Lush Lounge & Theater – A Labor of Love

Photo by Randy Stern
Photo by Randy Stern

Everyone loves a comeback story. While plenty of businesses have suffered or outright closed due to the pandemic, it is a select few that get the chance for a second life!

That is exactly what cherished entertainment venue Lush Lounge and Theater got last December, when they reopened their doors under new management, along with a partnership with Betty & Earl’s Biscuit Kitchen. What most people don’t know is that the reopening was actually a great labor of love, spearheaded by Andrew Rausch, who has performed for many years as Crystal Belle.

Photo by Randy Stern

“I moved up here eight years ago from Iowa City,” Rausch explained, “I was a part-time bartender, and I worked in retail as well…and couldn’t really find my place when I moved up here, I didn’t really know where I wanted to go but I remember we came out here to LUSH one night and met so many cool people. And I just knew that when I walked in the door, and I felt the surroundings that this was the kind of bar that I wanted to go to, this was the kind of place that I wanted to experience.” He was hired as a bartender shortly after this, moving from part-time to fill-time over the years.

“This place has taught me about love, about acceptance, but also hard lessons,” said Rausch, “I will never say that I am the perfect person, I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my day…but it’s always taught me a lesson at the end of it. So, when it closed and I heard the building was for sale, that’s what really sparked the motivation behind me to say, I can’t lose this queer space that has taught me so much. This is where I met my husband, this is where I met some of my best friends. It saved my life in so many ways. It’s only fair that I try and save it now.”

Photo by Randy Stern

Together, with Jared Lawrence (also known as Nikki Vixxen), Jason Matheson, and Jennifer Lueck, they purchased the building and reopened in December of 2021 – holding onto the name to ensure the continuation of the legacy that means so much to them.

“I know I’m not the only one to have these experiences here,” said Rausch. “I know so many other couples who have met their significant other’s here or they had their birthday here…I just wanted to honor that.”

While the nod to the past remains in the name and the space itself, much of what Lush will be going forward will be new.

Photo by Randy Stern

“We’ve got a lot of fun plans.” Rausch says, “Obviously, we came out of this pandemic as a new company in a lot of ways. It’s new ownership, it’s a new vision, a new design, aesthetic, and really after two years of being closed it’s almost a new customer too. We’re planning to bring some new and exciting [events to LUSH].”

One of the ways they decided to innovate was in finding exactly which amazing local performers would grace the stage. Andrew and Jared, both seasoned performers, decided to find their new cast of performers through an audition process.

“We had sixty people come and audition and out of that we chose our eight cast members.” It’s a unique style of hiring, but Rausch is confident in the lineup, saying.

“We wanted to make sure that when we looked for this cast,” said Rausch, “we were opening it up to all different types of people, all different types of drag, all different types of entertainers.”

Photo by Randy Stern

The new regular weekly schedule will include a RuPaul’s Drag Race viewing party every Friday, Celebrity Bingo Wednesday & Drag Bingo Sunday (presented by the Aliveness Project) Erin Schwab & Friends Thursday evenings and their famous drag brunches every weekend.

“The drag brunches are incredibly popular,” said Rausch, “I don’t think drag brunches will ever go away in the Twin Cities, everyone just loves to come out for them, but ours are a little different with elevated production with video, lights, and stage. And then we have our nighttime shows which- something that is really fun is we’re doing more crowd interactive experiences…we’re amping up our production with those as well.”

Tickets to all the events mentioned here (and more) can be found at the LUSH website, LUSHmpls.com. Personally, I can’t wait to see what is in store!

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