Watching movies, especially as a collective, has been a relatively new experience in human history. After all, it was only a little over 120 years ago, in December 1895, when the Lumière brothers of France invented the film projector. Ten years later, in June 1905, with the advent of the first indoor movie theater – the Nickelodeon in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania – people have been enjoying the splendor of cinema outside of their homes. Since then, individuals, couples, and families have made memorable social events out of sharing in the anticipation and experience of film inside a large auditorium, where popcorn, candy, and soda can be enjoyed amid the visual landscape and orchestra of sound.
Though as the ebbs and flows of box-office receipts might suggest, many have unfortunately opted out of going to movie theaters, as the television, which made its debut in September 1927, has benefited from innumerable technological improvements. Sleek widescreen TVs can play movies in crystal-clear, 4K quality thanks to advancements by satellite/cable/streaming providers and in films for purchase, the latter of which has graduated from its VHS, DVD, and soon-to-be Blu-ray forms.
Still, while many traditional movie houses fall by the wayside for overstaying their use, some locations have successfully adapted to our changing times, appealing to a growing array of people who now have novel ways to find satiation for not only their love of film, but incredible food, drink, comfort, and camaraderie. Three locations in particular are unique for their ability to provide their customers experiences that transcend the quaint film-watching model, adding a multitude of sensations to create memories that will be pleasantly remembered for some time.
Street Food Cinema streetfoodcinema.com
With 12 different locations in the greater Los Angeles area, and even more in San Diego and Phoenix, Street Food Cinema has combined the allure of open-air theater with live music and gourmet food trucks. At various parks in Hollywood, Eagle Rock, Pasadena, Glendale, Culver City, Downtown Los Angeles, Pacific Palisades – including a ranch in Malibu, a golf course in Manhattan Beach, and a historic theater in Los Angeles – patrons have the opportunity to bring their own lawn chairs, blankets and even snacks for the proceedings. The evening usually begins with the musical stylings of a local band, followed by an audience-participation game, and finally the film, which is projected onto an inflatable screen.
During the recent screening of “Stand by Me” (1986) in Syd Kronenthal Park in Culver City, for instance, a delightful set by a country band called Patrolled by Radar preceded a lip-syncing competition where four audience members dueled it out to determine who could give the most riveting performance of Ben E. King’s hit-song “Stand by Me” (1961). As the crowd cheered loudest for the one worthy of triumph, a victor was crowned, as many smiled or expressed pretend-fun disappointment at the result.
Certainly, there is much to grin about whenever one is at a Street Food Cinema event, and the fantastic food options are definitely in the mix as some of the top incentives. Parked just off to the side, food trucks such as Baby’s Badass Burgers, Cousins Maine Lobster, Dogtown Dogs, The Grilled Cheese Truck, Ragin’ Cajun, Street Kitchen LA, Berlin Truck, Brew Wings, and Say Fish Tacos satisfy the appetites of many a Southern California resident before show time on the big screen. And with a clear picture and panoramic sound, due to speakers that are strategically placed along the periphery of the relaxed attendees, the movie is readily appreciated as part of a thorough experience.
Rooftop Cinema Club rooftopcinemaclub.com/la
The Rooftop Cinema Club – which can be experienced in London, New York, and Los Angeles – has redefined what it means to live vicariously through both projected motion picture and its surrounding views. This is perhaps none more true than at the Pantages-Theatre-partnered Los Angeles location on 1615 Vine Street atop The Ricardo Montalbán Theatre, where one can take in a breathtaking aerial panorama prior to becoming engrossed in a classic film. Dreams of grandeur reign free and unimpeded as one looks out to see the upper half of the W Hotel in one direction, and the top horizon of The Broadway Hollywood Hotel in the other.
