Picture the scene: It’s a temperate winter day just before Christmas in the picturesque neighborhood of Oakmont. The brick main street is lined with cars and people gather on the sidewalk in front of a classic theater that has been closed for six months. Doors open and the crowd of 100 enters the theater where pastries, breakfast wraps and coffee from the Oakmont Bakery await. After brunch, the audience sits in the newly renovated, 300-seat theater embellished with gold oak leaves on the walls, a stepped ceiling and a 24-foot movie screen.
The movie onscreen? It’s a Wonderful Life.
This was the opening scene of The Oaks next incarnation: a multi-purpose theater that will feature live music, stand-up comedy acts and classic, cult and locally produced films.
The renovations, which began in August, cost around $350,000. Builders gave the theater a facelift, rewired it with new sound and light systems, added cabaret-style seating and redesigned the concession area to be a full-service bar with a small kitchen that serves wraps, salads and healthy foods.
“We wanted to bring sophisticated fun the to theater—even serving drinks from the era when the theater was first built,” says Joe Wichryk, manager of the Oaks, “back when the cocktail was a work of art.”
On the menu? Manhattans and rosemary martinis with an emphasis on local spirits, such as Maggie’s Farm Rum, Boyd & Blair Vodka and Hop Farm IPA.
Built in 1938, when The Oaks Theater opened, there was so much enthusiasm for this art deco beauty, the two towns of Oakmont and Verona threw a parade. The Oaks’ original builder—who owned another theater in Oakmont—wanted to build a “theater from the ground up, so he could make it just the way that he had wanted,” writes the website historictheatres.org. One of its biggest features? Air conditioning.
For many decades, this classic-style movie house thrived as one of Oakmont’s business mainstays known for showing children’s matinees. The original family sold the theater in 1985—an era when megaplexes started to swell in the suburbs—and The Oaks suffered the fate of many urban movie houses and started to show second-run films.
In 2002, a trio of local childhood friends bought the Oaks, and while the theater showed some first-run movies again, it developed a niche as a movie house for classic and cult-classic films.
Today, the theater is owned by two of those friends, Meg Burkardt, an Oakmont-based attorney, and Marc Serrao, owner of Oakmont Bakery. Serrao’s son Tony is now the third partner. “We want to bring downtown-quality entertainment to Oakmont,” says Wichryk.
New Year’s Eve brought in a former Pittsburgh act—Steeltown Religion—which had moved to Nashville and snapped up a recording contract. This past weekend, a night of comedy featured Mike Wysocki and Sean Collier. This Friday? Miss Freddye’s Blues Band, “a quintessential blues band,” says Wichryk.
“Oakmont is not going to be silent anymore,” says Wichryk of Oakmont’s quiet nightlife. “We’re going to have the amps cranked up to 11.”