Big-Screen Bars

Posted July 13, 2005 at 4:52pm

With all of Tom Cruise’s recent media antics — from his wild professions of love for fellow actress Katie Holmes to his bizarre on-air assessment of psychological drugs and mental disorders — some people might need a few stiff drinks before they’ll be able to take him seriously as an actor again.

But fortunately for film lovers, there are a couple of places around Washington, D.C., where drinking and a night out at the movies go hand in hand.[IMGCAP(1)]

Theater pubs — also known as cinema clubs or cinema draft houses — allow movie patrons to enjoy an alcoholic beverage and catch a flick at the same time.

Just think of the possibilities: What better way to take the edge off a nervous first date than by ordering a beer or three? And if you find that a summer blockbuster just isn’t living up to the hype, don’t walk out, just order another round.

There are two main theaters that mix booze and popcorn in the D.C. area, and they lend themselves to two different styles of movie-going. Both are a bit of a trip

from Capitol Hill (remember to take the Metro or a cab), but the experience is worth the effort.

If you’re looking to catch the most recent blockbusters, then head to the AMC Theaters at Mazza Gallerie at 5300 Wisconsin Ave. NW. For the fairly stiff price of $12.50, patrons gain admission to the AMC Club Cinema, essentially a full-service bar and lounge area with two stadium-seating theaters, complete with comfy leather recliners.

The Club Cinema area is open from 6 p.m. Fridays through 11 p.m. Sundays. During those times, of-age patrons can order a drink and take their beverage back into the theater (or maybe even wait out the previews while enjoying a beverage in the lounge). If you need another drink during the movie, just stop by the bar on your way to the bathroom. Like the rest of the theater, the club cinema is non-smoking.

Don’t expect any happy hour specials here. A bottled beer will run you from $4.50 to $5, a glass of wine is $7 and mixed drinks cost anywhere from $6.50 to $8. For only offering bottled beer, the selection is pretty good, from Miller Lite and Sam Adams to several imports like Guinness, Corona and Amstel.

Food choices at the Mazza Gallerie theater are limited to the standard concession stand movie fare. The negative side is that popcorn and nachos don’t go well with Maker’s Mark and Coke, but on the other hand, if you’re bringing the kids along, you can still get the concession stand meal deals on popcorn and sodas.

But if traveling to Friendship Heights is out of the way for a movie and a drink, the other choice is to head across the Potomac River and catch a second-run movie at the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Drafthouse, located at 2903 Columbia Pike in Arlington, Va.

The draft house usually has only two showings of its movies during the week, with a third late-night showing on weekends. Though the movies have been out for a while by the time the draft house picks them up, the $5 ticket price is much more reasonable.

Once inside the theater, guests can choose to sit at long tables in a stadium seating set-up or sit closer to the front of the theater around circular tables. The creaky chairs are a far cry from the recliners at AMC’s Club Cinema, but it’s nonetheless quite an experience to have a server take your order as the lights go down and the screen lights up at the draft house. A note to non-smokers, though: Except for the first shows on Tuesday and Friday nights, the theater allows smoking during films.

The food selection at the cinema draft house far outshines the Mazza Gallerie. You can get anything from a full slab of barbecue ribs to a chef salad or a veggie burger. But be ready to order quickly, as there are no previews at this theater.

The pizza is the draft house’s most popular item, with the dough made fresh daily and plenty of choices in toppings. A 12-inch pizza is reasonably priced at $12.20.

As far as beverages go, you can get anything from mixed drinks to pitchers of beer or even a carafe of sangria. A pitcher of Bud Light runs $9.20, while a carafe of sangria is $9.45. If you come thirsty, be warned that service sometimes takes a while, and it’s hard to get a server’s attention in a dark theater.

With a waitress constantly walking through the theater taking orders, watching a movie at the Arlington Cinema ‘N’ Draft House can be a bit distracting, but if you’ve never done it, the experience is certainly worth the ticket price. And enjoying a drink and a movie in a cool, dark theater is an appealing option on D.C.’s hot, humid summer nights.