Landmark buildings and awesome amenities make these U.S. movie theaters worth visiting.
Attending a movie may not come to mind when planning your travel itinerary. But it should when the movie theater itself is a central part of local culture.
These nine movie houses are all either prestigious landmark buildings or top-shelf art-house cinemas that are unique to their location. Each one conveys a little piece of their hometown. What’s more, they’re beloved by residents, letting you tap into local life beyond the average tour stops. So get your tickets and pass the popcorn!
McMenamins Kennedy School in Portland, Ore.
“Keep it weird,” Portland’s unofficial motto, seems to be the mission statement for the McMenamins boutique chain. These guys have converted power stations and old schools into hotels and movie theaters, all while retaining the character down to the chalkboards.
The Kennedy School is a hotel/movie theater/restaurant/bar, and the movie theater portion is pure quirkiness. Housed in the school’s former auditorium, the theater offers a hodgepodge of couch seating. But don’t let the coziness fool you: A ticket here scores you a top-shelf experience, including tableside service, gourmet dishes and local microbrews on tap. And you can bunk on-site after the show.
Arclight Cinemas in Los Angeles
Unlike other cities, it would be unthinkable to come to Los Angeles and not see a movie. So the question becomes, which theater deserves your time? For cinephiles, the answer is the ArcLight. This local chain treats movies with artistic reverence, which is reflected in the reserved seating and strict policies against disruption (no talking, cellphones or late seating). Roomy stadium seats come with extra-wide armrests, and the gourmet snacks on sale include popcorn with real butter or cocktails at the 21-plus screenings.
Sundance Kabuki Cinemas in San Francisco
Sticky floors, blaring ads, camping out for seats — the average movie experience can feel like traveling in coach. But the Sundance Kabuki is adult, refined and firmly first-class. The aim is apparent once you set foot in the lobby: The soaring skylit atrium, slat-wood box office and bamboo plants feel more like a boutique hotel than a multiplex. Upscale food, including local artisanal ice cream by Humphry Slocombe, caters to the foodie set, and the balcony bar pours thematic cocktails that can be taken into 21-plus screenings. Seating is reserved, so there’s no scramble to find a spot, and pre-movie ads are nixed.
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema in Austin, Texas
Leave it to Austin to pioneer the cinema-drafthouse mashup. This quirky movie house is known to cinephiles not just for its excellent beer and homey movie snacks like nachos, pizza and poppers, but also for its solemn respect for movies. Despite the beers on tap, this crowd is quiet and attentive once the projector gets going. There are no pre-movie ads, no talking, no cellphone use and no children under the age of 6. A few programs do relax these rules — such as Quote Alongs, Heckle Vision and Alamo Kids Camp, all geared to the next generation of film buffs.
Landmark Inwood Theater in Dallas
With its blocky neon sign and old-fashioned marquee, the Inwood is a relic from Dallas’ midcentury boom. But its interiors are far from “classic.” The first-floor auditorium is decked out with plump couches and squishy beanbag chairs, and movie-goers can order drinks from a martini bar. (Clearly this is the ultimate way to see any Bond movie.) If you’re more of a traditionalist, you can also see movies in a leather stadium seat, popcorn in hand. And the theater’s lounge provides a spot to discuss movie plot twists after the show.
State Theatre in Traverse City, Mich.
They don’t build ’em like they used to, which is exactly why documentary filmmaker Michael Moore and the Traverse City Film Festival saved this movie palace from being permanently shuttered. Their efforts have restored this theater to its grand, red-velvet-seat past. But the most eye-catching detail could be the faux night sky that was charted by an astronomy professor to display Northern Michigan’s constellations with total accuracy. The State Theatre is also keen to make movies accessible, offering weekly 25-cent classic films, kids’ matinees and free admission if the weather hits 100 degrees.
Nitehawk Cinema in Brooklyn, New York
Yes, Brooklyn is the epicenter of cool. And within Brooklyn, Williamsburg is the pinnacle of hipsterdom. So it follows that the local movie spot here would be too cool for (film) school. Screening art-house cinema, documentaries and mainstream flicks, this dine-in theater provides tableside food and beverage service repping the local foodie culture (pork-belly tacos, anyone?). The theater also overturned New York State liquor laws that prohibited alcoholic beverages at movie theaters, so there’s plenty of cocktails and even lush boozy desserts.
The Senator Theatre in Baltimore
If you’re nostalgic for the days of regal movie palaces, the Senator can be your time machine. This Art Deco landmark has retained much of its grandeur, from the terrazzo floors and murals to the gold curtains. A mezzanine level includes private screening rooms, which are available for rent. Ultimately, there’s nothing splashy or tricked out about The Senator — and that’s exactly how locals like it. Be aware, no children under five are allowed.
Tampa Theatre in Tampa, Fla.
Outdoor movie screenings are wonderful — until the temperature gets above 90 degrees and the mosquitoes begin their attack. This Jazz-Age stunner gives the impression of being under the open sky, and its ceiling even twinkles with faux stars. With dazzling, ornate moldings made to mimic a Mediterranean courtyard (complete with statues and gargoyles) it’s easy to see why this theater has a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. Be sure to get to the theater before showtime to hear the classic Wurlitzer organ played.
Read the original story, 9 iconic movie theaters worth your vacation time, by Maria Teresa Hart, on Oyster.com.