Mishler Theatre to add bar

The experience downstairs may be as good as the show upstairs this fall at a local theater where people will get to enjoy a cocktail and watch through a wall of windows as lights play over figures of performers from the theater’s heyday.

“The figures will actually be under the seats of the theater,” said local designer John Rita, who has already done extensive renovation work at the historic Mishler Theatre in Altoona. The stand-up renditions of legendary artists who have performed at the Mishler in years past were painted by Altoona artist Joseph Servello, he said.

Plans call for a bar to open in the theater in October, said Kate Shaffer, executive director of the Blair County Arts Foundation, which owns the theater. The 80-foot-long bar, which will be paid for by an anonymous donation, will be located below the main level of the theater, in an area rarely seen by the public, Shaffer said.

“We have talked about it for many years,” said Shaffer, who said several theaters in New York City and Pittsburgh have bars in them. “We have always wanted to move in that direction.”

The lounge will only be open for two hours prior to a performance, during the show and for one hour afterward, she said. Those requirements are set by the liquor license, which is a limited-use license granted last February, she said.

However, the theater’s board of directors put further restrictions on the bar, Shaffer said. The lounge will only be open during adult-themed shows and not during family-type, children-themed or high school-produced shows, she said.

Further, the bar won’t be open on Sunday, even though the lounge could be open on that day of the week, according to its license.

“We made the decision intentionally not to serve on Sundays,” she said.

Shaffer said she is still in the process of formulating policies and procedures for the lounge by looking at policies in place at similar bars at locations in New York and Pittsburgh, she said.

Meanwhile, Rita said he and local architect David Albright are anxious to get started with the project. They plan to begin next month using their own crew, he said.

“We have handpicked all the different players who will go with this,” Rita said.

The lounge will be located under the entire front section of the theater, in an area of the basement that part of which was once used as the men’s smoking room, Rita said. They believe another part of the area was the office of the theater’s original owner, Isaac Mishler, Shaffer said.

But “we don’t really know for certain all that it was used for,” Rita said.

Theatergoers will enter the bar from one of two entrances, something that Albright as the architect had to work out along with safety and other access issues, he said. However, he also worked with Rita to develop the overall concept for the lounge area downstairs, which is to be a contrast to the formal, gilt-like, opulent style of the theater upstairs.

Downstairs, the atmosphere will be more informal, with kind of a behind-the-scenes, bare-bones minimalistic look, with duct work and plumbing pipes left exposed intentionally, Albright said. Mixed in with that will be a bay window through which patrons will view Servello’s figures, which will be lit by lights that will turn on as people move toward them, like motion sensors, Albright said.

“It will be a very chic, urban space, in a sort of ‘Rathskeller’ sense, a very trendy place,” he said.

The lounge will feature not only the recycled figures painted by Servello, but several other treasures gleaned from the theater, Rita said. The bar top will be a piece of marble found in the building, he said. Inspired by designs he saw in ancient tombs in Italy, Rita will use plaster molding patterns discovered in the theater’s projection room to line the walls of the lounge. But first he has to clean the soot off of them that was left from a fire that ravaged the theater in 1907.

“This is really cool how we are able to recycle so many things that we’ve found in the building,” Rita said.

The patterns, which were used to make the original moldings upstairs in the theater, will be interspersed with old show playbills on the walls. To further add to the authenticity of the bar, the walls will be painted in colors faithful to the original colors that workers have found in the basement area, such as earthen tones of golden orange and brown, Rita said.

The lounge will also contain a display case of theater artifacts that are currently housed in the arts foundation office, he said.

“This is going to be a marvelous addition to the theater,” Shaffer said.