Reel estate: Catch more buys with Vinegar?

While Vinegar Hill Theater is best known for its screenings of arthouse flicks, this week it started screening something else: potential buyers.

Owners Ann Porotti and David Wyatt put the complex containing the 219-seat theater and L'avventura restaurant on the block for $1.5 million, signaling the end of a heady era of Charlottesville nightlife.

"We've had almost 30 years with our wonderful patrons," says Porotti on the theater's website. "We see some of them so often they seem like members of the family– they come over, eat a good meal, and watch a movie at our place. But it's time to do some new things in our lives."

On Valentine's Day 1976, in a converted Market Street motorcycle dealership, Porotti co-founded Vinegar Hill Theatre with then-husband F. Guthrie "Chief" Gordon. They showed new foreign films and American classics as double features.

"They opened my eyes to foreign film," says longtime patron Carroll Trainum, who says that the theater's monthly calendar graced thousands of local refrigerators.

Within a few years, Porotti and Gordon had also opened Fellini's, a legendary Second Street watering hole that would become notorious for the ribald late-night antics of some customers. Fellini's closed in 1994, about a year after the death of its namesake director– and the jailing of Gordon.

An attorney, Gordon was already divorced from Porotti when he was found guilty of dipping into client funds and relieved of his license to practice law.

The 1996 opening of the six-screen Regal Cinema brought new art house competition to downtown. While Vinegar Hill would eventually abandon its monthly calendar, it vigorously competed with exclusive engagements of such top indie pictures as Life is Beautiful, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and Fahrenheit 9/11.

Since Porotti and her new husband, Wyatt, built an addition in 1997, they have also operated L'avventura, a nouvelle Italian restaurant.

According to the theater's website, the one-story building comprises approximately 4,200 square feet, is zoned for business, and the two businesses grossed $630,727 in 2004, with the restaurant open for dinner just four nights a week.

"Vinegar Hill opened my eyes to film I wouldn't be aware of," says Trainum. "I really hope that someone keeps it as a theater

The ingredients are in place. Among the many accessories conveying with the sale are a Smart Mod VI audio processor, two Century 35mm projectors, and a Vulcan range.

Vinegar Hill Theatre for sale