Gabrielle Wiegand was driving in her car one day when she heard a radio report about a new art house movie theater opening in Peoria. And she was so excited, she said, that she nearly veered off the road. The Peoria native recently moved back to central Illinois from Washington, D.C., where it isn't hard to find screenings of little-known indie gems - or theaters that serve alcohol.

Gabrielle Wiegand was driving in her car one day when she heard a radio report about a new art house movie theater opening in Peoria. And she was so excited, she said, that she nearly veered off the road.


"I'm a really big independent and foreign film buff, I guess you could say," said Wiegand, 26. The Peoria native recently moved back to central Illinois from Washington, D.C., where it isn't hard to find screenings of little-known indie gems - or theaters that serve alcohol.


This city now has both in Peoria Theater, Independent Film and Event Center. The venue, two 120-seat theaters separated by a partition from the Reynolds Theatres-run complex at Landmark, is run by Jay Goldberg Events and Entertainment. It opened Feb. 8.


Wiegand was among patrons who turned out for an 8:45 p.m. Wednesday screening of "Rachel Getting Married." The theater is also playing "Milk." Both films will be screened through Sunday.


Despite a robust bar menu that serves 10 varieties of wine, 15 domestic and premium brews and both well and top-shelf cocktails, Wiegand was happy with just a diet soda.


The theater's liquor license was granted by the City Council on Dec. 15 in a 10-0 vote. There was one abstention. Peoria Liquor Commission Chairman Frank McCabe said this is the only Peoria cinema in his memory to serve alcohol.


The theater also serves nachos, Butch's pizza, popcorn and other snacks. Luke McCann, the theater's general manager, said he is considering featuring food and drink specials to attract customers and also offer a six-month membership ($50 for individuals, $80 for couples) and a year membership ($90 for individuals and $150 for couples), which allows admission to any film.


McCann said he's heard encouraging words from customers who have visited the 21-and-older establishment.


"I think we left a really good impression on everyone coming in. They all say it's really great that there's something like this in town," McCann said.


Other films McCann is considering screening include "The Wrestler," starring Mickey Rourke, and "Waltz With Bashir," an animated documentary in which a former Israeli soldier who served in the 1982 Israeli-Lebanan war interviews his fellow soldiers 20 years later. Rolling Stone magazine called it "a potent and profound document of war and its aftermath done as a cartoon."


Wiegand said she hopes McCann brings in even lesser-known films and foreign offerings: "Anything to mix up the monotony of Nicolas Cage movies that we get in Peoria, I think, would be great."


Admission is $5 for students and seniors, and $6 for adults. Check PeoriaTheater.com for showtimes, or call (309) 202-2278.


Danielle Hatch can be reached at 686-3262 or dhatch@pjstar.com.