Screen Saver

Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema hopes to revive Tahoe City with flicks and brews

Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema serves a variety of beers and ciders to its patrons.

Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema serves a variety of beers and ciders to its patrons.

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“I’ve been sneaking beer into movies forever,” confides Steven Siig.

In truth, it’s a small part of why this Tahoe City resident and longtime sports documentary filmmaker always dreamed of owning a cinema and drafthouse. He and his wife, Melissa, a writer and editor, are getting to live that dream since buying and reviving the old Cobblestone Cinema in Tahoe City.

Among other things, that includes beer.

Their new Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema—a true cinema and drafthouse—opened Sept. 5 to an eager following of Tahoe City locals who, the Siigs say, had been craving more entertainment options and found them lacking.

“Tahoe City has been really hungry for something to do after hours,” says Melissa. “You can ski here until the cows come home, but what happens if there’s crappy weather or it’s nighttime? There was just a lack of culture and after-hours stuff. People were so hungry for something to do that when we told people we were even just thinking about buying this theater, they were freaking out. We were getting emails and phone calls. People were so excited.”

And it wasn’t just any theater they were after.

“The movie experience is gone,” Steven says. “It’s very hard to find a good theater to enjoy a movie in, now that it’s all these huge cineplexes. We wanted to create more of a real movie experience.”

Back from the ashes

Since meeting Melissa in 2001, Steven had talked about owning a theater. The two spend holidays with family in Port Townsend, Washington, and always make time for a trip to the Rose Theatre, an old vaudeville-house-turned-independent theater with a balcony, event space, popcorn spice bar and personal introductions to every film.

“At the Rose, they actually tell you something about the movie, and it really brings the crowd together,” Steven says.

Over the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday, Steven even popped in on the Rose to do an informational interview with the owner, to pick his brain about bringing such a place to life at Tahoe.

Timing is everything. The Cobblestone, which was hobbling along on its last legs, looked like an ideal spot to make this dream happen. The Siigs had actually approached the Cobblestone’s owners in January 2013 about buying the lease and were turned down flat. But a year later, word got out that the owners had lost their lease. The stars seemed to be aligning for the Siigs, and they began their efforts to take over the lease and find a business partner to help finance the project.

Melissa’s chance run-in with a friend at a local ice cream shop in February was all it took. She casually mentioned that she and Steven were hoping to rebuild the theater, and that friend, Liz Gogolewski, said that this would probably be something her husband, Mark, would be interested in.

Mark Gogolewski had been successful in Silicon Valley, and now that he and his family were living in Tahoe City, he wanted to invest his money in its revitalization. The Gogolewskis saw this as the perfect project. They became business partners with the Siigs in February, and the four signed the lease on the cinema in April.

Word spread quickly once the news about the lease was posted on Facebook, and the likes and shares went through the roof. Within three weeks of its Facebook page going live, the Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema had 447 fans.

“It was just destiny, this perfect synchronicity,” Steven says.

Setting the Stage

Steven Siig introduces a movie to the audience at the Tahoe Art Haus & Cinema.

PhotoS courtesy of Keoki Flagg

Steven's background in filmmaking, as well as having grown up with a choreographer mother, had made him passionate about this becoming not just a movie theater, but a versatile arts and events venue.

The partners had their work cut out for them—the theater was in serious disrepair.

“It had been totally neglected,” Melissa says. “I would talk to locals and they’d say, ’Oh, I haven’t been to that place in years.’ I mean, the average local didn’t want to come here.”

The cinema had been built in the 1970s, which meant asbestos, an absolute gutting and a full remodel. Fortunately, both the contractor and interior designer donated their time to the project.

The “vintage warehouse” interior marries the old-school theater vibe with a contemporary look, expressed through its tin ceiling and wood floors.

The bar is brand new, and serves up Lagunitas, Mammoth Brewery and Marin Brewing Company beers and Schilling ciders on tap, as well as premium bottled beers. The concession stand sells espresso drinks, popcorn (with, naturally, a popcorn spice bar), hot dogs, candy and locally baked goods from Sugar Pine Cakery and Tahoe House Bakery.

Inside, the theater offers a new digital projector capable of running 3D movies. Films usually get two evening screenings daily.

The interior is made comfortable with couches that can seat 12, side tables for drinks and snacks, and 75 leather seats.

Because it was designed with lots of space between the screen and front row, it can hold 180 people for special events if some are willing to stand or take one of the extra temporary seats waiting in the wings. Even the leather seats can be moved or reversed to accommodate a variety of shows.

“We made the room a chameleon,” Steven says.

The movie business

“We're not in the movie business, really, we're in the concession business,” Steven says. “That's movie theaters in general. You can't make money with movies, especially with major motion pictures.”

That’s why beer and cider, as well as the snacks they sell, are so critical to the couple’s business model. Currently, the Art Haus has only a beer license; a wine license would require the venue to sell more food, which would mean adding a full kitchen.

In the meantime, the Siigs are getting creative about hosting a variety of shows. Of course, blockbusters like Interstellar and Mockingjay are getting time here this month, but they’re interspersed with an eclectic mix of old and new: kids’ movies, old ’80s flicks, independent films, corporate presentations, private parties, a DJ concert, seminars and more. A production of the Tahoe Youth Ballet is even scheduled here in March.

The Siigs have formed some important partnerships, including one with Alpenglow Sports that brings in well-known athletes and adventurers to give talks through its “Home Brew Series.” They’ve also partnered with local restaurants to have food brought in, or to offer movie coupons when guests dine out locally. They’re eager to do more and are open to any ideas from the community.

“We’re trying to do something for the town, to give back,” Steven says. “We want the whole area to profit, not just us.”

Despite opening in the slow season, the Siigs quickly found themselves busier than ever. In addition to their “day jobs,” the two are raising three children. Melissa, who in addition to freelancing is the editor of Tahoe newspaper Moonshine Ink, recently had to ask to cut her hours there in half in order to give more time to the theater, which already employs four staff members.

The fact that they’re still around and getting busier all the time seems to indicate that they’ll be OK, they say. The screening of female ski film Pretty Faces scheduled Dec. 7 was sold out weeks before.

“Some people asked, ’Aren’t you worried about movie theaters dying, like because of Netflix?’” Melissa says. “But I think we’re offering something more. It’s a social experience, to meet some friends, have some beers. It’s the whole thing.”