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Lights, cameras, whiskey: Robert James Cinema will blend glitz, glamour and craft spirits

Posted at 6:01 PM, Jun 05, 2019
and last updated 2019-06-05 18:01:17-04

UNION TOWNSHIP, Ohio — Everything but the movies will be locally crafted when Robert James Cinema Distillery & Taproom opens later this month.

"Ultimately, we will be brewery, distillery, scratch kitchen and first-run cinema," said Ric Welker, Robert James' vice president and general manager of the Robert James Distillery brand. (If that sounds familiar, it's because the brand also includes Norwood's Robert James Distillery.)

Principal partner Bob Slattery Sr., who owns the local marketing firm Slatts Group, launched Robert James in April after acquiring and renaming the former Shumrick & Leys Distillery on Highland Avenue.

According to Welker, when the Robert James Cinema opens at 4450 Eastgate Square Dr. in a couple of weeks, it will feature spirits distilled in Norwood. Those spirits will include flavored vodka, gin, bourbon and whiskey aged in winery-used barrels called “bourvin.”

"We are licensed to barrel-age alcohol here," Welker said of the cinema location.

He added the cinema is working to obtain permits to also distill small batches of craft spirits on-site.

Although Slattery owns and operate Fifty West Brewing in Columbia Township, Welker wants people to know Robert James Distillery is not Fifty West-adjacent.

"We're doing this out here independent," Welker said of the cinema and distillery. "It is an RJ-branded experience."

The Robert James Cinema taproom will feature a variety of locally-made craft beers, including a few from Fifty West, on its 32-tap system. Welker said the taproom will seat 185 people, making it big enough to handle both movie-goers and those who just stop by for a drink, and have room for more in its outdoor patio seating.

The cinema will also offer food to enjoy both in the taproom and while watching a movie in one of RJ's eight theaters.

"So, we'll initially start out with a very limited concept," Welker said. "We're tiptoeing into it; (we want to) expand over time. It's a taproom menu."

For moviegoers, Welker described the cinema's food service as "Panera-style." People will order food and receive a customer alert disc. When an order is ready, the customer can quietly exit the theater, pick up their food and go back to their seat.

"Our goal is to provide all of the service with none of the interruption," Welker said.

The Robert James Cinema Distillery & Taproom is taking over the space once occupied by Eastgate Brew & View. That dine-in cinema concept opened in 2015 and abruptly closed in January 2018.

Welker said his team began a full-remodel of the location in February. By the first week of June, the only things left to be done involved a few finishing touches.