Who do that Voodoo? New Ken gets a new taproom


Bob Batz Jr.: bbatz@post-gazette.com, 412-263-1930 and on Twitter @bobbatzjr.

First Published August 20, 2020, 8:25am

Photo Credit: Alexandra Wimley/Post-Gazette


The Voodoo Taproom at the Ritz grand opens Friday in a most eclectic space.


The building on Fifth Avenue in this Westmoreland County downtown was built in the early 1920s as the Ritz Theater, and its decor as it opens as a place to drink and eat is appropriately theatrical.


This past summer and fall, the independently owned and operated business — in partnership with the Voodoo Brewery that’s based in Meadville and has the other eclectic locations including Homestead — invited customers and neighbors to help decorate this raw space. In the big mural-decorated beer garden next door, which opened for weekend popups with its own shipping container bar, patrons could spray paint old doors and pieces of furniture, earning cards good for a beer in the taproom when it opened.


Also coming, and a long time coming, to nearby Vandergrift, is Allusion Brewing Co., which has posted on its social media that is has brewed its first beers. Learn more about that place – at 142 Grant Ave., Vandergrift, Pa. 15690 — at e the brewery started — the original location and the big “Compound” production brewery and gathering space — as well as satellite locations in Erie, Grove City, and State College. There’s another independently owned and operated taproom in Cleveland. The satellite ider as well as some cocktails.ted $5.5 million to build a digital innovation center. 


Someone who got an advance peek told him it looked like the buildout was done by a 9-year-old. “I took that as a compliment,” he says with a laugh. “We were able to go wild here.” 


The building — after the theater closed in the late 1950s, it was a recreation hall and bingo parlor and then empty — is part of what officials call the Corridor of Innovation, a five-block stretch between Penn State University New Kensington’s The Corner business incubator and Westmoreland County Community College’s New Kensington Education Center. A lot is happening along it. Earlier this summer, UPMC broke ground on a new UPMC St. Margaret New Kensington Family Health Center. The Richard King Mellon Foundation granted $5.5 million to build a digital innovation center. 


Mr. Malcanas owns 14 other buildings, which he’s in the process of renovating and leasing to local small businesses through his business, Olde Towne Overhaul. He also runs Mito Insulation that’s headquartered here, as well as many houses. The taproom is just “part of our whole vision for revitalizing this old Rust Belt town.” 


The Ritz building, like the surrounding downtown, has had its challenges since ALCOA in 1971 closed the aluminum plant that built “Aluminum City.”  That included losing its roof when tornadoes ripped through the area in early April.


COVID-19 also is continuing to slow the taproom, says Mr. Malcana’s colleague Michelle Thom. It will start serving its own food with the grand opening but with a limited menu of some specialty pizzas and appetizers until restaurant occupancy and other pandemic regulations stabilize. “We’ll grow from there.”  


So will the space when they open the second floor, glimpses of which customers can get from below. Now the first floor can serve nearly 300 people at long tables (made from old foundry carts), and there’s a cozy “Moulin Rouge Lounge” room that can be rented for private dining and meetings. The long bar, with old film reels embedded in the concrete, has 18 taps for a much bigger selection of Voodoo beers than outside, as well as some guest beers. It also will be serving some wines, meads and cider as well as some cocktails.


The outdoor “Beer Cabin” will remain, to be supplemented by a bar they plan to make from a giant aluminum smelting pot that Mr. Malcanas is salvaging from Station Square to be perhaps “the world’s first smelter bar.” Someone told him, “You’re the only guy I know that’s crazy enough to use it!” 


People already are noticing some momentum to his madness, though, and he plans to keep going, working with the artist who did Voodoo’s outdoor mural, Shane Pilster, to do more of them on other buildings. “We’re basically Voodoo-izing the entire town,” Mr. Malcanas says, noting that beside his outdoor space, there is to be a public pavilion for live music and other outdoor gatherings. “Ultimately, this is going to be Central Park, New Kensington.” 


A recent touch was Mr. Pilster painting on the back of the Beer Cabin a collage of words for community gathering space in the languages of places where New Kensington residents originated. That gets at the heart of what this space is for, says Voodoo co-owner Jake Voelker. “I always say, craft beer without community is just beer.”


Voodoo Taproom at the Ritz is located at 956 Fifth Ave, New Kensington, PA 15068; hours are 5 to 9 p.m. Thursday, 5 to 10 p.m. Friday, 4 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sunday. There are two Voodoo brewpubs in Meadville where the brewery started — the original location and the big “Compound” production brewery and gathering space — as well as satellite locations in Erie, Grove City and State College. There’s another independently owned and operated taproom in Cleveland. The satellite Homestead taproom is in the former municipal building and fire station.


They’re all different, as Mr. Voelker puts it, “but you know that you’re in a Voodoo.” Learn more at https://www.voodoobrewery.com.


Also coming, and a long time coming, to nearby Vandergrift, is Allusion Brewing Co., which has posted on its social media that is has brewed its first beers. Learn more about that place – at 142 Grant Ave., Vandergift, Pa. 15690 — at http://allusionbrewingcompany.com.

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