Who says there are no second acts in American lives? The old Webber Show, a theater in its heyday when F. Scott Fitzerald offered that observation, just started its third act as Archetype Distillery.
In 1916, the year it opened at 119 South Broadway, the movie palace was so modern, so marvelous, it rated a special mention in an issue of J.P. Chalmers's The Moving Picture World. The Webber was Denver’s fourth motion-picture theater; rumor had it that creator/owner DeWitt C. Webber had an apartment in the building with a window overlooking the auditorium so that he could watch the crowd, the orchestra that played for the talkies, and the movies on the screen.
In 1996, Rocky Mountain News columnist Gene Amole wrote about going to what was now called the Webber Theater to see Wings, the 1927 silent film that won the first Academy Award for Best Picture. Even when the fancy Mayan opened just a few years later at 110 Broadway, some movie fans still preferred the Webber, because it was one of the first theaters in the city with an effective air-conditioning system.
But business cooled considerably in the ensuing decades, and in the ’70s, the building turned into Kitty’s South. That’s when you could find very different films here: On a visit (on assignment!) a decade ago, Westword’s Michael Roberts spotted copies of Handjobs Across America and Grand Theft Anal, as well as the classic Deep Throat, starring onetime Denverite Linda Lovelace.
Kitty’s South itself went south in 2007, its civic duty taken over by a Pleasures next door. After that, rumors periodically surfaced about a deal for the old theater, but there wasn't any real action until September 2015, when Wade Murphy closed a deal with the Handler Family Partnership, which had owned the theater and an adjacent vacant lot for generations, to purchase the package for $2.6 million. A month later, Murphy filed for a certificate of non-historic status with the Denver Department of Community Planning and Development, which made preservationists and neighbors alike nervous that the building wouldn't live to see its hundredth birthday.
But not only is the Webber still around, it's looking very good for a centenarian. Murphy and his partner, Michael Chapyak, have restored (what they could) of the structure, rebuilt the rest, and reopened it to a standing-room-only crowd on February 24 as Archetype, a distillery and private-event space. "We wanted to renovate this building by looking back a hundred years in order to look forward to the next hundred years," says Murphy.
Although they couldn't save the entryway tiles that spelled out the Webber name, they did preserve much of the front facade, including the marquee, and restored the window openings to their original size. The basement is gone (as are its scary Kitty's-era contents), and the first floor now holds a tasting room right along Broadway and a distillery in back. The second floor is a 200-person-capacity event space, with a complete catering kitchen, a second bar and a view of the distilling equipment.
Archetype makes two spirits in its 120-gallon stills: Archangel Vodka and Archrival Gin. "It's not enough to just make good spirits; we want to elevate the whole experience," says Chapyak, president and master distiller. "We give a respectful nod to the traditional while using modern technology to make something truly special."
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The Archetype tasting room is open from 4 to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, and 4 to 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday; it will remain open to the public even when the event space is booked for private events. The partners will also be offering classes, as well as a $20 "Tipples and Nibbles" tour.
Find out more at archetypedistillery.com.