KellerGeist Pub Theater bringing German heritage back to historic building downtown

The building at 111 Central Avenue is returning to its German roots and will open for the Christmas Stroll on Dec. 7.

Jolene and Matthias Schalper bought the former theater building last fall and are opening the KellerGeist Pub Theater.

“Matthias and I knew that we wanted to do something downtown,” Jolene said. They didn’t know what and then the former Montana Actor’s Theatre building came on the market.

For the Stroll, they’re opening a minibar that will have craft cocktails for small groups.

The Schalpers closed on their full liquor license recently and the minibar will have a capacity of 15 people, but they’re hoping to announce and start phase two next year.

The building is one of Great Falls’ oldest, Jolene said, and was built in the 1880s by German immigrant William Albrecht as a furniture warehouse.

The building operated as a furniture store until the 1960s, Jolene said, and then it was an adult theater for about 20 years, before becoming a community theater.

“It’s cool because now it’s back in the hands of a German immigrant,” Jolene said.

Albrecht was a detailed record keeper and had roughly 80 boxes of documents that are now part of the special collections at the University of Montana.

The Schalpers are planning to incorporate some of those documents and history into their new space.

Last year, the family went to Matthias’ home in Germany for the holidays and did a tour of the Christmas markets there.

This year, they’ll be hosting a small Christmas market on the sidewalk outside their building on Central during the Stroll with craft vendors and German styled drinks and food.

The small mini-bar is a temporary part of the project and as they continue renovations, it will close and be renovated again, the Schalpers said.

The name, KellerGeist, translates in German to ghost in the basement or cellar, and ghosts can also be known as spirits, they said.

“It’s a game of words,” Matthias said.

Plus, there might really be a ghost in the basement, the Schalpers said.

Matthias is an engineer and Jolene works at Great Falls Development Authority, but they’ve been working for months to get the building cleaned up and ready for the temporary opening.

The minibar is furnished with chairs and tables that came with the building or were picked out from the antique shop next door.

Jolene said they’re building their website and social media pages so the community can see drink specials and also follow the projects progress. They’re also working with a tech company on developing a customer loyalty program.

The Schalpers have their server’s licenses and for the short-term, they’ll handle bartending along with “family and friends who want to help us out and want to be part of the adventure,” Matthias said.

For the next phase, they’ll be hiring contractors for construction and more employees once that phase is complete.

“We’re trying to recreate something that it was like in the 1920s,” Matthias said, and they’re working with the Montana Historical Society to do so based on old photos for the front and interior renovations.

The front will largely be glass, harkening back to its days as a furniture display window.

“We love the idea of making it a hang out space and entertainment venue,” Jolene said.