Varsity Theater to reopen after more than a year of no public shows

The Dinkytown theater will host its reopening party on Friday under new management.

The exterior of Varsity Theater in Dinkytown on Wednesday, April 26. The theater was sold for over $2 million by former owner Jason McLean following four lawsuits alleging child sex abuse.

Meagan Lynch, Daily File Photo

The exterior of Varsity Theater in Dinkytown on Wednesday, April 26. The theater was sold for over $2 million by former owner Jason McLean following four lawsuits alleging child sex abuse.

by Kassidy Tarala

Varsity Theater will reopen its doors in Dinkytown on Friday for its first public concert since December 2016.

The venue has undergone improvements in the past year in anticipation of the reopening. Businesses neighboring the theater saw a drop in traffic following its closure more than a year ago and are now welcoming the venue’s return.

“In a nutshell, when the Varsity had large events, we had a huge increase in in-store traffic,” said Nato Coles, manager of Mesa Pizza in Dinkytown.

The longtime theater will again see long lines and heavy concert-goer traffic with a reopening party featuring DJ Jake Rudh, Kiss the Tiger, Chris Koza and Dirt Train.

“We wanted to feature local bands, acts and DJs because we really wanted friends, family and neighbors to feel welcome here,” said Varsity Theater General Manager Alex Bennett. “We want people who always loved the Varsity to come back and love it again.”

The theater has undergone physical improvements since new management took over. Bennett said summer concerts were always too hot and winter concerts were too cold, so they’ve updated their HVAC system.

Electrical repairs and Wi-Fi improvements have also been made inside and outside the theater, he said.

“People who went to the theater a lot back in the day will notice that it’s still pretty much the same place that they know and love,” Bennett said.

The reopening party has sold tickets quickly, although Bennett said they will not sell tickets to full capacity.

“It’s just the reopening event, so we wanted to ease the first night for bartenders and other new staff and security,” he said.

After much anticipation from local business owners and residents, theater staff chose this weekend to reopen to make sure everything was “put together and back up and running.”

“We’ve been waiting a long time for the theater to reopen, and we’re just glad that the [previous owner] is out and the theater is back in business,” Coles said.

Mesa Pizza noticed fewer customers while Varsity was out of business.

Mesa staff noticed whenever there was a show at the Varsity, concert-goers would come to the restaurant.

“There’s somewhat of a spillover effect. When the long lines fill up outside of the theater, a lot of them go to Mesa, too,” Coles said.

Local businesses aren’t the only ones who are excited to see the Varsity reopen. University of Minnesota junior Corinna Wiese said she’s happy to have a concert venue back on campus.

Wiese said she didn’t attend any events at the Varsity before it closed due to sexual assault allegations against the previous owner, Jason McLean. McLean drew four lawsuits for sexual assault in 2016.

“I chose not to go to the Varsity based on [the previous owner], but also they didn’t have the best concerts around and it was too small to host bigger acts,” she said.

Wiese plans to attend the reopening party and is hopeful to find interest in future events.

“If they have better acts, I would go again,” she said. “Otherwise, I’m excited for this reopening party.”

Overall, Bennett said people are just anxious to return to the theater.

“Staff, both new and old, are just as excited as the guests to get back to the best venue in Minneapolis,” he said.

With ticket sales up and new management enthusiastic to open the theater, Bennett is expecting the Varsity to receive a warm welcome from local businesses and residents.

“It’s a literal yell-for-joy moment: the Varsity Theater is back!” Bennett said.