Blend of culture, cuisine in revived 1880 theater setting
NAPA — City Winery, which invested about $3 million to transform the circa 1880 Napa Valley Opera House in downtown Napa into a 300-seat wine-focused dinner theater, opened with its first concert in early April.
Michael Dorf, founder and chief executive officer of City Winery (citywinery.com), signed a 10-year lease for part of Napa Valley Opera House (NVOH, nvoh.org) with a goal to present 200 touring acts during its first year, beginning with the Bruce Cockburn concert held on April 10.
City Winery upgrade the facility by adding a first-floor 100-seat Tap Bar Restaurant, an outdoor café with 40 seats and a view of the Napa River, the Tap Bar itself — with room for 50 guests — and a secluded backstage parlor for private events that can accommodate groups of 30 to 40, along with a second floor, sit-down service bar, theater upgrades and other amenities.
Tap Bar Restaurant — open seven days a week — features 35 wines drawn from taps on barrel heads — 86 percent from local wineries. Wine by the bottle is also available from a list of 400 choices.
The restaurant is open to the public for lunch and dinner as well as to City Winery’s ticket-holding theater patrons — who are now able to enjoy beverages and quality food by candlelight during performances while comfortably seated at tables that replaced traditional theater rows.
”We wanted to revive the original look of the first floor by recreating a vaulted brick ceiling, while also restoring the second-level theater’s flat floor in keeping with its initial 1880 design,” Mr. Dorf said. “We also improved the wrap around balcony, restored natural lighting from previously covered windows, as well upgraded the sound system and expanded the kitchen. We expect to count between 500 and 600 covers a night.”
This is the third time in the opera house’s 135-year history that it has received a major transformation.
Margrit Mondavi, together with her late husband, Robert, provided matching funds for the 2003 restoration of the NVOH. She recently donated her water color art to decorate the new restaurant. The Margrit Biever Mondavi Theatre at the NVOH was named in her honor.
Chef Joseph Panarello, formerly with Izzy’s Palace in Alamo, was hired by City Winery to develop and manage the menu.
The successful business model established by City Winery combines live entertainment with locally sourced cuisine, brews and wine served in real crystal glassware, not plastic cups.
Other than Napa, City Winery has locations in New York, Chicago and coming in September to Nashville. Mr. Dorf incorporated the best features and previous design elements at other City Winery venues, such as his signature large green bottle wall and a barrel stave partition separating the Tap Bar from the restaurant.
“The live theater dynamic has changed over the years. We’re catering to an aging market. Those who were teens in 1960′s and 70′s didn’t stop loving music but they no longer want to stand during entire performances. They now prefer to attend events in classy, sophisticated environments featuring an elegant blend of culture and cuisine as part of a complete experience,” Mr. Dorf added.
“At the same time, many silver haired artists still love to play, but not in big rooms or on sound stages in front of thousands of fans. Consequently, a professional, concert-grade auditorium with 300 seats appeals to both mature performers and audiences.”
Lars Langberg Architects of Sebastopol were responsible for the refreshed design of the facility. S&M Construction was the general contractor. Meyer’s Sound of Berkeley provided audio-visual and public-address equipment. Galbraith & Paul supplied enhanced lighting systems.
“We are currently searching real estate sites in Atlanta, Boston, Toronto, Austin and Portland, as part of a list of 10 to 15 possible locations for new City Winery venues,” Mr. Dorf said.
NVOH Executive Director Jessica Thomason observed that, “With the reopening of the new NVOH, we are finally in a position to fulfill the vision of the original founders — to make the opera house an organization for the people of Napa.”
In addition to the 200 touring artists booked by City Winery, some 75 community programs, arts education activities at area schools and a vintage film series will be produced by the non-profit NVOH performing arts organization.
NVOH has formed partnerships with local non-profit music, dance and multicultural entertainment groups such as Lucky Penny Productions, Voena, the Napa School of Music and the Napa Valley Youth Symphony.
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