The history of eating and drinking in movie theaters is a fraught, touchy subject. When I was a kid, it was practically a boogeyman story — “Don’t you try to sneak candy into the theater, they’ll catch you and they’ll kick you out!” But there was always candy and popcorn and soda in movie theaters; the theaters just wanted to make sure you bought their food and drink, at their prices.
Today, it’s no different. You’re still not allowed to bring in outside food or drink. The theaters still want you to buy what they’re selling. But now they’re selling pretzels. They’re selling pizzas. They’re selling nachos, for crying out loud. I mean, nachos. Has anyone eaten nachos quietly, ever?
There’s beer, too. I appreciate the warming effect of alcohol to counteract the frequent chill of a modern theater, and one less soda I drink, the better. The idea of drinking at the movies isn’t entirely novel. I won tickets to a special theater projection of the premiere of Star Trek: Voyager at the West Pitcher Show (RIP) in Green Bay way back in 1995. It had been doing the brew-and-view thing since opening in the historic theater space in 1987 — proper food, too, delivered to your table in the theater.
In the Madison area, we’ve been brew-and-viewing for a little while, now, too. Sundance Cinemas opened in Madison in 2007, and though the dining options have contracted to just a walk-up cafe, it’s still selling sandwiches, baked goods and alcohol for consumption in the theaters. As the city gears up for the Wisconsin Film Festival, which starts this Thursday, March 30, the lines at the concession stand are sure to swell.
Another Film Fest venue, the Marquee at Union South, is blessed with a full pub-style restaurant on the main floor, the Sett Pub, which serves a high-quality selection of tap beers. I’ve enjoyed beers like Illumination Double IPA and bourbon barrel releases from Central Waters and Karben4’s Dragon Flute while taking in Film Fest screenings in the Marquee, and for reasonable prices. It’s probably my favorite Film Fest venue, largely for this reason.
Though it’s not a movie theater by design, the Barrymore Theater will be screening more than a dozen films throughout the Festival, and like any proper live music venue, it has a bar. I can’t imagine what might pair best with a screening of Bugs, a documentary about eating insects showing on Saturday morning, April 1, but certainly something strong couldn’t hurt.
Outside of the Film Festival schedule, you can enjoy a refreshing pint with your summer blockbuster at the AMC Fitchburg 18 theater on McKee Road. Some of AMC’s locations offer in-theater food delivery, but if that’s your thing, I’m sorry to say the Fitchburg location isn’t one of them.
Fear not, the Marcus Palace in Sun Prairie has you covered for dining al cinematico. Much has been made of the theater and its reclining DreamLounger seats, both for and against, but there’s no question the Palace is the inheritor of the mantle once borne by places like the old West Pitcher Show or the Stoughton Cinema Cafe, which opened not long after the Pitcher Show but is still in business. The Palace tap list may be pedestrian, but there’s something to be said for not having to go to the lobby or even stand up for your concessions.
So when you settle in with your fully-authorized, theater-purchased beer during the Film Fest or any other moviegoing experience, mind the environment. The theater is not the time to take a loud, well-aerated sip for proper appreciation of your beer. Try not to spill on the seat; someone has to sit there after you and someone has the job of cleaning up after you. No burping, please.
And for heaven’s sake, if you decide to smuggle in a can or bottle, open it surreptitiously and as quietly as possible, preferably during a loud preview – Justice League, maybe. No one likes a flagrant rule violator. At a place like the popular but occasionally controversial Alamo Drafthouse theater chain, they’ll throw you right the hell out for that kind of nonsense, y’know.