opportunities.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of stress in the community lately, and [the chili cook-off] is one little way to try to put people in the same room and break bread. Let’s get basic and just break bread and talk. We’re just really excited to be open and functioning and able to embrace the community, saying, “Here we are!”

Writer Cecilia Johnson and photographer Emmet Kowler both call South Minneapolis home.