With businesses reopenning or expanding operations and an increasing number of Boulderites simply over quarantine, a new “normal” is emerging. Fitness facilities shifted to online training, restaurants began offering partially-prepared take-home meals, retailers limit visitors and enforce social distancing, and others face these big hurdles and more.
Laugh-Lines Comedy Club, a New York-style comedy club based on a packed room and intimate setting, opened its Boulder hub at 1739 Pearl Street in January and was just picking up when Covid-19 struck. In response to the pandemic, Laugh-Lines recently revamped its model to begin serving food in a cafe-style setting with a joke in each meal.
Brad Belanger, who has done stand-up for a decade, founded the comedy club with the intent to run it more as a comedy bar and offer comedy improv classes as well as other interactive elements like a “First-timers Five Minute Comedy Show.”
After the eight shows it produced since January sold out completely, the club anticipated a busy summer season bringing comedians from all over the world to Boulder.
However, when the pandemic hit, shutting down all clubs and scuttling air travel and any gatherings, those plans quickly changed. Laugh-Lines had to cancel its entire summer lineup and actually, temporarily, shuttered. With a business based on a full room, its owner Brad wasn’t able to renew Laugh-Lines’s lease and had to move everything out.
The comedy club’s neighbor, bike shop and taproom, Full Cycle and The Tune Up, owner Russell Chandler, and now a silent partner in Laugh-Lines, stepped in to help get the club get back in business.
“Russ helped us figure out what needed to be done with the stimulus package and relief for small businesses,” said owner Brad. “Once he got us back in the venue we were like, okay, how do we make money now?”
Like many businesses reopening, Laugh-Lines had rethink its direction completely as performance and event venues still don’t have the option to host or produce shows, and won’t for another three weeks, according to Brad.
Around mid-May, the club partnered with The Tune Up, and began offering craft beer for pick up and delivery. Then about two weeks ago, the club threw a chef hat on its logo and officially launched its Comedy Cafe.
Menu items include mushroom Swiss chicken and grilled veggie sandwiches, salads, hot dogs (and smart dogs), croissants, ice cream and fruit pie. As the comedy club stands in the place of former Italian restaurant Strade Bianche Cafe, it has a full kitchen where chef and baker Alli Powers, who has 20 years of experience her belt, cooks everything in-house and creates all the recipes.
Every meal comes with a joke of the day, which the club gets written from comedians from around the world stuck in quarantine.
Prior to Covid-19, Laugh-Lines had planned on serving food with a bar-style menu centered around drinking, but not to this extent. Boulderites can now also order from Laugh-Lines through Grubhub and Uber Eats.
Laugh-Lines plans to change its menu weekly, always keeping with healthy, Boulder-friendly options. Soon it will add fresh donuts and coffee to the list.
“As soon as we get the green light,” says Brad, “we’ll be back with shows. The (logo’s) hat may come off depending on how well the cafe does. If people like it, we’ll keep doing it.”
Brad’s vision for Laugh-Lines always included having old comedy records playing inside with classics like Richard Pryor, Steve Martin, and George Carlin.
As Boulder plans its reopening, Brad stays in the loop with conference calls with both state and local governments, figuring out the club’s limitations, and when Laugh-Lines can start back with live shows.
“As of right now,” says Brad, “there’s zero entertainment inside or out permitted in Boulder for the next three weeks. But that changes all the time.”
Ideas currently on the table include opening an outdoor space in the back and looking into opening space out front with the potential of the city shutting down parts of Pearl Street to through-traffic. As of right now, Laugh-Lines doesn’t have a clear answer on its restrictions so until Brad can get a better idea, like most owners, he leans on improv.
Header image source: Laugh-Lines Comedy Club.