Varsity Theater officially opens in Dinkytown, again

After waiting for a final city inspection, the Varsity Theater is back in business.

Eddie Glenn

After opening, then closing and then opening again, the Varsity Theater reopened near campus earlier this month.

The theater reopened to bring “cultural stimulus” to the Dinkytown area, said its owner, Jason McLean, who also owns the Loring Pasta Bar.

He said the theater is “hopefully, (open) for good.”

The theater opened in January, but Minneapolis ordered it to close in February. This month, the building officially opened for business.

“The city wants you to meet all its codes and requirements, and then some,” McLean said.

He said he had followed Minneapolis’ rules, but the city still didn’t grant the theater a final inspection, which was necessary for it to open.

McLean said that the theater needed building permits, even though nothing was built.

He said the work done to the theater was resurfacing its inside space.

McLean said that he became frustrated while waiting for the city to take action and follow through with the inspection. He decided to unofficially open the theater to motivate the city into working with him to get final approval, he said.

University student Erin Kohl, who has worked at the Loring Pasta Bar for three years, worked at the theater for her first time Saturday.

She has watched the theater “open, and close, and open,” while she worked at the Loring Pasta Bar, she said. She didn’t know what was happening to the theater until it reopened, Kohl said.

McLean’s relationship with the theater began when he attended the now-closed Marshall High School in Minneapolis.

“In my day, it was the most stimulating building in Dinkytown,” he said.

McLean also attended the University before going to New York to pursue a career in acting and directing.

After returning to Minneapolis, McLean said, he was going through Dinkytown when he realized the neighborhood was missing something.

The theater was vacant, so he wanted to revamp it back to the condition it had been when he attended high school, McLean said.

He envisioned a restaurant and theater in which patrons could pass between the two for food and entertainment, he said.

“They would go to the pasta bar to get something to eat, then to the theater to see the show, then back to the bar to talk about the show,” he said. “I wanted the businesses to feed each other.”

Four years ago, McLean opened the Loring Pasta Bar and began working with the city to open the theater.

McLean said the theater fulfills his vision. He said his target audience member is “anyone with a head on their shoulders.” He said he hopes to bring “the city – the world ñ into Dinkytown, integrate the University and academic with the mainstream.”

McLean said the University offers a wide selection of cultural stimuli, including films, live theater, concerts, lectures and comedy. He said he will be open to anything of the public interest.

On Saturday, sophomores Luke Gliddon and Jennifer Schreifels attended a science lecture called Cafe Scientifique at the theater.

Both said they enjoyed the lecture, which the Bell Museum of Natural History hosted, and found the topics and speakers unique and interesting.

Schreifels said the theater was more relaxed and had more comfortable seating than other theaters.