The Listing – The Hook and Ladder Theater
- 3010 Minnehaha Avenue
- Minneapolis, MN 55406
- Opened 2016
- Lounge capacity at 40
- Mission Room capacity at 150
- Theater capacity at 280
- Scattered seating throughout venue depending on show
- Showcasing local beer and ciders, with a recently approved full liquor license
- Street parking and handicap accessible spaces
The South Minneapolis’s Hook and Ladder Theater has a long line of history behind it. In 1894 it was one of the southernmost fire stations in the Twin Cities. Over the course of many years, it went from Fire Station #21, to Hook & Ladder #8, and in 1999 became Patrick’s Cabaret. When the cabaret moved in 2016, the Hook and Ladder Theater & Lounge emerged.
The newly formed non-profit Firehouse Performing Arts Center (FPAC) also settled in to deliver a message and mission to the venue. This business model easily benefits the artists. The door is a 80/20 split, which means more money goes to the bands. It also allows the venue to take more chances on bands. By utilizing volunteers and grants, they can focus on developing artists and helping them grow their audience.
The heavily experienced staff includes FPAC Executive Director Chris Mozena, who brings a history of booking, independent record promoting, record label ownership, and arts curation to the venue. Jackson Buck is a talent curator and KFAI radio host of Freewheelin’. Jesse Brodd booked music at Harriet Brewing and was with Sue McLean & Associates for 10 years on the marketing team. General Manager Mark Walztoni spent 10 years working at the legendary First Avenue. As Mark shares, “We are all seasoned veterans to this business and all spent our adult lives working for profit versions of this. We’ve seen the pitfalls for artists and difficulties in pulling enough of a profit to make the money guys happy. It’s just a different mindset here. It also provides opportunities for some of the more weird shit, that is artistically valid but doesn’t have a mainstream audience.”
Recently opened, the Mission Room was birthed on Christmas Day last year. As a dance studio, the space had to undertake some large transformations. An HVAC was flown onto the roof, the furnace was torn out, thousands of dollars of sprayed ceiling treatment went in, and a new stage was built. A converted side area that used to be offices is now a separate lounge area, sectioned off by half-walls that were created for the room. There are plans on adding a garage door in the back and introducing a patio for summer. Filled with food trucks and umbrellas, the vibe will include live music spilling outside.
The shag carpeted stage is shaped as a long L. Two long walls of heavy drape flank the space, providing added sound absorption. Dual flown QSC KW50 speakers and EV subs complete the sound system. In the smaller space, they don’t plan on needing to microphone amps or drums. A Midas digital mixer runs from an iPad, giving the engineer room to roam and adjust volumes anywhere in the room. With the intention of maximizing floor space, there is no designated sound booth. As a brand new venue, the obvious aim is bridging the gap between artist and fans. Everyone is close to the stage with perfect views. You feel like a part of the show. Additionally, the venue has started a new Hook & Laughter monthly comedic series that will be sure to boost that connectivity.
When opening in 2016, the building had two main spaces, the Lounge and the Theater. The Lounge has become Instagram famous with the giant MPLS sign. Used for free music Wednesday and Death Comedy Jam, the Lounge is also expertly utilized as a second stage to the main room. By placing bands in the Lounge, they can effectively showcase more artists in a night. When one band is ending on the main stage, the next can start in the Lounge. The audience can move back and forth, seeing 5-6 bands in a night without delay. It’s a brilliant way to support 5-6 bands in the same amount of time that many venues can only feature 2-3.
Deeper into the space, the Theater features a spring dance floor and the original firehouse door as the stage backdrop. A robust sound system provides excellent coverage for the large fish mounted on the walls. Decorative chandeliers hang low, giving the space an immediate vibe.
The acoustics in the repurposed space shine. The floor is slightly slanted forward, an element from the original flooring in the firehouse. It was designed to help drain the space from horse excrement. There’s a staircase leading to a monstrous artist space above, fit with a kitchen, shower, living room, and a private green room.
Having three differently sized venues in one space is a promoter’s dream. It’s a blank canvas where you can showcase multiple artists. The Hook and Ladder is adding a ticket booth where you can upgrade your ticket, giving you the ability to roam back and forth between all the venues. They essentially have the ability to host an indoor music festival with 3 stages.
There’s also a new hierarchy that gives Hook and Ladder a chance to develop bands. Local artists can start in the Lounge, grow to fill the Mission Room, then explode to fill the Theater, much like a farm league. The 3 venues will also give them more space to expand with international acts. There is already a push for more punk and heavy rock music in the spaces. As a venue that clearly caters to the creative arts, the progression they offer for our local bands is impressive. In talking with Mark Walztoni and Jackson Buck, they want to remove any and all barriers that people have in experiencing live music.
Matthew Amundsen, Mixing Engineer
Matthew worked at Patrick’s Cabaret for many years before his impromptu interview. When the cabaret moved out of the space, Chris Mozena asked him to come in and check out what they were doing. He was handed a list of equipment and told “Here’s all the gear we’re going to buy. But if you think we should make some changes, let us know because you can run this.” As Matthew shared, “It was the most informal interview I’ve ever had.” His experience with the cabaret taught him how to deal with a variety of acts, how to deal with people, and how to execute ideas.
“I think as a sound guy working with people is almost your most important skill because if you can’t work with people than no one wants to come to your club” states Matthew.
Matthew knows if the band is happy, the audience is happy. He’s always interested in helping a performer give their best show, and navigate how to showcase their craft. His ability to save mixing board settings and recall them back when an artist returns is a great perk. If a band is late or misses their soundcheck, he can recall their previous show and have stuff mostly setup. Matthew knows as a non-profit they don’t have deep pockets to cover large guarantees. But if they can catch a band on the way up, treat them properly, and help them put on a great show by bringing in a larger audience, then the hope is building loyalty where that artist will choose to come back to them. It’s the right way to handle relationships and be a conduit for creative success.
When ordering your cocktail, don’t expect a straw. The Hook and Ladder is a low waste event and focuses on being environmentally smart. It’s also the only partially solar-powered venue in the Twin Cities.
Also, drink up, because you’ll want to visit the 5 restrooms, each one featuring a different chandelier.
Mark your calendars for July 13th, as the Hook and Ladder hosts the 9th Annual Roots, Rock, and Deep Blues Festival. Look for an exclusive official lineup next week from Music in Minnesota.
The Guest Room
Erik Ritland, Copy Editor with Music in Minnesota
The Hook and Ladder and I go way back. I first covered the Roots, Rock, and Deep Blues Festival for Curious North, the last publication I wrote for, in 2014. In 2015, I covered it for Rambling On, my current solo writing venture. A highlight of that year was an in-depth phone interview I did with local Americana legend Charlie Parr.
If you haven’t attended the Roots, Rock, and Deep Blues Festival, I highly encourage you to, as it is one of the best outdoor events of the year.
My latest foray at the Hook and Ladder was for a fabulous acoustic David Bowie tribute this past January. Like all events at the venue, everything was perfect: the laid back vibe, great beer selection, pristine sound, and kick ass band that obviously had a passion for Bowie.
Full schedule can be found here.
Music venues are the lifeblood of our community. By providing musicians the opportunity to showcase, collaborate, and experiment with their craft, venues are essential in their development. This series will continue to promote and support our local venues across Minnesota. Please see the previous articles below and go support local music. Our hope is these articles show the importance of supporting venues and places where creativity can thrive.