Recreating an underground movie theater into a restaurant is no easy task. When Sacramento restaurant owner, Bob Emerick first saw the underground remnants of the old Crest Theater, he knew he had stumbled upon something special. Although it’s common for old Sacramento buildings to have unused underground rooms, it leads people to think of the mysteries behind these rooms and their past purposes. Fortunately for Emerick, he decided to recreate this space into a restaurant that would have customers talking for days. Thus, the Empress Tavern was born and capitalized on the opportunity to play on its historical roots to be the most unique space in the city.

While contemplating the design of Empress Tavern, Emerick and his family vacationed in St. Petersburg, Russia where they stumbled upon a restaurant that had a semi-underground feel as well. With brick ceilings, barrel vaults, columns, old bar, stunning ambiance, and not to mention the great food, Bob was inspired to mirror Empress Tavern after the St. Petersburg restaurant. Bob made it his goal to bring some European flair to Sacramento.

A vital part of the design process was deciding how to incorporate brick that looked original to the restaurant. Bob didn’t want perfect grout lines or brick that was manufactured. He wanted the brick to look like it had just been uncovered and original to the building itself. Having an “unearthed” feel would bring authentic character to the restaurant and Bob was under the impression that engineered brick would retract from the feel of originality. After being introduced to various types of brick, Bob came across Eldorado Stone’s brick veneer. This is the “real stuff” Bob said while examining the veneer, “it looked more real than any other product.” Eldorado Stone changed Bob’s mind from real stone to stone veneer. With the broken up edges and color variation, the brick had looked just as Bob anticipated: unearthed after 100 years.

Empress Tavern was a hit in Sacramento. During the opening party, the guests ventured downstairs to see the restaurant and their jaws immediately dropped when they hit the landing that showcased the whole space. It was truly something they had never seen before. The brick veneer that encompassed the ceiling and walls of the restaurant was the main feature and some guests were under the impression that the brick was original to the restaurant but Bob assured them that it was manufactured. Bob made the Empress Tavern into a space that truly captured an original, unearthed feel and because of the architectural style, the restaurant is now known as a must-see space in Sacramento.


Eldorado Stone Profile Featured: Bracciano – Roma Brick

Owner: Bob Emerick

Contractor: Pullman Construction

Structural Engineer: Brad Fredericks


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