Underground Laugh Lounge, The Study open in downtown Niles

Published 11:00 am Friday, September 8, 2023

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NILES — A historic Niles building has a new lease on life as an entertainment venue filled with laughter and libations.

Dozens of business owners, officials and community members from Niles and beyond attended the ribbon cutting and soft opening of the Underground Laugh Lounge comedy club and The Study speakeasy bar at 321 E. Main St., Niles. 

The grand opening weekend shows will have Brad Miller as the MC, ULL general manager Sean Shank as the feature act and headliner Davin Rosenblaat. While Friday night’s shows are sold out, tickets are still available for Saturday’s 7 and 9 p.m. showings.

The club will host new acts each weekend as well as open mic nights each Thursday.

“It’s like an adult Chuck E. Cheese,” said Sheila Koebel, who owns the building with her husband, Karl. “I want you to come in and laugh. We need to laugh more; we spend too much time complaining. We need to learn to have a little more fun.”

For the Koebels, the soft opening was a “thank you” to the various people and groups who helped make their dream a reality.

“So many people stopped over and lugged stuff, built stuff and cleaned up stuff,” Sheila said. “I just wanted to say thank you to them.”

The building, which sat vacant for five years, was purchased by the Koebels for $100 in August 2022 and they spent the next year transforming the space into the Main Street-level Underground Laugh Lounge and the Fourth Street-level speakeasy The Study.

The renovation process was a labor of love for the Koebels, who handled much of the work themselves.

“We’re not fancy contractors,” Sheila said. “We’ve got blood, sweat and tears into this thing. It’s a lot of work, I’m tired. We can’t thank everyone enough for their help.”

The ULL features a stage and a variety of seating, along with the comedy club’s own downstairs bar and facilities. A mural on the back wall features legendary comedians and personalities painted to appear as if they were sitting and taking in the show. The remodel exposed a brick archway, near where attendees will enter, including an available lift for those unable to use the stairs, and a glass case for performers to sell merchandise. The entry hallway is already decorated with photos of the house MCs and the staff who will be serving.

Sheila said the comedy club will feature a diverse array of acts she hopes will please a variety of audiences. Each show listing features a rating to help guests make informed decisions. The Koebels and Shank hope the venue will become an entertainment destination for people from Niles and beyond. A place where guests can laugh and escape reality, if even for a few hours.

“Every week is somebody different,” she said. “If rated R is not your thing and PG is better, that’s fine. It’s like going to the movies; you might go watch this movie and it might be a crying movie, comedy movie or love movie. Sometimes it may not be your bag, so just because one weekend doesn’t quite really do it for you doesn’t mean the guy next weekend won’t. There’s something for everybody.”

The Koebels described the study as a “library feel”, with lighting, decor and serviceware to match the Prohibition-style atmosphere. The menu features a variety of whiskeys, cocktails, beers and wines.

“The vibe is just more relaxing,” she said. “You can get out of the noise, come on in and have a beverage. There’s jazz music, dim lights, the fireplace is going.”

Carnegie history

Niles’ Carnegie Library building opened in 1904 through a grant from industrialist Andrew Carnegie, matched with community funds. The program required that communities requesting the grant demonstrate a need for a library in their town. They also had to provide land for the building and set aside annual funds for the library’s operations. Carnegie provided $15,000 for the building construction. The Federation of Women’s Clubs, private donors and the city raised funds for furnishing and staff. 

After the Niles District Library was built in 1963, the historic building housed the Chamber of Commerce for roughly 40 years until the chamber moved its offices to City Hall. 

The Koebels have long been active in the community via food events, fundraisers and the like, preferring to be involved in the background. Two years ago, Sheila stepped into the light and joined forces with Mayor Nick Shelton to create the Greater Niles Sights and Lights Decorating Contest.

For them, the comedy club and speakeasy were the perfect way to bring life back into one of the city’s most historic buildings. 

“It sat empty for five years,” Sheila said. “It’s such a shame because it really is beautiful. It’s 120 years old but to find the brick and the hardwood upstairs and stuff…What a beautiful building.”

For more information or to purchase tickets to a show, visit undergroundlaughlounge.com.