Williamsburg’s Movie Houses: Where Popcorn Feels Passé

June 27th, 2013

Small theaters are gasping for life nationwide, but not in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Fueled by the area’s creative class and surge of younger professionals, a fistful of movie houses, including a grass roots screening room with anarchist leanings and a hulking multiplex, have opened in recent years.

“It really is the place to make and see art now,” said Noah Baumbach, the Park Slope-born director of “Francis Ha.” “Manhattan is so tailored. It’s driven by appealing to the very wealthy and tourists.”

Even as North Brooklyn exploded with restaurants and night life, local movie buffs not long ago had to jump on the L train into Manhattan, or settle for barroom viewings, rooftop screenings and aspirational film festivals.

The difference is now pronounced: in December, Williamsburg Cinemas, a suburban-style multiplex, opened on Grand Street beside an antiques shop.

Most theaters are less conventional. At Nitehawk, waiters serve hanger-steak sandwiches, fish tacos and themed cocktails during movies. Matthew Viragh, the owner, hired lobbyists to change New York State laws restricting alcohol in theaters. “It was surprising that nothing like this ever existed,” he said. “It was a dead zone.”

While Williamsburg’s new cinemas are welcomed by most, the old guard sees the trend as inextricably tied to soaring real estate prices and increasing swarms of fratty high-rise dwellers.

“Ask any one of these kids to name three good art movies,” said James Cathcart, a photographer who moved to Williamsburg in the ‘80s. He was sipping a beer at Videology, a video store turned bar. “Seriously, ask them.”

INDIESCREEN

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

Outfitted with a film lover’s attention to detail, this single-screen theater opened near the waterfront in 2011 and shows independent features, documentaries and foreign films.

SEATS

The tidy 93-seat bunker is easy to miss, burrowed into an industrial strip behind the Domino Sugar factory. It’s a little jewel with sloped seating, glowing blue lights and an elevated D.J. booth.

NOW PLAYING

Art-house fare in the vein of the Sunshine Cinema. Currently showing is “Bert and Arnie’s Guide to Friendship,” a romantic comedy.

CONCESSIONS

Movie-themed cocktails and a kitchen for special events.

BROOKLYN BEEF

It hosted the Brooklyn Film Festival this month. “Local films are good enough for a worldwide market,” said Macro Ursino, the owner. “There are these fights, Park Slope versus Williamsburg. It’s so much fun.”

289 Kent Avenue (South Second Street), (347) 227-8030;indiescreen.us. $ 12.

VIDEOLOGY

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

A faltering video rental store was transformed last November into a bar, cafe and screening room. It still rents movies.

SEATS

Faced with extinction, Videology moved its DVDs into the basement, built a small theater in the back and embraced Bedford Avenue’s unquenchable thirst for bars. “It was change or close,” said Wendy Chamberlain, who runs the space with her husband.

NOW PLAYING

In addition to showing classics like “Beetlejuice,” it hosts quirky events like an “Arrested Development”-themed bingo night and “Sesame Street” gatherings.

CONCESSIONS

The cafe serves beer, wine and cocktails like the Bad News Bears Boilermaker (with Budweiser and Jim Beam) for $ 6. Snacks include 50-cent sea salt caramels, $ 8 candy bars and chile-lime popcorn.

OLD MEDIA

Dinosaurs who still rent DVDs can search its online catalog before pedaling over on a penny-farthing.

308 Bedford Avenue (South First Street), (718) 782-3468; Open weekdays from 2 p.m., Saturday and Sunday from noon. Free to $ 5.

NITEHAWK

Michael Nagle for The New York Times

With punchy film curation and a full menu, this 9,000-square-foot cinema opened two years ago and became a neighborhood treasure.

SEATS

Spread over two floors, Nitehawk has a cafe, two bars and three screens, ranging from 28 to 92 seats. “We tried to tailor our experience to be more untraditional to fit the neighborhood,” said Matthew Viragh, the owner.

NOW PLAYING

Films toggle between mainstream and artsy. “The Bling Ring” and “The East” are among the films playing now, along with midnight showings of cult favorites like “Repo Man.”

CONCESSIONS

During movies, waiters slink through the aisles like Quasimodo, taking orders from a menu that includes charcuterie, kale salad and themed drinks. “Django Unchained” inspired the Candyland cocktail.

DAY OF THE OUTLAW

On the first weekend of every month, Country Brunchin’ yokes together live bands, chicken-fried steak and hayseed-centric films like “The Long Riders.”

136 Metropolitan Avenue (between Berry Street and Wythe Avenue), (718) 384-3980; Open daily. $ 11.

WILLIAMSBURG CINEMAS

Deidre Schoo for The New York Times

This seven-screen multiplex landed in Williamsburg last December, sparing L train riders from schlepping to Union Square for first-run blockbusters.

SEATS

An enormous gray box of a building dwarfs a charming block with boutiques and a storefront church. Seven theaters of various sizes are packed inside the 8,500-square-foot space.

NOW PLAYING

It’s the only place in the neighborhood to catch “Man of Steel” in 3-D, “World War Z” and “This Is the End.”

CONCESSIONS

The same popcorn and Twizzlers found in most multiplexes, though patrons have been known to smuggle in alcohol and other contraband.

KEEP YOUR STUB

Nearby, Full Circle Bar and Pies ‘N’ Thighs offer a free beer to customers who present ticket stubs.

216 Grand Street (Driggs Street), (718) 210-2955; Daily from noon. $ 11, $ 8 matinees.

SPECTACLE

A dinky, volunteer-run screening room that clings to the neighborhood’s pre-condo spirit of off-kilter art, subversive politics and D.I.Y. culture.

SEATS

Housed in a former bodega, the narrow theater has 35 seats and the improvised, no-frills aesthetics of a freegan’s loft.

NOW PLAYING

Obscure films about radical politics, kung fu movies and campy foreign flicks from the ‘60s, selected by the staff and local art collectives.

CONCESSIONS

B.Y.O.B. An event called “Behold! The Power of Ribs” encouraged viewers to drink 60 shots of beer as they watched 60 different film clips in 60 minutes.

CAMEOS

Despite its petite size, the theater hosts discussions with indie rock notables like Kyp Malone of TV on the Radio and Ian Svenonius of Nation of Ulysses.

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