A New Jersey Cinema Finds Its Second Life as Craft Brewery

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December 6, 2020

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The site of the former cinema, now a brewing company. [Credit: Matthew Sockol]

(ABERDEEN, N.J.) — After almost a half a century entertaining locals with the magic of cinema, a New Jersey movie theater that shuttered months before the pandemic brought businesses to a standstill has found its second act as a brewery.

Alternate Ending Beer Co., a craft brewery and restaurant, opened this October in the Garden State town of Aberdeen. Its building started its run in 1971 as Matawan Twin Cinema before becoming Bow Tie Strathmore in its final seven years. The theater shut for good in August 2019.

And though movie screens around the country have gone dark because of the ongoing ravages of COVID-19, the brewery’s owners say the cinema’s old Hollywood wizardry will now live on in restaurant form — especially since the film joint held such a special place in the hearts of its neighbors.

“As a former patron, it was very sad to say goodbye to the Bow Tie,” said Scott Novick, the brewery’s founder. “It was a staple of the community and a place I grew up going to.”

FOND MEMORIES

Anthony Holiday also remembers the theater fondly. He worked there from 2015 to early 2019, and he considers that time as a stepping stone to his career. Joining the theater while attending community college, Holiday departed after his enrollment at the graduate Yale School of Drama.

“I wish that everyone had to serve people in the theater and got to smell the warm kernels popping in all that buttery goodness,” he said. “The sound of the fountain clicking on and off gives you a rush.”

For Holiday, time stood still in the cinema.

“You can exist in places and be completely just in that place, not thinking about the past or future, but only the now,” he said.

Of course, time only really stands still in the movies. In real life, consumer tastes are always in flux, as is how people choose to be entertained. There’s a paint-supply store just a few feet away from the former theater that also once housed a slice of movie magic. It used to be a Blockbuster.

Exactly what caused the cinema’s closure has not become public record; Bow Tie Cinemas, the national theater chain that operated the business, did not respond to The Click’s requests for comment.

Ticket stub - Aberdeen

A ticket stub for one of the last movies screened at the Bow Tie Strathmore. [Credit: Matthew Sockol]

The loss of Bow Tie Cinemas was a very emotional loss,” Fred Tagliarini, the mayor of Aberdeen, told The Click. “Residents took to social media with the stories of first dates, meeting spouses and taking their children to their first movie.”

A Facebook group dedicated to the Strathmore section of Aberdeen, where the building is located, was flooded with memories of residents’ shared experiences at the theater. Many said they saw their first films there in the 1970s and 1980s, with titles ranging from mainstream hits like “Rocky II” to underground flicks such as “Mark of the Devil,” a horror movie where audience members were given vomit bags.

“When Bow Tie closed, I realized how much the theater had to offer to otherwise normal people,” Holiday said. “I realized what the shutting off of a movie could do to a community.”

GOING THROUGH CHANGES

Aberdeen is a small town, with less than 20,000 residents spread across just over 5 square miles. The theater was equally small: It could only show up to four films at a time. And though the townspeople The Click interviewed for this piece shared fond memories of the place both on and off the record, many admitted that they had been going out to the movies less frequently by the time Bow Tie closed.

“There was a time when I actually worked in a movie theater and loved to see movies there,” Novick said. “I preferred going to bigger theaters for blockbuster movies, but anything else, I preferred a smaller theater like Bow Tie. But as I got older and started a family, I really only went to the theater for the really big releases like ‘Star Wars.’”

Novick’s comments fit easily into a national trend that was already on the decline before the pandemic and lockdowns. US theater attendance fell nearly 5% from 2018 to 2019, according to a trade group’s research quoted in The Hollywood Reporter. And the movies that brought in crowds were massive releases: Seven of the 10 highest-grossing movies last year were from Disney.

Still, the Aberdeen theater did buck one trend: Its tickets were cheaper than competing cinemas in nearby towns.

Jill Perez lives in Holmdel, which borders Aberdeen. Her town doesn’t have its own cinema, so she had to choose between three in neighboring regions: The Bow Tie, and two others operated by theater behemoths Cinemark and AMC. She usually chose Bow Tie.

“I went to the theater quite a few times,” Perez said. “The prices were better and it was just easier to get there.”

The average movie ticket went up 36 cents in 2019, ending the year at $9.37, according to The Hollywood Reporter. To draw in customers wary of the steep price hike, theaters have been innovating for the past few years. Many have introduced gourmet food to complement lobby concession staples, or have added more comfortable seating.

Holmdel resident Jill Sciacca said she preferred the bigger Cinemark-run theater in nearby Hazlet over the Aberdeen option.

While the Bow Tie was closer, the Cinemark could screen up to 12 films, and it had reclining seats.

“It was more comfortable at Hazlet,” Sciacca said. “The seats were better.”

But such extravagance is what turned away Ben Gotz, who has lived in Holmdel almost as long as the Aberdeen theater existed. Gotz described how he used to take his grandchildren to the movies at least twice a year, but the cinema became too much of a luxury event. The newer seating hasn’t been enough to pull him into the bigger-name theaters, which are still operational.

“I don’t go to the theater too often lately,” he said. “The movies have gotten too expensive.”

A SECOND LIFE

A recent ease in lockdown restrictions across New Jersey meant that the Aberdeen theater was able to reopen its doors in the fall — this time as Alternate Ending Beer Co. Novick said the transition was meant to be.

“I had just passed the theater with my wife and commented that it would be an excellent spot for a brewery, not knowing that Bow Tie wasn’t renewing its lease,” he said. “When we were at dinner, the owner of the restaurant mentioned that her father owned the Bow Tie building and suggested turning it into a brewery. It really was fate.”

Despite the business shift, the theater’s presence remains inside the craft brewery. The same glass concession stand is still by the door (complete with concessions behind it). Custom brews are advertised as film posters, using the same light boxes as the theater.

The chairs are even used to seat guests — and yes, you can still order popcorn.

But perhaps most notable of all, the new business has a lounge area where films are shown on a 200-inch screen.

“The roots of the theater are so deep, the new business occupying this location has incorporated theater memorabilia and a movie room inside,” Tagliarini said. “It will be a great blend of history and an exciting future gathering place for Aberdeen.”

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