Have you ever driven down the main street in an old Minnesota town and thought, “That old building must have really been something in its heyday. Wouldn’t it be great if it could have a new life and a new purpose?”
In 2000, Anne Makepeace had that very thought about the old Grand Hotel building in downtown New Ulm, now transformed into The Grand Center for Arts and Culture, a center for arts, music and gathering.
But the building held extra significance for Makepeace. Her ancestor, Phillip H. Gross, built the first structure on that land in 1856. It was a hotel called the Minnesota Haus. The wood-framed Minnesota Haus burned down in 1860. Phillip H. Gross re-built his hotel, bigger and better, and this time he called it the Union Hotel.
After providing many a weary traveler a place to lay his/her head, and even serving as a makeshift hospital during the Dakota Conflict of 1862, the hotel once again suffered a catastrophic fire in 1875. Clearly a man of great determination, Gross once again re-built his hotel … this time using brick. After Gross passed away in 1895, and all other family members ceased to show interest in running the business, the hotel was sold to a new owner. During another renovation, the third floor was added, and it was renamed the Grand Hotel in 1899.
The space on the first floor currently occupied by The Grand Kabaret, an intimate live music venue and bar, has served many purposes for the building in the past 150+-plus years. It was a saloon, a hotel lobby, a barbershop, and a fudge shop, just to name a few.
In 2000, Makepeace and her family would purchase the building once owned by her great great grandfather and set out to give it a new life as a gathering place for musicians, actors, visual artists, writers, and anyone interested in the fruits of their labors.
After a renovation of the first floor in 2002, the current Kabaret space was known as the Rhein River Arts Center. Here, Makepeace would provide local visual artists a space to display and sell their work, as well as offer local musicians a chance to play small, intimate concerts a few times a month. The live performances proved to be just what the community needed. People began asking if the concerts could be more frequent and if they would consider serving food and drinks to round out the experience.
Makepeace and her family listened, and another renovation of the space was set into motion. In 2010, The Grand Kabaret opened with its presen -day layout and purpose. A cozy bar was added in the back, complete with the original check-in desk from another historic New Ulm hotel, The Dakota, as the main spot to belly up. An in-house sound system was also installed to truly make the Kabaret a proper music venue.
In 2009 a nonprofit organization was formed to turn the rest of the building into a fully functioning arts center. After an extensive renovation, The Grand Center for Arts and Culture opened its doors to the public and has been improving and evolving ever since.
The second floor holds a gallery and a community education space. The former hotel rooms on the third floor were turned into rentable art studios and one large apartment for an artist-in-residence program. The back deck was added for summertime socializing and live music performances. Most recently, the basement has been turned into the Cellar Press, a printmaking studio with several presses and the educators to show you how to use them.
One of the greatest assets to The Grand Center for Arts and Culture continues to be the Grand Kabaret stage. The building is now owned by the nonprofit and the stage is booked by its volunteers and staff.
The Kabaret is an awesome venue to hear a wide variety of singers and musicians most Friday evenings (and some Saturdays). The occasional national act will grace the stage, such as John McCutcheon or Ray Bonneville, but for the most part, it is a platform for local and regional artists to share their talents with an appreciative audience.
Bands such as the Cactus Blossoms and Erik Koskinen have played the Grand. I, myself, have enjoyed Good Night Gold Dust, Twin Cities Hot Club, the Ben Marti Trio, Southside Aces, and many, many more amazing acts while sipping a glass of wine and snacking on a cheese plate.
I may be a little biased (I served on the original board for The Grand Center for Arts and Culture, and I do live in New Ulm), but I don’t mind saying that The Grand Kabaret is one of my favorite music venues. I have been to many other similar establishments, in Minnesota and beyond, and the atmosphere and quality of music at The Grand can hold its own. The building oozes history. You can feel it’s a place where lives happened, people gathered, and stories have been told. And the music played in the Kabaret, once again, brings it all to life.
In past few months the Kabaret underwent a minor refresh of its interior finishes. If you’ve never been there, or it’s been a minute, it’s worth checking out. Again, my bias may be showing, as I did have a hand in selecting said finishes as a part of my day job as a designer with The Design Element in Mankato. But you’ll have to see it for yourself to decide if I’m right or wrong. And there is no better time than the month of December to check out a show at The Grand Kabaret.
December Kabaret Stage: Friday, Dec. 3: 7-9:30; Ben Marti Trio; Friday, Dec. 10: 7-9:30; Armstrong Blvd Brass Quintet; Friday, Dec. 17: 7-9:30; Open Mic Night; Saturday, Dec. 18: 7-9; Miss Myra Duo. Ticketed show: non-members $15, members $10, college students free.
The Grand Kabaret is located at 210 N. Minnesota, St., New Ulm, MN 56073; see more at thegrandnewulm.com.