Bars & Clubs 2018

Entertainment Value

Local theaters reinvent themselves, with a little help from booze

LvL Up | Movie Mixology | Preparing for the Best | Craft Cocktails | Beer | Wine | Music & Dance

Of all the gin joints in all the cities in all the world, you can now order a cocktail—plus tacos and a sandwich—from your seat at the Pruneyard Dine-In Cinemas. Photo by Greg Ramar

The concept of drinking at the movie theaters has come from de trop to deluxe. Any history of drinking in a theater should begin in the late 1960s, when box offices tanked and the ushers, who once would have evicted the flask-wielders, were all laid off. Many will recall the familiar sound of an empty bottle rolling loudly down the raked floor toward the screen. Particularly welcome during kissing scenes, the ruckus lightened the spirits and was always applauded.

The upgrading of this once-illegal experience was a long time coming. In the 1980s, the Vegas MGM Grand Hotel dazzled the tourists with a white-carpeted theater, where patrons could push a button and send for a round while watching old standards like A Day at the Races.

Opposition to the great idea of bringing drinks to the moviegoer can be summed up by Jeremy Bagott of the Fresno Bee, who posited that bringing liquor into the mix would negatively impact impressionable youth: "Over time, kids will learn to associate cocktails, tap handles and brass foot rails with movie-going as they sit near drinkers in darkened auditoriums." Brass foot rails have got to be a hazard in a dark theater.

This upgrade is due to a downturn: a drop in the number of tickets sold. Thanks to Peak Television, no one wants to leave their living room, so theaters have been re-creating that living room with wide overstuffed leather recliners and distinguished drinks. Paying $5 for a bag of popped kernels may be too much, but nobody minds paying for a more interesting type of corn—mashed, distilled and aged.

Some of the local chain-plexes are selling ale, most making sure that no one steps into the lounge area with their plastic cups. 3Below has its own beer and wine concessions. But the new Pruneyard in Campbell is the fanciest picture and pub experience in Northern California.

The experience is overseen by Drew Steven Johnson, former drink manager of the Alamo Drafthouse. While that San Francisco theater is a landmark, it features a logistical distraction, the help scuttling like coal miners as they bring you the round you buzzed for.

The extra space between seats at the Pruneyard makes all the difference. I rang for one from the specialty drink menu tied to Ocean's 8—a $8 Twist at the End cocktail (vodka, two kinds of citrus, Lillet to sub for vermouth and bit of Cherry Heering, all served in a tiny ice bucket).

Those worried about the kids, note that they carded me—me, a man who will never view the happy side of 50 again. The swiveling tray was comfortable, with a deep sturdy cupholder in it. And Ocean's 8 was a cocktail in itself: a tribute to the '60s caper movie, made with maximum wit and chicness, and an invigorating hint of lesbian possibilities ("I am not your partner... yet," says Cate Blanchett to Sandra Bullock). It exemplified the summer rule: Make it the same, only different. But then, show me a movie that a drink won't make better.

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