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Uptown Theatre: At the heart of Napa's nightlife revival

The Uptown Theatre is at the center of a revived Napa nightlife and music scene.
Photo by Kevin Nelson

Known for its world-class wines and restaurants, the Napa Valley is also the home of one of the liveliest, most eclectic concert venues you will find anywhere: the Uptown Theatre in downtown Napa.

Built in 1937, this restored art deco theater has become "a beacon of Napa's nightlife revival," to quote the San Francisco Chronicle, showcasing a variety of world-class performers on its stage—rock and blues legends such as Boz Scaggs and B.B. King, country greats Merle Haggard, John Hiatt and Jewell, comedians Wanda Sykes, Adam Carolla, Craig Ferguson and many more.

The Uptown, at 1350 Third Street, is at the heart of Napa's West End, a once-sleepy and forgotten part of the city and valley. But it's sleepy no more, thanks in part to the locals and out-of-towners who come to hear live music at this intimate 864-seat theatre and then eat, drink, shop and stay in the West End before or after the show.

One popular place to stay, on nearby First Street, is the Andaz Napa, which was named one of the top 25 hotels in northern California by Conde Nast Traveler last year. You can find eateries serving tasty treats all around this area. They include the Norman Rose Tavern, Morimoto Napa and Fish Story. And if you're keen for shopping, try Wildcat Vintage Clothing, among other shops in this six-block section that extends to the Napa River.

But if it's rock and blues you're after, the Uptown is the place.

Originally built during the Depression as a movie theater—the first movie shown there was "Ever Since Eve," starring Robert Montgomery and Marion Davies—it passed through a variety of owners over the decades until Napa real estate man and philanthropist George Altamura bought it in 2000.

Altamura, who's now 82, had a dream of restoring the Uptown to the prominence it had in Napa in the late 1940s when he first arrived in the valley as a teenager. To this end, he poured a pile of money into the restoration, expanding the stage to accommodate live music, improving the seating and bringing in designers from the Bellagio in Las Vegas for artistic touches.

One nice feature of the place is the Courtyard Cafe, which offers hamburger sliders, fish and chips, pesto grilled cheese sandwiches and other casual fare at reasonable prices. There is a bar too. Its menu includes wines from Duckhorn Vineyards, Napa Cellars, Artesa, and St. Supery. The cafe opens one hour before the 8 p.m. showtime and during intermission.

All ticket holders to shows at the Uptown must be 12 years or older. Children under 16 must be accompanied by an adult, for most shows. Reserved and general admission seating is available. Tickets are generally affordable, especially compared to prices at big-city concert venues, ranging from $50 to $75 apiece depending on the seat location and act.

The Uptown also offers memberships and special packages, including its "Napa Night to Remember." This consists of dinner or lunch for two at The French Laundry or other top-tier Napa restaurants, an overnight stay at an equally top-tier Napa Valley hotel, and two premier seats to a show of your choice. The price is $799 to $1400 per couple.

Less pricey, but no less inviting, are the Date Night and Tailgate Party packages. Date Night is perfect for couples. Dinner and a show are $149 plus the cost of the tickets. The Tailgate Party is great if you have a bunch of people who want to hear a show and eat and have a good time together; prices are $50 to $75 per person in the group plus the cost of your ticket. Call the Uptown at 707-259-0123 for more information.