The Spud Jr. owner Justin LaRocque is opening a new event venue called Prohibition Comedy & Event Room on DeMers Avenue in East Grand Forks.
It held its first event – a concert on May 22 – to what LaRocque called “good feedback.” Work on the space will continue as events happen, though much of it has already been completed. He estimates that the completed venue will hold a maximum of 175 people and will be suited to host a variety of events – namely stand-up comedy shows.
The space sits adjacent to The Spud Jr. and was previously a studio, but it has sat vacant since its previous owners decided not to renew the lease at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s kind of just been sitting ever since then,” he said. “I kind of went back and forth on the idea of if I’d ever want to try and use it. Obviously, we needed to make sure we're going to get through COVID first, but it's one of the only other old buildings left in town, and it's just a gorgeous space.”
The name comes from an appreciation of the role East Grand Forks played during Prohibition – and from the doorway that connects it to The Spud Jr.
“We’re going to cover it up with a full bookcase,” LaRocque said. “The idea is that it’s there, but you wouldn’t know it’s there unless you know about it. That’s where the whole ‘Prohibition’ concept came along.”
The idea came to LaRocque during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, when he originally wanted to focus renovation efforts to make it a multipurpose event space. As his idea grew into reality, he decided it would be best to focus on stand-up comedy shows while still being compatible with most other small-capacity events. Now, Friday nights will become comedy nights at Prohibition Comedy & Event Room.
LaRocque began leasing the building recently, and he has made repairs to the space to make it a suitable venue for a multitude of purposes. He said he wants the space to be a one-size-fits-all space for small events and celebrations.
“(I want) whatever would fit in there nicely and would work,” he said. “I want to try and bring different events myself to use the space, but also to really have it as an option for anybody that's looking to do something, from a meeting, conference, bridal shower, groom’s dinner or full-on wedding venue. We’re just trying to make it as multi-use as we possibly can.”
LaRocque said he did not have concerns about Minnesota’s business sanctions, which Governor Tim Walz eased in March, when he was crafting his business model with hopes of opening its doors this year.
“I knew it was going to be lifted shortly, and when we actually did pull the trigger on it, we had the timeline from the governor's office on when everything would be happening,” he said. “It gave me a little bit more relief to know that end was in sight if I did take it on.”