An historic Cedar Rapids theater is becoming its coolest new saloon and music venue

Kenyon Thorpe at Ideal Theater in Cedar Rapids. — Malcolm MacDougall/Little Village

Once on the brink of demolition, a building constructed over 100 years ago is about to be reborn as Cedar Rapids’ newest bar and music venue.

First opening as the Ideal Theatre over a century ago, the building at 213 16th Ave SE will start a new chapter of its story, written by its new owners, when it reopens as the Ideal Theater & Bar this October.

Located between Cedar Rapids’ Czech Village and New Bohemia districts, the property was once on the brink of demolition before being purchased in 2014 and developed into the Ideal Social Hall three years later. After serving as an event space for the past several years, the property changed hands again this spring when local business owner Jon Jelinek sold the building.

“I sold him my vision for it,” new owner Kenyon Thorp told Little Village. “And I took it back to its original name, the Ideal Theater, because I won’t be showing movies, but it will be a theater of music.”

While the renovated Social Hall helped usher the Ideal back to life, Thorp’s vision for the building is one based around the concept of restoration.

“I think that history is extremely important,” Thorp said. “And it was extremely important for me, not only to keep the name, but to do an entire build-out that did justice to the history of the building.”

This includes offsetting its original tin ceiling with a beautiful, newly constructed wooden bar that runs the entire length of the venue.

While Thorp partnered with her father and sister to invest in the building as a team in March, she alone will be responsible for the management of the venue. A long-time bartender with consultation and management experience, Thorp’s vision for the new Ideal is one with a social emphasis that nevertheless strives to remain clear of any pretense of exclusivity.

“In Cedar Rapids you either have fine dining or you have sports bars. There’s really no place right up that middle lane where you can dress nicely and come to and hang out without having to buy an expensive meal or anything like that. And that is exactly what I aim to be here at the Ideal.”

With an estimated standing capacity of around 150, the Ideal aims to showcase what Thorp calls “high-quality music.”

“My focus will be blues, funk, soul; I’d love to get some big band swing bands in here,” Thorp said. “Stuff that people can really really dance to.”

Thorp is aiming for one event per week once the venue goes live, and the plan is for the Ideal to remain open seven days a week as a bar. While she’s a lifelong music fan, this is the aspect of the business which really brings the excitement out of Thorp as she expounds on her passion for bartending.

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“I love hearing the stories, meeting the characters, watching the rise and fall of love stories,” she said. “I come from a long line of whiskey drinkers and saloon goers,” Thorp added. “My great-grandmother bartended until she was 84. It runs in my blood, I guess.”

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 310.