As an alternative to big-box movie theaters plagued by cramped seats, stale smells and frighteningly artificial orange-yellow “butter,” new and independent cinemas are now providing fantastic food and amenities, featuring everything from mixologist-crafted cocktails to reclining seats and chef-conceived concessions.
“The movie experience has changed,” says Fred Meyers of Miami’s Cinébistro, which offers seat reservations, movie-themed cocktails and a 21-and-up policy. “Going to the movies used to be a special experience for people, and chain theaters have tarnished that. It became a rowdy experience that catered to a younger audience that saw theaters as a place to hang out, not as a place to enjoy the quality of a film.”
Bringing back the romance of the movies is a common theme, but it’s as much about the food and drinks as it is focused on what’s playing. The founder of Brooklyn’s Nitehawk Cinema, Matthew Viragh, was so passionate about the dinner-and-drinks concept that he hired a lawyer and a lobbyist to overturn a decades-old New York law barring alcohol in movie theaters. Viragh then enlisted local Michelin-starred chef Saul Bolton to create a menu of crave-worthy offerings like house-made chocolate bars flecked with toffee and pretzel crumbles, popcorn topped with cilantro and Cotija cheese, and tasty fish tacos.
Proving Viragh’s political play was worthwhile, Williamsburg locals stop by for cocktails even when they’re not coming in to catch one of a handful of indie, mainstream and old-school films (think Woody Allen’s "To Rome With Love" vs. "Smokey and the Bandit"). Nighthawk’s gastro-cred recently caught the attention of French food festival Le Fooding, which, as part of its Brooklyn Fling from Sept. 19 to 23, is hosting a brunch-and-movie event there with young Parisian idol-chef Inaki Aizpitarte.
Fantastic wine and beer options are recurring themes at various other theater-restaurants throughout the country. Vancouver, Washington’s Cinetopia has a wine cellar that stocks more than 5,000 bottles of domestic and international wines, more than 100 of which are available by the ounce or the glass thanks to a nitrogen-pressurized preservation system. “I’d rather sit at home and watch a movie with a glass of wine instead of having to look around someone’s head or watch poor-quality film projection,” says Kim Oshiro, Cinetopia’s wine and beverage director. “But at these theaters, you’d be able to have that great glass of wine and drink it while reclining in a comfy chair and watching a larger-than-life digital screen.”
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