Jester’s Lounge bringing comedy back to Millwork District

Comedy is returning to Dubuque’s Historic Millwork District.

John Ohnesorge, of East Dubuque, Ill., plans to open The Jester’s Lounge in Novelty Iron Works Building at the site of the former Comedy Bar, 333 E. 10th St. In addition to being a dedicated comedy venue on Wednesday through Saturday, the lounge’s bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days per week.

Ohnesorge has set a tentative opening night for Wednesday, June 19, assuming all of the permits and licenses come through in a timely manner.

“What Dubuque doesn’t realize is the tri-state area has a huge comedy scene,” Ohnesorge said. “Comics I know in town were devastated when the Comedy Bar closed. They loved it there.”

Ohnesorge owns Top Billing Entertainment and books comedians, bands and other performers at various venues. Those connections are an asset as he launches his new endeavor. He also has bar management experience, having previously owned Southend Tap. Novelty Iron Works Building already houses successful venues such as Gary Dolphin’s Iron Bar, Backpocket Dubuque and an 8,000-square-foot event center.

“When I sold (Southend Tap), I vowed that I would never get in the bar business again, but here I am,” Ohnesorge said. “It was a no-brainer. You have Dolph’s and Backpocket, and they are going to add Driftless Pizza right above me. Even if I get the overflow of some of that, I’ll take it.”

Local comedians are thrilled at the prospect of again having a dedicated venue to perform and work on their craft. The Lucky Cat in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recently closed, said local comedian Todd Baysinger, leaving another hole in the area comedy scene.

“It means the world to us,” said Baysinger. “The Comedy Bar was run by people from Chicago, and it was fun for a while, but there were a lot of inconsistencies, and they shut it down. That kind of devastated us for a little bit because having a consistent place to do comedy in Dubuque is great, not just for comedians in Dubuque but Cedar Rapids, Iowa City, Davenport and the tri-state area in general.”

Baysinger said the Comedy Bar, which opened in November 2019 and closed earlier this year, not only suffered from long-distance management but also lacked the promotion it needed to be a long-term success.

“I would say, ‘the Comedy Bar in the Millwork District’ and people would be like, ‘what’s that?’” Baysinger recalled. “A lot of people didn’t know what it was. With ‘Johnny O’ running the place, he is going to rebuild it and brand it and rename it. I have 100% faith in him because he knows what he’s doing. And you can’t have a Dubuque venue with Chicago prices. We will have better pricing.”

Ohnesorge said the comedy club will be separate from the bar. Patrons can choose to see the show or just stay at the bar. He said the cost of the comedy shows will vary. He expects prices to run from free to $10.

“It’s not going to be anything outrageous,” Ohnesorge said. “I’m just really excited for the comedians in town. They are stepping up with suggestions and help, all the way up to staffing. Business brings business, and it’s going to be good for the Millwork District and the community.”

Jeffrey Wilson, who is known locally by his stage name “D’Licious”, said area comedians are committed to making The Jester’s Lounge a success. He’ll be hosting an open-mic competition on Wednesdays, which he is leaning toward naming The Jester’s Court. It is an open-mic format in which the audience picks the winners, who will then get an opportunity to open for a featured showcase.

“Comedy is great for every person,” Wilson said. “There is no exception to it. I love helping people and bringing joy into peoples’ lives, even if it’s just for an hour. If they’re having a bad day or a bad week, they come to comedy and get to let loose for an hour or two and feel better.”

He said the venue will not only serve as a comedy club, but he also expects the bar to become a hangout for comedians, musicians, etc.

“It’s a place where you don’t know who you will see,” Wilson said. “Comics will be hanging out there. Bands passing through are always looking for a place to hang out. It has a cool feel to it. Everyone is so excited. Dubuque has something coming to it.”

Baysinger said Comedy Bar was one of his favorite places to perform and he expects the new club to carry on that tradition.

“That room is perfect for comedy,” Baysinger said. “It can’t be anything else but a comedy club. When that room is full, it is magical. We are going to put our all into it and make it as success. We’re going to make it a thing.”