By Jamie Swinnerton
By Mark Antonation
By Lori Midson
By Jonathan Shikes
By Amber Taufen
By Cafe Society
By Juliet Wittman
By Jonathan Shikes
Neighborhood Flix Cinema & Cafe, which opened in November in the Lowenstein project, is a combination movie theater and cafe with a menu gleefully designed by gallivanting knife-for-hire James Mazzio and a full bar, a place where a man willing to lay down the coin can drink his way through an art-house film without having to go through the trouble of smuggling in a hip flask full of Bulleit bourbon and taking surreptitious pulls at it in the back row like some kinda miserable, secret drunk.
That's once you understand the system, though. When Laura and I pulled up the Neighborhood Flix website to plan a Friday night out, we found very little to explain the concept, how the complicated interplay of dinner-and-a-movie can be squished into a single event. We trusted that employees would be able to explain this once we were actually on the premises, but this turned out to be an unwise assumption. Entering via the elevator that leads down from the parking garage, we already felt a little seasick and disoriented from the curves, the curling counters, the sleek and modern flow of the space — all chrome, laminate, composite and leather. It looked urban, contemporary, but also confusing with its profusion of counters and registers and whatnot. Were it a normal restaurant, I'd say it was cold, but the movie posters, the flat-screen TVs and the constantly milling and shifting crowds of waitstaff and customers made it seem warmer, and less like a leftover set from Logan's Run, with that bland, smooth and affectless bold-futura skein over everything.
Still, even after five months of operation, several of the staffers were unable to give coherent advice about whether we should eat first in the Flix Cafe and then get our tickets, or get our tickets and find seats in the theater, then have a drink at the bar followed by dinner in our seats, or what. Asking one of them how the whole dinner-and-a-movie process was supposed to happen was kind of like asking a six-year-old to explain how a television works: There were a lot of hand gestures, a lot of puzzled pauses and, at one point, I think magical elves were involved.
Laura and I finally came to the conclusion that we were so early for our chosen film that no harm could come from getting a snack and ten or twelve drinks in the cafe before any other decisions were made, so we took a table in the middle of the room. From where we sat, I listened to grown men in turtlenecks sip their wine and use words like "oeuvre" and "mise-en-scène" without any trace of irony, watched a couple feed each other hunks of meatloaf and loudly discuss their sex life in disturbing detail, and finally turned my attention to Humphrey Bogart scowling and huffing his way through the middle scenes of The African Queen (showing soundlessly on the flat-screens to the accompaniment of oddly appropriate, synth-heavy art rock playing over the cafe's P.A.) while Laura quizzed two or three more scampering busboys and harried waitresses. Finally, she found a helpful one.
"We have about an hour and a half before the movie starts," Laura explained. "Should we order and eat now, or what?"
"Oh, sure," said the waitress. "You've got plenty of time. This is a slow night. What can I get for you?"
Drinks. Several. Quickly. Also, a curried chicken salad sandwich and a fat cheese-and-jalapeño elk-meat bratwurst smeared with cream cheese and topped with onions caramelized in Coca-Cola. Not exactly movie food, but if anyone came up to me and started talking about someone's oeuvre or the unusual places he'd put his penis, I figured I could just breathe on him and he'd go away.
This waitress was right: The food came in less than eight minutes, and the drinks came even faster. Discussion around us aside, the Flix Cafe is surprisingly comfortable for a restaurant plunked down in the lobby of a movie theater (which itself was constructed in an old theatrical venue), so Laura and I lingered over our grub, put away a couple Fat Tires and Tecates and got into an argument about the movie Red Dawn, about the oeuvre of director John Milius and which of the two girls I would've stuck my penis in had I been in C. Tommy Howell's shoes. It might not have been the most insightful of film discussions, but what can I say? I was inspired by the surroundings.
For the record, it would've been Lea Thompson.
With the help of this same waitress, we put in an order for another round of food and drinks to enjoy during the movie — more Tecate, a bucket of popcorn, more Fat Tire, a quote/unquote chicken pot pie with a puff-pastry top and garlic mashed potatoes, and a bowl of the "adult" mac-and-cheese with conchiglie pasta, toasted, crushed walnuts and a Gorgonzola cream sauce. A word of warning: Before you attempt to eat this dish in the dark, let it cool and congeal some. Otherwise, it's soupy, hot as lava and will unerringly drip on your crotch. But give it ten minutes to rest, and it's both delicious and far less likely to cause horrible genital scarring.