In part three of the series, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald try out a longtime Central District favorite. It's way less expensive than the more upscale options around — could it also be better?
How do you get movie lovers away from Netflix? Ply them with food and drink, apparently. Movie theaters throughout the area are now offering menus of actual food (not just popcorn!) and beverages (with alcohol!). But can you have a decent dinner in the dark? Are the cocktails tasty? Is the service unobtrusive? Do the drinks have cute names? So far, in our Dinner at a Movie series, Seattle Times food writer Bethany Jean Clement and movie critic Moira Macdonald have eaten salad in the dark at Mountlake Terrace’s Cinebarre and tested the recliners at the ultra-fancy iPic in Redmond. This time, we checked out a neighborhood place.
Moira: Open since 2005 on a quiet Central District street, Central Cinema is that rarity: a nonchain movie theater (owned by Kevin and Kate Spitzer), offering a full menu and bar. It’s a single-screen cinema, with a separate lounge out front; all ages are welcome. Programming — shown in crisp DCP, the same format you’ll see in multiplexes — is a playful mix of vintage favorites, special events and stuff-you-won’t-see-anywhere-else. Earlier this month, we attended a timely screening of “Groundhog Day”; upcoming events at Central Cinema include screenings of “Hackers,” “Ghost in the Shell,” “Enchanted,” “Frida,” “The Great Muppet Caper,” “Iron Man” and “Step Brothers”; as well as trivia nights and an Oscar-watching party. Does Central Cinema live up to its self-proclaimed title of “Seattle’s Most Fun Movie Theater”? Read on!
Moira: I think we may have hit on an important truth about Dinner at a Movie: It helps if you’ve already seen the movie — the distraction factor is much lessened when you’re not worried about missing something — and love it. “Groundhog Day” is, of course, a perfect movie, and watching it over and over again is exactly the point, right?
1411 21st Ave., Seattle; one screen, all-ages. 206-328-3230; central-cinema.com
Bethany: Being gifted with a poor memory, I’m great at re-watching movies. Come to find out that “Groundhog Day” is not only relevant to this time of year (thanks a lot, Punxsutawney Phil), but also to the current #MeToo discussion. Bill Murray’s weatherman is an utter creep-monster, but reliving one day over and over gives the world the chance to (literally) slap it out of him. And Central Cinema makes excellent choices overall: The previews made me want to come back and see several other movies again immediately (as opposed to the existential dread inspired by 77 percent of new movie previews).
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Moira: Special props to Central Cinema for offering an entertaining preshow, which included a brief documentary about groundhogs. And I salute them for bringing back the tradition of an intermission, though it was a bit startling — the movie just STOPPED, seemingly randomly, and I worried that Bill Murray had fallen into some sort of black hole. A good idea, though — places that serve such large drinks are wise to program bathroom breaks.
Bethany: Thanks for the large drinks, Central Cinema (see below)! And the sense of humor! I liked the vintage public-service announcement about unplugging your toaster before sticking a fork in it (which was also relevant to the movie!).
Moira: Watching “Groundhog Day” reminded me that I spent much of the ’90s trying to replicate Andie MacDowell’s hair.
Bethany: I think I have also hit on an important truth about ordering dinner at a movie: Don’t challenge the kitchen. “Should I see how they do with the gnocchi?” I said to Moira as we scrutinized the menu (OK, I scrutinized, and she just decided quickly like a normal person). “Even good Italian restaurants often don’t make good gnocchi.” Moira replied, “Remember the iPic lobster roll? I think you’ll be happier if you don’t.” And she was right — my hamburger ($13.50 with bacon and cheddar) was perfectly fine (if in need of more bacon), and we were re-watching “Groundhog Day,” and everything was lovely. Thanks, Moira!
Moira: You’re welcome! And I do admire your scrutinizing skills. My grilled-chicken sandwich with onions ($10.50) was very good as well — crispy and tasty. It could have come with French fries, except I forgot to order them. As with “Groundhog Day,” I will have to repeat this experience until I get it right.
Bethany: Our appetizer, it must be said, lacked luster: just four slices of baguette (dryish, too), a small wedge of Mt. Townsend Off Kilter cheese (very small, less than a quarter of the round) served too cold, and thyme-orange marmalade (tasty) for $6. Six bucks isn’t a lot for an appetizer these days, but still…
Moira: That marmalade would have been perfect if we were watching “Paddington 2.”
Bethany: And with nicer bread — a bear deserves better. For dessert, our crème brûlée ($6.50) was … OK, maybe a little over-brûléed, making the crème a bit scrambled-egg-textured. Still, crème brûlée at the movies! What a world!
Moira: I was very excited to see that Central Cinema gives fun movie-themed names to their drinks, like the food at Cinebarre. I ordered a Starlet ($10); Bethany ordered a Director ($11). I don’t know what this says about the two of us; make of it what you will. Anyway, the Starlet — a sort of Cosmopolitan, with lime and pomegranate — was nicely fruity, not too sweet and, though it didn’t quite achieve the heaven-sent purple splendors of my mojito at iPic last month, really good. I felt appropriately starry.
Bethany: The Director was a smooth, powerful rye Manhattan made with Scrappy’s bitters. It was also large. It directed me toward happiness, and I followed its direction. Thanks, Director!
Moira: Service at Central Cinema is low-key, friendly and delightful. You order from your seat; the server, seemingly ever-present yet unobtrusive, checked on us frequently. Food was delivered efficiently; one minor mistake (a wrong drink) was swiftly and nicely corrected.
Bethany: Best service yet! Thanks, Central Cinema!
Bethany: Central Cinema looks like a real place instead of a corporate movie-showing box — it’s got exposed brick and everything. But it’s also nice — no thrift-store couches or anything.
Moira: The half-booths facing the screen are really cozy. They feel homemade, in the nicest way. But, having been spoiled by iPic’s recliners, I found the seats just a little on the hard side.
Bethany: True. And the legroom was a bit scrunched. But we have become spoiled. After iPic, I will always be mad that there aren’t blankets.
Moira: I thought you were going to always bring your own blanket from now on?
Bethany: I don’t think I’m up for that level of weirdo-hood… yet.
The Overall Experience
Bethany: Central Cinema makes good choices, big cocktails and a decent hamburger. It has a sense of humor. Our fellow Central Cinemagoers all seemed to be having a grand time. It’s independently owned, and they program fun/weird stuff like “Sound of Music” singalongs. OK, it’s not super-posh, but with so much to love, I can live without a blanket. (Also, it wasn’t cold in there at all!)
Moira: There’s a wonderful vibe at Central Cinema that makes you immediately comfortable — it’s like a movie-themed version of “Cheers,” or a neighborhood living room. (That is, if your living room had an enormous screen and a pleasant person bringing drinks. I need to work on this at home.) And the price is right: most screenings are $8 in advance or $10 at the door, though a few screenings are as low as $1.99. If you live near Central Cinema, you’re lucky. Check it out!