There’s been a bit of a laugh deficit in Wichita since the Loony Bin, the city’s only comedy club, closed 13 months ago.
Now it’s back with a new location, name and mission. Live at 215 Performance Theater opened at 215 N. St. Francis last weekend.
“We want to do more than just comedy,” general manager Jeremy Woolever said. “It’ll enable us to put on any shows possible.”
Fans of stand-up comedy needn’t worry. That style of performance will still be featured most Thursdays through Saturdays. A soft opening this weekend showcases comedians Scott White and Sam Norton. The Chinaman, a performer who’s known for his musical impersonations, will headline next week’s grand opening.
Woolever is one of the holdovers from the club’s 14-year run on East 21st Street. A couple of nearby shootings and the landlord’s reluctance to spruce things up convinced the owners to find a new spot. Live at 215 is part of a chain of comedy clubs in Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Little Rock that are owned by partners Jeff Jones and Larry Marks.
“We just figured it was time,” Woolever said. “We needed a different place and face.”
The new club was built in 1910 as the W.H. Gaiser Building, first used for carriages and then automobiles. Exposed brick walls and thick wooden ceiling beams add to the ambience. There’s about 4,500 square feet of space set aside for the club, with more next door planned for office use.
Another part of the appeal was location: It sits right on the border between the Old Town entertainment district and redeveloping downtown, with a 400-space parking lot across the street.
“A lot of good things are happening in this part of town,” Woolever said.
Live at 215 holds 135 seats in its theater, a few fewer than the old location, but also has a 86-seat bar up front where patrons can catch a drink before and after shows, as well as a kitchen capable of cranking out an expanded menu. Live at 215 plans to open for lunch and dinner in a couple of weeks.
Woolever expects the venue to be used for theatrical shows, concerts and private events. He said fans of stand-up comedy have been asking for months when the club would reopen.
That process took six months longer than expected as the owners took pains to make sure the building maintained its historical status. A plan to open last Friday fell through as the necessary inspections could not be completed in time. On Saturday, the doors finally opened despite the fact that all its beverage dispensers weren’t operational.
“We were pouring out Coke by the 2-liter bottles, pouring juice out of bottles,” Woolever said. “I think we did pretty darn well.”
Jones, part of the construction crew covered in dust who’d been laboring on the club the previous day, said he thinks all the work and waiting will pay off.
“We’re looking forward to another good 14 years.”