GENEVA — It’s been a long time since this former movie theater hosted a premiere.
It will again on Friday when Twisted Rail Brewing Co. opens its doors on Exchange Street, showing the public to its new flagship location in the former Regent Theatre that features a tasting room with three different levels, a stage for performances, a full kitchen with a brick oven for gourmet pizzas, and a brewery.
The opening marks one of the city’s biggest private redevelopment projects under the state’s $10 million Downtown Revitalization Initiative funding that was awarded in 2016. Twisted Rail was awarded $475,000 in DRI funds. The project costs go well beyond that DRI money, though.
Twisted Rail owners Rich Russ, Ian Boni and John McMullen say the cost of purchasing the former theater on Exchange Street and performing renovations is in the $1.5 million range — and that doesn’t include the in-house labor provided by the partners.
It took nearly two years for the vision to come to fruition, from purchasing the building to clearing the former movie theater space, its last use as the KidVenture Dome, which closed in early 2016. Twisted Rail’s owners filled 10 large Dumpsters of materials from the former theater, which opened in 1915.
It took longer than envisioned, in part because of the need to work with the state Department of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation on the adaptive-reuse plan.
“We were on hold for a good 90 days,” Russ said. “It was not a working theater. They didn’t understand a lot.”
If anything, Russ said, the redevelopment has unearthed many of the theater’s original attributes.
In the process of renovations, Twisted Rail’s owners discovered gorgeous brick walls and brick support columns, a hidden section of a gold-painted balcony, crown molding, and arguably the most stunning architectural feature of the historic building: a gold dome hidden by a dropped ceiling.
The entryway where movie patrons would arrive is now a three-season room where, in good weather, a glass garage-style door will roll up and open Twisted Rail to the street. A gold chandelier with two original light fixtures adorn the ceiling. The stained glass that once greeted movie patrons has been moved to the entrance of the main tasting-room area.
“This is an antique building,” Russ said. “This was made by craftsmen.”
Old movie-poster marquees found in the basement have been repainted and placed in the tasting room with old-time posters, including one promoting Geneva. There’s also a movie-style ticket booth for special events.
The new home for Twisted Rail might be a little haunted as well, the owners agreed.
“We believe they’re friendly spirits,” Russ said with a laugh.
Future of craft brewing?
Boni believes tasting rooms like the one he and his partners are opening in Geneva represent the future for craft brewers. It’s not getting your beer in the cooler at Wegmans, he explained.
“What you’re seeing now is a trend in the craft beer business,” he said. “The trend now in the retail business is location/destination. If you want to taste the beer, come to us.”
Patrons will find plenty of brews in the new tasting room, which features 28 available taps for the many Twisted Rail beers and blends that will be produced from its three-barrel and 20-barrel brewing systems, which people will be able to view from above.
“You’ll see, hear, taste and smell,” Boni said. “It’s the immersive experience.”
The brewery won’t be ready until November, but when it does, it will have someone who knows a little about brewing — and Twisted Rail beers — coming over to oversee operations.
Zachary Allard of the former Custom Brewcrafters of Honeoye Falls has joined Twisted Rail. Custom Brewcrafters had been making Twisted Rail beer for years before shutting down this past summer.
They’ll also serve local wines, spirits and ciders.
Geneva’s resurgence is being driven by craft beverages and the restaurant business, Boni said, and that’s why Twisted Rail chose the city for its base of operations.
Twisted Rail, which started in Canandaigua also has a location in Macedon.
‘Geneva’s our home’
“Canandaigua was our home, but Geneva’s our home now,” said Boni, who expressed thanks to the city for its support, noting that the administration urged the brewer to apply for DRI funds for its ambitious project.
“We want people to know that the city has bent over backwards for us,” Ian added. “This is a city that wants you to succeed.”
City Manager Sage Gerling said the Twisted Rail project is a true DRI success story.
“We are beyond thrilled with the amazing adaptive reuse by Twisted Rail Brewing Company of the Regent Theater,” Gerling said Wednesday. “Twisted Rail Brewing Co. is an innovative, creative and engaged company that has brought alive a historic downtown gem. The Downtown Revitalization Initiative aimed to accelerate investment in downtowns across the state. Twisted Rail Brewing Company is a stellar example of investing private dollars, leveraged by the DRI funds, to create a new Finger Lakes main attraction.”
Twisted Rail’s new tasting room will employ about 15 people, some of whom are coming from other locations because of their experience, Boni said.
While the project took longer than expected, the goal was to do it right, Russ noted.
“We wanted to be open by Memorial Day, and then the Fourth of July, and then Labor Day,” he said. “We’re going to open it when it’s time, and we’re going to find the money to do it right.”
That time is Friday.
“We’re going to knock it out of the park,” McMullen said. “There’s been a lot of anticipation.”