Last night I had the pleasure of attending the grand reopening event of the historical Senator Theatre benefiting the Pratt Contemporaries, which is essentially benefiting Enoch Pratt Free Library, the Baltimore City public library system. The Senator Theatre has a long and storied past in Baltimore. It was for a long time the last remaining historic, single screen movie theatre in the city. The owner who was the grandson of the original owner could not figure out how to keep the theatre financially viable and was bailed out a couple of times before the property was foreclosed on. We won’t get into all the crazy of that owner, but just Google Tom Kiefaber if you’re curious and you’ll get plenty of local news about him.
Baltimore City in an attempt to make sure the historic property was saved bought the property at auction. I’m not generally a fan of the City doing things like this but it worked out in this case. They put out a request for proposals and ultimately the one that was chosen was this renovation and expansion of the original theatre. Not all the proposals would have kept the property as a movie theatre, so I’m happy this is the one that was chosen.
The property was sold to Buzz Cusack, who runs The Charles, an independent movie theatre in Baltimore, and his daughter Kathleen Cusack Lyons. The Charles is my favorite movie theatre in the Baltimore area, though now that he’s done with this project I’m hoping Buzz can put a little love back into The Charles which after 13 years is starting to need a little TLC. They restored the original theatre as well as adding 3 additional smaller theatres and space for a restaurant all within the original property lines. The plans for the restaurant that was originally supposed to take over the space fell through, so currently there is no actual restaurant, but hopefully that will change soon.
The event last night was a reception catered by Shoofly Diner, which is also set to open today across the street from The Senator in the old Crush space in Belvedere Square. Lest you think this is greasy spoon diner food it is not. It’s the new venture from Spike Gjerde, owner of Woodberry Kitchen, a farm-to-table restaurant that is a Baltimore favorite and even finds itself on many top DC restaurant lists despite the fact that it is not in DC. So essentially think a fancy take on diner foods. Last night’s food consisted of deviled eggs, fried green tomatoes on toast, oyster po boys, sliders, mac and cheese, grits, biscuits and gravy, and creamed spinach. I didn’t try all of it, but everything I had was wonderful. There was no shortage of food either. It felt like I was constantly being offered some sort of food from a tray. It was all run very well. I look forward to checking out the restaurant for real some time soon.
After the reception there was a screening of John Water’s movie Hairspray, which of course was set in and filmed in Baltimore. After the new owners and mayor all gave remarks about the renovation of the theatre, John Waters (who was in attendance with his mother) got up to introduce his movie and to share what the Senator Theatre has meant to him over the years. I was especially amused by his comment about the night benefiting “the only two things I like–movies and books”.
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen the original movie Hairspray, and it is definitely the first time I’ve seen it on the big screen. It was a lot of fun, and of course the crowd last night was really into it. It was great to get a chance to check out the Senator in all its new glory and to try the food from Shoofly while also supporting my local library without having to fight the crowds in the coming weeks who will no doubt be descending to check everything out for themselves.
If you want to see pictures of the theatre and last night’s event you can check some out on the Baltimore Sun’s website.