Something funny is coming to the Cobblestone District.
A comedy club called Helium plans to open on Mississippi Street later this year, with an adjacent restaurant and bar, Elements. The two new, related ventures will replace WJ Morrissey’s Irish Pub and Benchwarmers Sports Bar and Grille, both of which are expected to exit by the end of this month.
Helium, which will fill the space used by Morrissey’s, has set a target opening date of Dec. 1 for its 250-seat showroom. Elements, a 100-seat restaurant and bar, will fill the Benchwarmers space next door. Local comedian Kristen Becker will be general manager. While the tenants are changing, developer Samuel Savarino will continue to own the property that houses them.
Helium’s owner, Marc Grossman, comes with experience — he opened a Helium club in Philadelphia in 2005 and another one in Portland, Ore., in 2010.
Becker, who is tied into the local stand-up comedy scene, was first contacted by Grossman about using a ticketing system called Seat Engine. Becker suggested he open a Helium club in Buffalo, and her persistence over the course of a year won out.
“They build really high-quality clubs and get great talent,” Becker said.
Plans call for the Buffalo club to host one show on Thursdays and two shows per night on Fridays and Saturdays. There will also be an open mic night on Wednesdays, which Becker said reflects Helium’s commitment to developing local talent.
Savarino said he welcomes the new tenants. “I certainly got some good reports on them. They appear to be doing their homework, and they run a first-rate operation.”
Savarino said Morrissey’s and Benchwarmers were nearing the ends of their leases and are leaving on “friendly terms.” Morrissey’s, run by Dennis Brinkworth, has been advertised for sale. Morrissey’s opened in the Cobblestone District in 2007, while Benchwarmers, run by Quinn O’Brien, debuted in 2009.
Brinkworth could not be reached to comment Friday, and calls to Benchwarmers on Friday were answered with an automatic greeting saying the phone number was temporarily disconnected.
Both businesses endured the ebb and flow of customer traffic related to events at nearby First Niagara Center, although things had been steadier lately with greater activity at Canalside, Savarino said.
Becker said the Cobblestone District will work as a location for Helium, because a comedy club does not depend on foot traffic to draw customers. “It’s a destination,” she said. The location also has ample parking, she added.
Grossman said the restaurant will be branded as Elements to give it a separate identity from Helium. The idea is to appeal to patrons regardless of whether they attend a comedy show next door.
Grossman said he wasn’t even thinking about Buffalo for a club until Becker made her pitch. “Kristen definitely sounds like she has the knowledge and the connections and the feel that there’s the demand for it,” he said.
Grossman said tickets to Helium shows will probably be priced in the $12 to $30 range, depending on the act and the night of the week.
The Buffalo area, like the rest of the nation, has seen its share of comedy clubs come and go over the years, particularly after the comedy club boom in the 1980s ended.
But Becker said she thinks some of those past ventures failed because they were run by bar owners, instead of comedy club owners. Helium comes in with a different approach, with a focus on comedy and bringing in high-quality acts, she said.
Grossman said he expects many of the acts that perform at the Helium in Philadelphia will also appear in Buffalo. “It’s a very similar demographic; it’s got that East Coast edge,” he said.