The most romantic date in town just might be dinner and a movie. At least that’s what Alexander Olch, founder of the new Metrograph Theater on Ludlow Street, is hoping.
“I felt it was hard to take a girl on a date to the movies,” he says about the lack of elegant options available for moviegoers in New York. At Metrograph, he aims not only to show a wide array of indie films but also bring that romantic spirit back to the moviegoing experience. “I wanted to evoke the magical movie palaces I had seen as a little boy that are now all gone,” the native Manhattanite says, citing the Ziegfield, the Plaza and the (original) Beekman theaters.
For now, his plan seems to be working. “We did a showing of Goddard’s ‘Masculin Féminin’ on Saturday night at 11 p.m., which is an unusual time. The theater was entirely packed, and it was all really good-looking couples. After the film was done, I saw a couple kissing on the stairs. It was just lovely.”
That certainly sounded good to me, and wanting to bring a little bit of romance into my life, I reserved two tickets to see “Los Sures,” a 1984 documentary about South Williamsburg that had never had a theatrical release before now. Unable to find a date in time, I invited my old friend Zach Koser, a cinephile with no shortage of opinions.
“I wanted to evoke the magical movie palaces that I had seen as a little boy that are now all gone.”
Metrograph is not just a movie theater but also an event space, complete with a restaurant, cocktail bar, film bookstore and a high-end concession stand that offers cacio e pepe popcorn and Les Anis de Flavigny mints (Whoppers and Swedish Fish are available, too). Zach and I loaded up on sweets for the film, including some salted licorice chews from Finland that neither of us could stand. “They’re not something an American would ever eat,” Zach said delicately.
Olch, who is also a director and tie designer, had a hand in designing everything in the theater from its lighting fixtures to its typeface. “I spend all my days working on details that probably don’t actually get noticed, but the sum of all those details absolutely does get noticed,” he says proudly. And indeed, his theater offers an extraordinarily high level of craftsmanship; the chairs in the two theaters are made from wood scavenged from the old Domino Sugar factory; the incredibly rare vintage movie projectors play 35-mm films; the menu at the restaurant serves the same food that was served at film studios’ commissaries from the 1920s through the 1940s.
Of course, all the planning in the world doesn’t guarantee perfection; though Olch had assured me that the films always start on time, we weren’t seated until showtime and then had to wait for a while after that. We took advantage of our balcony seats to peruse the crowd below, which was, as Olch had promised, almost completely composed of very good-looking, if very hipster, couples.
After 10 minutes, the lights finally dimmed and the opening notes of the film started to play. Zach and I tossed back the rest of our cacio e pepe popcorn and let the film carry us, if only temporarily, into its world. I can’t think of anything more romantic than that.