If you’re from the Roanoke Valley, or nearby areas, you almost certainly already know about the Grandin Theatre. Built in 1932, the theatre is the place to go see movies when you want a more upscale experience than the big box theatre chains. You can see some of the current hit flicks, but you can also catch some movies that you wouldn’t otherwise find around here, and you can do this all while feeling like you’re back in that grand ole, heyday of movie magic times in the 30’s … that none of us actually really personally remember but we still feel super nostalgic about.
Now the Grandin has something else that helps set it apart from all the big fellas: they sell beer, wine, and cider in their small bar area which is located just beside, but still actually separate from, their concession stand. “People will come in and ask for a prosecco and popcorn” said Conor Hale, who runs the bar. “We wanted a qualitative experience,” said Ian Fortier, Executive Director for the Grandin.
“I arrived at the Grandin in September of 2014,” said Ian, explaining how the bar area came to be,”and immediately we had board members who had interest in an ABC license. ‘What would it be like for patrons to come see a movie, have a craft beer, have a nice glass of wine,’ and add that qualitative texture, that cool factor, on top of being a historic cinema and cultural icon in the community.” What they quickly realized though was that there wasn’t any license specifically for cinema houses. There were other types of licenses available, but many of them came with the “50/50 Rule” (the ABC law that basically states that half your sales have to be from food and nonalcoholic beverages) which became a hindrance to them as sales of popcorn and candy didn’t apply to that rule because it wasn’t protein based. Not wanting to install $40 - $50,000 worth of kitchen equipment - “We didn’t want pizza and nacho cheese and hummus, things that would get ground into the carpet,” explained Fortier, “we just wanted to keep serving popcorn” - they had to find another route.
Undaunted, they decided to regroup and take it to the state level. They turned to an assemblyman in Montgomery County South, Nick Rush. Rush was not only pro-alcohol but had also owned his own distillery before going into public service, and he’d worked with art galleries needing licenses to serve alcohol at openings and etc. “Our idea was that we wanted to create a specific license for historic, non-profit, independent cinemas” said Fortier. Rush loved the idea and told them to write something up. They did and during the 2017 Session, HB 1743, affectionately known as The Grandin Law, was passed with overwhelming support. There are only six historic cinemas within the Commonwealth that this law applies to: the Grandin in Roanoke, the Lyric in Blacksburg, the Buchanan, the Gretna, the Narrows in Newport News, and the Bird in Richmond, though not all of those venues are currently selling alcohol.
On October 9, 2018 the Grandin officially began selling alcohol, after they refurbished the concession area. “We didn’t just want to start popping cans” said Fortier, citing a desire to keep with the overall Grandin Village aesthetic. Since the opening, reception has been fantastic. “It’s been incredibly steady and fantastic,” said Hale. “We have regular patrons coming in, who aren’t even necessarily going to see the movies, but who just want to socialize.” Often times on a weekend night when the village is really pulsing, people who can’t find a seat elsewhere will find their way to the Grandin.
“I think it is opening up an avenue for people to talk about the movies they’ve seen in ways we didn’t have before” said Hale. “People will go in, have their beer, and then come back out and sit down, maybe have another beer, and chat about what they just saw.” He went on to laughingly remark about how, from time to time, there will be a mingling of people who are getting ready to go into a movie with those who’ve just come out and a “no spoilers” reminder will have to be made. “It’s been another great way to create community in a qualitative way” added Ian, commenting that, at most, people tend to only have a total of one or two drinks while spending several hours enjoying the social scene and culture.
“You’re going to get your craft beer, your high end wine, or prosecco or cider, and you’re also going to get a reusable cup,” explained Fortier. “The hard plastic wine and pint glasses have snap lids so they don’t spill beer and wine all over the 87 year old building. There is a $1 cup fee when you first purchase the cups but, when you bring them back, everything after that there is $1 off. So we’re trying to encourage reuse while, at the same time, protecting the aesthetic of the building.” People have now been known to buy them just as collectors items as well. The reusable cups have become the single, biggest marketing success for the Grandin and, in just six months, they’ve already sent 25,000 cups out into the Valley.
While the wines come from all over, the cider is from Buskey in Richmond, and the beers are all local. Currently on tap you can find beers from Parkway Brewing in Salem, Twin Creeks in Vinton, and Deschutes, which has a taproom in downtown Roanoke. The beers are rotated from time-to-time, but will remain locally focused … although they do also have “stove pipes” of PBR for those who want to crack open a can.
“One of the things that I really like,” added Fortier, “is that if you don’t drink, if you just want to get some popcorn, some candy, and see a movie, this doesn’t take anything away from that experience because the bar is sweetly placed in a corner and isn’t in your face, it is very subtle and classy. But, if you’re interested in it, you can take a left and walk over and get your drink and go into the theatre.”