Next month the Penobscot Theatre Co. will premiere one of its most ambitious productions yet: a full-service cocktail bar next door to the theater’s longtime home at the Bangor Opera House.
The Stage Door, set for a soft opening sometime in May ahead of a grand opening in June around the theater’s production of “Mary Poppins,” will offer cocktails, beer, wine and light bites during both runs of the theater’s shows and for regular hours. It’s housed in the former location of Valentine Footwear, a shoe store at 115 Main St. that closed in January after 11 years in business.
Jen Shepard, executive director of Penobscot Theatre, said that the theater-owned bar was one of several concepts she and her staff and board of directors had been thinking about as a way to diversify the organization’s offerings.
When Valentine Footwear owner Summer Allen let them know last fall that she planned to close her business, which is directly adjacent to the right side of the opera house, they jumped at the opportunity.
“I was seriously sad about the shoes, but when Louie [Morrison], the building owner, approached us about potentially using that space, we thought ‘Hey, this is an idea that could absolutely work,’” Shepard said.
Last week, contractors tore a hole in the wall that separates the opera house and 115 Main St., and this week a set of double doors will be installed allowing for full access between the theater and the bar. The interior, designed by longtime Penobscot Theatre set designer Chez Cherry, will be in keeping with the opera house’s art deco aesthetic.
The Stage Door will be open at least two hours before all Penobscot Theatre shows and after, and will have weekend hours when there aren’t shows as well, though Shepard said they haven’t decided what those hours and days will be. Bar manager Frank Bachman, a veteran of the Mount Desert Island restaurant and bar scene, will create handcrafted cocktails named for theatrical references, and a small kitchen will serve up snacks and light bites.
“We’re definitely going to be testing lots of menu items and hours to see what people want, but there’s lots of room to try new things,” Shepard said.
Because the theater will have a full-service bar, one of the concession stands already inside the theater will close. Shepard said they also plan to offer programming and event rentals inside the new 50-person capacity space, including a series of play readings planned for the theater’s 50th-anniversary season, which starts this fall.
Shepard said she’s excited to integrate The Stage Door into the downtown restaurant and bar scene, and to take on a new challenge.
“We have to expand the ways that we interact with our audiences and community, and this is an amazing opportunity to do that,” she said. “And I think it’s also going to be a ton of fun. I think it’s going to be really complementary to what we are already inside the theater.”