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Welcome to NYC’s Golden Age of Eating & Boozing at the Movies

It's a wonderful time to be a moviegoer in New York.

syndicated brooklyn

The 'Steve McQueen' at Syndicated. Photo by Michael Tulipan

It’s a great time to be a moviegoer in New York City – especially if you like your cinema served with dinner and drinks. This summer, Brooklyn will boast at least three movie theaters serving liquor and food: Williamsburg’s Nitehawk Cinema, Syndicated in Bushwick, and the forthcoming Alamo Drafthouse location in Downtown Brooklyn.

Nitehawk is an industry trailblazer; when the theater opened in 2011, it was illegal to serve alcohol in a New York City movie theater. According to the New York Times, that changed when Nitehawk founder Matthew Viragh “hired a lawyer and a lobbyist and helped persuade legislators to pass a law… allowing drinks to be served in movie theaters that are also restaurants.” Nitehawk has flourished in the years since, and regularly sells out its shows today.

Bushwick’s Syndicated is a theater, bar and restaurant that opened early this year. The venue’s cinema seats 50 and currently shows revivals, indies, festivals and seasonal films (a single movie ticket only costs $3). The gourmet menu includes Duck Confit Nachos and an Elvis-themed sandwich called The King. Syndicated’s Managing Partner Tim Chung says, “I think our food and beverage program is really top-notch. It’s constantly evolving. The quality of the ingredients that we use and the quality of creativity that we put into every dish and cocktail will set us apart.”

syndicated movie theater

Guests at Syndicated. Photo by Michael Tulipan

I asked Mr. Chung about the rise of New York’s dine-in cinema culture. “I think a lot of it can be attributed to the rise in ticket prices at big chain movie theaters,” he said. “I feel like the prices for tickets go up every six months and yet it’s the same product, the same popcorn and soda, the same not-great projection. I feel like moviegoers are getting kind of hip to it and understanding that they don’t have to go out to movie theaters anymore because it’s also converging with the advent of streaming, with everything being available at all times. People are finding less and less reasons to go out to the theater. That’s what I had in mind when I opened Syndicated: we gotta give people more reasons to go to the theater. That’s why our ticket prices are so low, and why we’re trying to make it as appealing as possible. I remember as a kid, every trip to the movies used to be an event. I felt like, sadly, that was becoming less and less the case and I wanted to make the moviegoing experience special and eventful again.”

Mr. Chung’s previous work in the film industry includes an interesting gig for Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan: he painted the portraits of Natalie Portman that hang on the wall in the studio of the protagonist’s mother. “The production had hired a professional painter to paint these purposely bad portraits of Natalie Portman,” he says, “but they were coming out too good… I took a stab at it, and they liked it.”

Alamo Drafthouse is also slated to open its new location in Downtown Brooklyn this summer. The Brooklyn theater will be the brand’s 20th location. The Drafthouse brand and its history of live events with major filmmakers are promising for New York’s film culture.

Alamo Drafthouse operates with a strict no-talking policy. According to founder Tim League, “we want to keep the movie-watching experience safe from people who aren’t movie fans.” As much as I dislike talking during movies, that sounds somewhat aggressive to me. After over a dozen trips to Nitehawk, I have never experienced a single audience interruption.

Lastly, there’s theater chain iPic, which is alleged to be opening a luxury eat-in theater at a South Street Seaport location in June of this year. However, its opening has been delayed before so an official opening date remains unclear.

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