Denver-based arts-and-crafts bar prepares North Loop location
When guests belly up to the bar at Upstairs Circus they have a menu for food, drinks — and crafts.
The Denver-based company is a unique kind of bar and event space where diners book a time to make arts and crafts in addition to enjoying a cocktail or snack. Thanks to family in the Twin Cities area, Upstairs Circus is expanding and plans to open its next Parisian circus-themed location in downtown’s North Loop neighborhood on Friday, July 21.
Founder Kelly Johannsen, the idea person behind the concept, said the name came from her husband, who used to joke, “Stop it with the ideas. It’s like you’ve got a circus up there.”
“It kind of turned into flying in the face of the ‘canvas and cocktails’ and the ‘sipping and painting.’ We wanted to be something different,” she said.
The Minneapolis location will be led by Johannsen’s sister Shannon Schmidt and her husband Randy, who both grew up near White Bear Lake. The Twin Cities bar will be the third location of Upstairs Circus, which opened its first location in Denver’s lower downtown or LoDo neighborhood more than three years ago and a second bar in the DTC or Denver Tech Center area more than a year ago.
The concept works like this. Groups reserve a seat at a project social, a block of time when they come in to dine and make a craft at communal tables. They then choose from a menu of 30 or so projects with hundreds of potential color, material and design customizations, along with various time commitments and difficulties. Upstairs Circus creates kits with all the supplies, tools and instructions participants need to finish a craft.
Projects range from the popular nail and string art, a moderately difficult and somewhat lengthy craft option, to necklaces with a tassel or stamped charm, which take just an hour on average. The most difficult projects involve working with leather, from a DIY pet collar to a clutch purse. Crafters, who have to be at least 18 or have a waiver signed by a guardian, will cut and sand wine bottles from the bar into tumblers as part of another project.
If someone needs help, bartenders and creative assistants — staff share both bartending and crafting duties, Schmidt said — will be around to help.
The Minneapolis location adds food to the mix. While crafting, guests can order $12 flatbreads or other snacks or enjoy a dozen circus-themed specialty cocktails ($8-$9), local craft beer or wine. Schmidt said despite the bar’s unique focus, they don’t skimp out on the beverage program.
“We make good cocktails,” she said. “It’s not a wine cart in the corner.”
Upstairs Circus will carry takeout menus from local restaurants, including Red Rabbit across the street, and will allow guests to bring in their own food.
The modular space, located at Washington & 2nd in the former Sex World building, seats 84 people and can host large groups — even weddings. The building is part of a rehabilitation project from Falcon Ridge Partners to redo the building for new office and retail tenants. Now known as The Washington, the complex is or will be home to menswear retailer Bonobos, a Bank of American location, boutique fitness studio ALTR and new office tenants. The adult store is still located in the back of the building.
Upstairs Circus typically hosts two project socials daily, a happy hour social from 3 p.m.–6 p.m. and an evening social from 7 p.m.–10 p.m. Upstairs Circus has “Making ‘n Mimosas” brunches from 11 a.m.–2 p.m. on weekends, its most popular events. The events cost about $36-39 per person before food and drinks.
The bar, at 125 Washington Ave. N., hosts events from 3 p.m.–10 p.m. during the week, 11 a.m.–10 p.m. on Saturday and 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. on Sunday.