The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Joystick rebrands to multi-genre entertainment venue Alley Cat

The popular Iowa City comedy arcade below LGBTQ+ bar Studio 13, which operated as the Yacht Club for almost 30 years, will return to its live music roots when it reopens as Alley Cat in early May.
Darren Chen
A microphone placed on the stage for the Open Mic Night at the Joystick Comedy Arcade in Iowa City on Monday, December 6, 2022.

Joystick Arcade, the popular underground comedy club below Studio 13 in Iowa City, will soon become a venue featuring more than just stand-up and karaoke.

This weekend’s show, headlined by comedian Brittany Brave, will be the venue’s last under the name Joystick.

Following the performance, the bar will officially be renamed to Alley Cat. The rebrand is a decision that Jason Zeman, the CEO of Corridor Entertainment Group, said pays tribute to its above-ground neighbor’s former name.

This transition will be the second in the venue’s history. After nearly 30 years of operating as a live music venue named Yacht Club, the venue was renamed to Joystick in 2021. Back then, Zeman saw an opening downtown for a comedy “barcade,” which he felt Joystick could fill.

“We were looking for something different, something that wasn’t [in Iowa City],” Zeman said. “There wasn’t a comedy club; there wasn’t an arcade yet.”

In the three years since the bar’s transition to Joystick, however, Iowa City’s downtown district has seen other venues fill those niche spots; in 2022, Double Tap, an arcade bar, opened in the Pedestrian Mall. Though there isn’t another venue dedicated to live comedy, many existing venues have added stand-up events to their calendars.

Zeman said Joystick’s patron community also expressed a desire for other forms of entertainment at the venue.

“We also realized that comedy five nights a week was a lot of comedy, and there was a lot of comedy saturation during [the pandemic],” he said. “So, we thought we should change the space up and make a few tweaks to it.”

On May 3, the venue will host its grand re-opening as Alley Cat. Travis Coltrain, the venue’s talent booker, said the upcoming weekly event schedule will see much more genre diversity than just comedy.

On Wednesday nights, Alley Cat will feature performances from local improv groups and one-off shows, as well as audience participation-focused events like musical bingo.

The venue will retain one of its Thursday night classics, Joke-E-oke, an open-mic comedy event. Friday nights, however, will re-introduce live music to the basement venue for the first time since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, the venue will bring local bands to compete in its own “battle of the bands” competition on Saturdays. Coltrain also said the venue will introduce a new drag show dinner event once a month on Sundays.

In preparation, the venue’s interior will receive a makeover. In addition to new furniture and modern lighting, Alley Cat will re-establish space for its own kitchen and dressing rooms.

Coltrain feels that the venue’s rebrand to Alley Cat is necessary for its prosperity.

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“Things run their course and I think Alley Cat is just the next step for this venue,” Coltrain said. “We’re bringing back the nostalgia while also being able to provide more entertainment to the city than just comedy and arcade games.”

Zeman said that venues like Joystick, Studio 13, and Gabe’s — which permit patrons aged 19 and older — are important to the student population in Iowa City, half of whom are under 21 years old.

“We offer an alternative to going out to a bar just to drink,” Zeman said. “Obviously, alcohol is what pays the bills and that’s how it is in this business, but we pride ourselves on the fact that we offer these spaces that are entertainment and experience-focused.”

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About the Contributors
Avi Lapchick
Avi Lapchick, Arts Editor
Avi Lapchick is an arts editor at The Daily Iowan. A fourth-year student studying English and Creative Writing at the University of Iowa, she previously held the positions of staff photojournalist, summer arts editor, and assistant arts editor at the DI. She is happiest when she is writing or painting.