Undoubtedly, the moment one walks up the flights of stairs leading to the roof, the wondrous melding of the past and present becomes ever apparent. En route through the winding journey, one may decide to take a peek inside the 90-year-old theatre and marvel at picture frames highlighting Ricardo Montalbán’s diverse roles dating back to the last century before heading back and completing the last few steps to end up on the roof. There, one is immediately seduced by the vistas reminiscent of a rich architectural history interwoven with the legacies of Hollywood greats. Supplementing this awe-inspiring realization might be an elegant alcoholic beverage from the drink station, such as a refreshing glass of champagne, wine, or sangria. Of course, there is also a concessions booth, and even a food stand to nourish everyday movie-going sensibilities, as one sits comfortably in one of the many blue-and-white striped lawn-esque chairs buttressed by a wooden frame.
In addition, what is at once collectively empowering – to sit high above the land of historical renown – is also privately intimate given the modern achievement of the portable headphone. As such, each person gets his or her own pair for the purpose of not only drowning out the ambient Los Angeles din, but to distinctly hear each spoken word of film dialogue, adjusting the volume as seen fit. Truly, because of the Rooftop Cinema Club’s embrace of the classic and contemporary, it’s the closest thing to being transported back through the annals of Tinseltown history while living abundantly in the moment.
iPic Theaters L.A. ipictheaters.com
iPic Theaters, which has several locations in the United States, is proudly represented in California via Pasadena (42 Miller Alley) and, since May 2014, Los Angeles (10840 Wilshire Boulevard). Being the gold-standard of luxury and service, it is an indisputable place where one can be lavished upon with not only the finest in theater accommodations, but be attended to by exceptional waitstaff, who are adept at never getting in the way of cinematic immersion.
Not only a theater, but a prestigious institution in its own right, iPic Theaters in L.A. privileges the individual with divine drinks, cuisine, and compelling décor on its escalator-linked levels, each one replete with their own food and beverage options.
For instance, as one turns out of the lobby and into the on-site Tuck Room Tavern restaurant, the familial setting of inviting couches and sofas – juxtaposed with a hint of Spanish Gothic influence – alerts patrons of the post-modern prestige to come. Just as one may be impressed by the outer edge of the eatery openly facing Wilshire Blvd., or by the exquisite chandeliers, regal drapery, and wonderfully amusing portraits of animals in majestically human poses – perhaps none more attention-grabbing than two mammalian murals made from book spines – there is yet even more to be seen and experienced.
The best way to do so is by choosing the Premium-Plus option which will reward individuals with plushy orange La-Z-Boy-like chairs that can recline at a whim via the press of a button. The chairs also sport sumptuous pillows for back support and cozy blankets for the duration of the movie. Moreover, a swivel-table is connected to each pair of seats, making this establishment an ideal spot for friends or couples, who can derive as much pleasure from gustatory treats as they can the top-of-the-line picture and audio. Scrumptious menu items are inspired by Chef Sherry Yard’s vision, which has given way to enticing choices like the Croquettes appetizer — a blissful mashed potato-hush puppy amalgamation with honey-mustard dipping sauce.
For those in the mood for delicious cocktails, The Norma Jean is a fruity vodka treat with strawberry lemonade that makes the taste buds twirl and somersault with each sip. Also, The El Corazon Margarita is a must-have with its powerful pomegranate overtones and surprising citrus kick.
A recommended entrée includes Chef Ben Ford’s Pulled Pork Grilled Cheese Sandwich (BBQ pork, gouda, pepper relish, grain mustard aeoli, caramelized onions, texas toast), which is delicately balanced with a side of succulent sweet potato fries, prompting the palate to go flying with unmitigated jubilation at first bite. The Grilled Beef Tenderloin Skewers, too, are tenderly cooked, and juicy to the core, eliciting grins of proper satisfaction while being cheerfully chewed; not to mention, the gratifyingly crunchy fried green beans make an impeccable side.
Needless to say, there is no better way to end a meal at the movies than with a decadent dessert. Chef Duff Goldman’s Toffee Cookie Ice Cream Sandwich is as uncannily unbelievable as it sounds, and, better yet, it comes with a cup of hot chocolate. Furthermore, the velvety-textured Chocolate S’mores Cake is an artisanal and mouth-watering masterpiece with embroidered marshmallows and graham cracker crumbles that will rouse the joy of living in all of us.