January 31 marks two years since Meadville’s Voodoo Brewing opened a satellite pub in a former fire and police station at the corner of 9th and Amity in Homestead. How will the employee-owners of Voodoo Homestead mark the occasion? By transforming the building’s former holding cells into a “pinball speakeasy,” of course.
“If there’s one thing that we’ve done that speaks to us as a company it’s that we’ve reinvested in things for the customer experience and our employees,” says Jake Voelker, one of Voodoo’s principal owners.
The Homestead Municipal Building that houses Voodoo was constructed in 1904. Labor hero Mary Harris, better known as Mother Jones, spent time in the building’s cells after being arrested for speaking to striking steelworkers in 1919. In Thomas Bell’s multi-generational Pittsburgh immigrant saga, Out of This Furnace, family patriarch George Kracha spends Christmas Eve in “the police station on Ninth Avenue.”
Today, the holding cells are home to pinball machines and an Area 51 arcade cabinet, with murals of Donkey Kong and Mario on the walls.
“I wanted to leave the original graffiti in the cells,” laughs Voelker, “but we are a kid-friendly establishment.”
It’s a fitting move for a craft brewery known for its eccentric wit. Voodoo brews reference pop culture nuggets like Primus songs and South Park bits. Demand for their limited bottle releases has gotten so intense that the brewery maintains a “banned list” of people who have been caught reselling their beers on the black market.
The arcade is in a small room adjacent to the main beer hall and sits across from Abandoned Pittsburgh, a small art gallery that displays photos of the city’s urban decay—everything from abandoned churches to crumbling steel mills. The gallery, which opened in November, is open to the public Thursday through Saturday.
The speakeasy is a small endeavor compared to Voodoo’s latest expansion. On Friday they celebrated the launch of a new 30-barrel brewing facility inside an 18,000-square-foot former 84 Lumber warehouse in Meadville. The $900,000 expansion makes Voodoo the second largest craft beer producer in Western PA, and they hope to start selling beer outside of their current distribution area (New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania) by the end of the year.
Voelker says they had been considering different options for the arcade space for over a year now, but the idea ultimately came from the staff at Voodoo Homestead. An employee-owned brewery, every member of the staff can contribute both cost-saving and creative ideas in order to provide the best possible experience for guests, even those who don’t typically frequent craft breweries.
“Here you can enjoy everything from our craft beer—which is our cornerstone—to a really cool art gallery to an awesome arcade and have a great experience that’s like nothing else in the city.”
The Voodoo Homestead pinball speakeasy will open full-time in mid-February.