When the Applebee’s on Wisconsin Avenue tragically closed last month, the chain restaurant’s departure didn’t just leave the already-ailing Shops Of Grand Avenue with one fewer occupant, it also cost the mall its last place to (legally) purchase and consume alcoholic beverages. Grand Ave won’t be dry for long, though. The Underground Collaborative, a performance space located in the mall’s basement, recently secured a liquor license and could begin serving beer, wine, and cocktails during its performances as soon as the end of this month.
Owner, operator, producer, and now licensed bartender Matt Kemple said The U.C.’s liquor license was something he was pursuing on and off for more than three years. Before gaining approval, the venue had to be shut down for about a month in order for the space’s occupancy to be updated, the bar to be built, a sink to be installed behind the bar, and for Kemple to attend a number of meetings to ensure The Underground Collaborative was up to code.
“It was a huge undertaking,” Kemple says. “I’m trying to operate as a legitimate business, but not being in the public’s eye very much and being kind of hidden down here, it’s been a couple years between inspections.”
Now in full compliance, The U.C.—which routinely hosts stand-up comedy, improv, and productions of local plays—will offer 10 Wisconsin beers and ciders, two or three wine options, and spirits before, during, and after shows. Prices for most items will be between $4 or $5. Kemple made sure to emphasize The U.C. will not be a full-fledged bar.
“We’re not going to be a bar that’ll be open until two in the morning,” Kemple says.
Still, for a space that’s competing for shows with similarly-sized venues that have liquor licenses, the ability to offer alcohol is a way to level the playing field, and for better or worse, can help boost profits and attendance in a market like Milwaukee and in an entertainment medium like comedy.
“That’s not necessarily the primary objective, but it is helpful to have a different piece of the pie to help keep the place going,” Kemple says. “Having the bar can help add some revenue, and that just helps the whole place.”
A few I’s and T’s must be dotted and crossed before The Underground Collaborative can start serving. That, coupled with Kemple being swamped with co-organizing the Milwaukee Comedy Festival and the inaugural Milwaukee Fringe Festival, has left the space’s schedule fairly light this month. However, by the time August rolls around, you’ll be able to legally to tie one on in the basement of the Grand Avenue. Dreams can come true.