A couple of days after the grand re-opening of Basix, former owner Andrew “Belle” Harrison stopped in to shoot the breeze with the new general manager. Just a few months ago, he had no idea the nightclub at 3916 First Ave. NE – the only remaining LGBTQ bar in Cedar Rapids – would be open […]
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A couple of days after the grand re-opening of Basix, former owner Andrew “Belle” Harrison stopped in to shoot the breeze with the new general manager.
Just a few months ago, he had no idea the nightclub at 3916 First Ave. NE – the only remaining LGBTQ bar in Cedar Rapids – would be open at all, no less thriving.
Harrison, who bought Club Basix in 2012 and renamed it Belle’s Basix after his drag stage name, announced in January on a Facebook post “with bittersweet feelings and major heartache, I am telling you all that as of Jan. 31, I am stepping away from 10 full years of ownership of Club Basix.”
But as he planned to shut down the long-running establishment for good, potential buyers approached him with offers. Ultimately, he reached a deal with Jason Zeman, CEO of Corridor Entertainment Group, which owns Iowa City’s LGBTQ bar Studio 13 as well as Joystick Comedy Bar & Arcade, Eden, Players and Sanctuary, all in Iowa City.
“I chose Jason because his idea for the place was that he could sustain it,” Harrison said.
“Basix is an important part of the Cedar Rapids LGBTQIA++ community,” Zeman wrote in an email to the CBJ. “I’ve known Andy for many years, and we talked at length about the challenges and opportunities for the venue. After looking at all of the information, we decided it was the right thing to do for the community and our growing business group.”
Corridor Entertainment Group took over ownership of Basix on Feb. 1 and shut down for about a month for renovations.
“We did a facelift on the inside and outside of the space. New signage is coming shortly on the outside,” Zeman wrote. “Inside, we redesigned the bar, installed new flooring, removed and changed some cosmetic fixtures, added new sound and lighting equipment and more. We are still looking at adding a limited food menu before Pride [month in June].”
Belle’s Basix had gained a reputation not only for being a safe space for the LGBTQ community but also for its fundraisers for people in need and hosting political figures giving stump speeches. But all of that came to a halt two years ago when the pandemic shut down bars and restaurants and kept people at home.
Like many establishments, Belle’s Basix struggled to get its pre-pandemic business back. Finally, with the building needing updates and other expenses adding up, Harrison decided to sell.
“I didn’t want to sell it. I just had to,” he said. “I didn’t apply for PPP [Paycheck Protection Program] because the bank told me I wouldn’t need to because I only had five employees, and I would only get like $2,000. Plus, we still had to pay for our dram shop insurance [liability policy designed to protect businesses that sell and serve alcoholic beverages]. We were closed for a year, and I couldn’t catch up to that. I had no desire to give it up, but I didn’t have a choice.”
When Zeman bought Basix, he asked Amanda Rops to be its general manager. Rops, working at Studio 13 in Iowa City at the time, jumped at the opportunity.
“I have always been in the service industry,” she said. “This is the one job I love getting up and going to.”
Although there are well-publicized worker shortages in the hospitality industry as the pandemic subsides, she hasn’t had a problem scheduling workers at Studio 13 or Basix.
“Shifts are never hard to fill,” she said.
Rops dug in with the demolition and renovation and welcomed record-breaking business during the official grand re-opening March 11-12.
“It was the best day Basix has ever had,” she said. “People wanted to see where we wanted to take it.”
In honor of the longtime business remaining open, Cedar Rapids Mayor Tiffany O’Donnell made a proclamation recognizing March 12 as “Basix Day.”
“In order for Cedar Rapids to truly be an inclusive community, we need to have a place for everyone,” she wrote in an email to the CBJ. “Basix has proven to be more than a bar. It’s a place for our LGBTQ+ community to gather and be seen as themselves. It’s important that we value places like this for all of our communities.”
Corridor Entertainment Group’s reputation of hosting a good time at its establishments has also piqued interest, Rops said.
“People know it as a really fun environment,” she said.
Matt Truesdell was a regular customer at Studio 13 and Belle’s Basix before moving to Wisconsin a few years ago. Before moving back to Cedar Rapids in early March, he was shocked to hear that Basix was on the verge of closing for good.
‘I was very happy to hear that it was being bought by Jason because I didn’t want to see it leave Cedar Rapids. It broke my heart,” he said. “This is where I came when I first moved here and met a lot of good people here.”
Along with updates to the building itself, programming at Basix is also being revamped.
“Basix was a natural fit for us as we are able to leverage our current relationships to streamline operations and provide more opportunity for performers, staff, customers and the community as a whole,” Zeman wrote.
As well as keeping the popular poker bingo on Tuesday and the weekend drag shows, Basix has added open mic Sundays, karaoke Mondays and trivia Wednesdays.
“After the past 24 months, people want to escape for a show, comedy, great food and drink, etc. and locally owned establishments offer all of that with amazing service and value,” Zeman wrote. “Having safe LGBTQIA++ spaces is important for our community as we provide a unique environment and entertainment options that welcomes everyone. As we continue to expand our portfolio, we hope to continue to diversify and bring unique concepts to the Corridor.”