My first memories of Studio 35 go back to my senior year of High School – in a Clintonville from long, long ago but not so far away. At that time, the theater showed two second run movies for the price of one. The first time I was there I saw Top Gun and Something Wild. The seats were beat up, you could hear a few beer bottles rolling around on the floor and nothing else comes to my mind. I do not think the place had legal beer sales but I could be wrong. Skipping over several years and several owners the business started to take a new direction in the 2000 – aught’s.
But first let’s take a trip back in the wayback machine with a bit of history which will help you appreciate the present much more. Studio 35 opened on February 17th 1938. In just a few weeks Studio 35 will observe its 75th year in operation. That is a feat for any business but a single screen theatre without a parking lot that has fought the good fight with movie megaplexes, the digital age and more, really deserves some respect. In the late 1950′s, it was a soft core porn theatre. In the 1960′s it was a place for artsy films. When current co-owner Eric Brembeck took over, he inherited a challenge. The facility – chairs, sound system, etc, had seen much better days. The place is reported to be haunted. He was working a day job and covering shifts at night and on the weekends. There were many lean years.
The key to the survival of the business was developing a loyal neighborhood following and asking customers what they wanted. Over time, Eric started to deliver with some hits and some misses along the way. Partnering with a neighboring pizza shop helped with the food. Adding beer sales, and by that I mean good beer, added momentum. The Rocky Horror Picture Show, Sunday Beer and movie pairings, opening up for free to show OSU games (might as well the city shuts down for OH – IO State Buckeyes), trying out late night horror flicks, The Dude-a-Thon, bad movie nights and hosting documentaries for no charge grabbed new customers from many walks of life and parts of town. And quite frankly – who in their right mind would support an event like Night of 1001 Tacos?
All of the above were enough to turn things around and make “the Studio” a viable, sustainable business but there was still more to come. Studio 35 became a bit of a hang out for a core group of people. There was a lightly used bar and a few booths that created an intimate atmosphere separate from the theatre. Customers still longed for better seating, sound and amenities. They got that and more – Studio invested major capital into the guts of the building in 2012 and transformed from an ugly (but charismatic) duckling into a very hot swan of a Studio 35.
The new and improved theatre has better bathrooms, a killer bar and 40 craft beers on draft. It serves as a bar and a theatre now and continues to be a community gathering place – where you can watch a movie, drink a beer….or both. For years, people made a conscious choice to support Studio 35 because they wanted to support a local independent business. On occasion, that was not the easiest or more comfortable choice. Sitting in the bar recently and watching the hustle and bustle of people coming in, it was worth the wait. I thank the owners for transformimg something good into a place that is great and I thank everyone who supported Studio 35 for waiting patiently for what we enjoy today. If you rebuild it, they will come (as long as you serve good beer too). It works for baseball and it works for movies.
I do not want to delve into partisan politics (I am a registered Independent voter), but Republicans should stop reading here. I spent election night camped at Studio 35. The theatre was at capacity filled with people watching the results. The bar was packed as well. Granted, we were all in Clintonville – the epicenter of hippieness in Columbus so it was a strongly Democratic crowd but the camaraderie and spirit of the strangers sharing that space that night was truly memorable. People shared i-phone chargers so they could reload their phones to continue their Twitter Trash Talk and others who had not seen one another for years crossed paths that night in several mini-reunions. It was more than a bar, or theatre or business that night, it was a community. I could not imagine anything like that, happening in any other place in the city, state or maybe even the country. I rest my case.