Voodoo Brewery, one of the region’s most acclaimed breweries despite being a bit off the beaten track in Meadville, Crawford County, is opening an outlet closer to the big city at noon on Saturday.
Voodoo Homestead — not a brewery or brewpub, but an unusual satellite pub selling just Voodoo brews — will open in a big chunk of the first floor of the former Homestead municipal building and fire station on East Ninth Avenue at Amity Street. The more-than-a-century-old, three-story building had been vacant for two decades when the borough approved selling it to Voodoo for $8,500 this past summer.
Since that time, the Voodoo crew has worked non-stop filling containers and containers with refuse, with a lot of that hard, dirty work being performed for free by volunteers, some of whom flew from distant cities to chip in.
Others volunteered to help decorate the decrepit but beautifully-boned building, gracing the vaulted ceiling with fanciful chalk artworks and colorfully painting the interior sides of two massive roll-up doors.
That’s why this weekend’s public opening was proceeded by a party for those volunteers, whose names are written in chalk behind the old-metal-barn-roofing-clad, 24-foot-long concrete-topped bar, right next to the chalked list of the beers that will be available to drink on premises or take home in growlers.
You’re not in Meadville anymore, but you’ll feel like you’re in full Voodoo.
“We wanted to add the Voodoo personality, while keeping the history as much as we could,” says Jake Voelker, one of Voodoo’s owners who was the project leader and who is now its general manager.
The place hinges on Voodoo’s understanding that a licensed brewery will be permitted to sell its own beers for on-site consumption, and not just at the brewery, but also at up to two storage facilities, which is how Voodoo Homestead is licensed.
The legality of breweries selling beers this way was a hot topic at this past weekend’s annual meeting of the Brewers of Pennsylvania trade group. The group’s general counsel, Theodore J. Zeller III, points out that this fall, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board proposed allowing not just brewpubs, but also breweries to sell beer for on-site consumption, under certain conditions such as having at least 10 seats and providing snacks (brewpubs require seating for 30 and a health permit to serve food). He says the PLCB now is considering the group’s recommended revision of that proposed regulation (Section 3.93) to clarify it and make it consistent with the rest of the state Liquor Code. For example, the trade group wants a brewery to be able to sell beer not just brewed at that particular facility, but also beer owned by the brewery. Mr. Zeller hopes that the regulation will be effective by this summer. Lots of breweries are watching to see how it all plays out.
In the meantime, he says he’s convinced enough that a brewery can sell its beer to drink at an off-site storage location that he has offered to defend any challenges pro bono. He says of this venture from Voodoo’s Matt Allyn and company, “We wish him well with it.” (I couldn’t reach Mr. Allyn at presstime.)
Phase one of the Homestead transformation has preserved many features of the former fire station’s past life, from the “Bat-O-Line” battery charger by what’s now the women’s restroom door to the hook on the 20-foot high ceiling from which the harnesses used to hang for the horses that pulled the fire wagons. Under the cast-iron stairway to an upstairs kitchen area are displayed old hoses and a firefighter’s boots and coats.
You can see why some volunteers helped restore this place, even if they weren’t loyal fans of Voodoo. Many of them just care about Homestead, parts of which — like this building — have seen better days.
Mr. Voelker says Voodoo had a total of about 160 volunteers, some of whom came on multiple days. “We’ve had people drive from Erie just because they like us.”
Local artists worked on scaffolding to do chalk art on the restored ceilings, which first were painted with chalkboard paint. One piece is a riff on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, but in this one, God is giving Adam a bottle of Voodoo.
The place will be selling bottles as well as pints and growlers of drafts flowing from the dozen taps, including one made specifically for this location: H2P (a la “Hail to Pitt”). The opening also is to feature limited amounts of several barrel-aged brews.
Mr. Voelker said there will be limited snacks to start, but they plan to host food trucks, including one of their own that they’re building on one of Homestead’s old scuba/water rescue trucks. As Voodoo talked a little about when the project was publicly announced, all kinds of things could happen in this big building, which still includes jail cells. Former borough offices could be transformed into a dining room for beer dinners. And perhaps a coffee shop. Mr. Voelker already is talking about a fix-your-own-bike shop for visitors from the nearby Allegheny Passage bike trail. Other businesses could lease space upstairs.
Voodoo is not ruling out brewing there — perhaps with a small, experimental brewhouse — but that would be a ways off.
Voodoo is nothing if not experimental, Mr. Voelker acknowledges, and he’s a very proud papa of this new wrinkle. “We don’t think anybody’s really done anything like this.”
To start, hours will be 5 to 7 p.m. Mon. through Weds., when you can take growlers of beer to go; you also can linger and have a pint or two from 3 to midnight Thurs. and Fri. and noon to midnight Sat. and Sun.
Read more about Voodoo Homestead on Facebook and soon at voodoobrewery.com. The phone is 412-368-8973.
Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@ post-gazette.com and 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.