Dinner and a movie: A guide to six theaters offering one-stop shops for film buffs

  • Studio 35 Cinema & Drafthouse
  • Movie Tavern
  • Studio Movie Grill
  • AMC Easton 30 with IMAX
  • The Torpedo Room (inside Gateway Film Center)
  • Heirloom Café (inside the Wexner Center for the Arts)
From the February 20, 2014 edition

As Leonardo DiCaprio is speed-bragging and snorting cocaine off a naked lady, he’s acting so hilariously deranged, and like such a spectacular dick, that I can’t take my eyes off his “Wolf of Wall Street.” Only I suddenly have to, because my chicken nachos are just arriving.

Should somebody yell cut?

OK, cut.

The Pitch: The Academy Awards are a little more than a week away, so I thought it’d be fun to get up-to-speed for the Gigantic Oscar Night Telecast. But while scrambling to cram in all those still-gotta-see Best Picture nominees, necessities like eating can eat up valuable time. Enter the growing list of one-stop-shopping theaters that — instead of just offering gouge-priced econo-sized candy, stale salty popcorn and enormous flat sodas — will actually feed you full and substantial, booze-accompanied meals at practically the same cost.

The Script: This would write itself after I visited every local dine-here theater and described how it worked — or didn’t. Obviously prominent in my reporting would be what kind of — and how — food was served.

The Cast: The Torpedo Room/Gateway Film Center, Studio 35, Studio Movie Grill (formerly Arena Grand), Dine-In Theaters at Easton, Movie Tavern 12 at Mill Run and a short feature on Heirloom Cafe/The Wexner Center.

OK: lights, menu, action.

Indie Classic: Studio 35

Ticket Prices: $8/ Wednesday $6.50

Setting: Studio 35 is a justly beloved vintage single-screen neighborhood treasure — and local eat-and-drink-here moviehouse pioneer — radically improved after decades of hard use. Anterior to the well-soundproofed theater now is a big and cushy rectangular bar, where savvy Clintonvillians often just hang out and drink — even without movie-going plans.

To Drink: Forty craft-focused (if not cheap) taps gushing with the hottest new releases. Some are produced for ’35, by a moonlighting Barley’s brewer/’35 employee, to coincide with big movie debuts — e.g. “Sex Panther” stout premiered here with “Anchorman 2.” There are also specialty cocktails inspired by films, like the deservedly popular (and Ironman-influenced) “Pepper Potts,” a spicy, sweet and pickly “dirty” vodka martini.

To Eat: Most of the not-small menu from not-bad Pizza Primo a few doors down is available. My thin and crispy-crusted medium pie starred pleasantly crunchy, bacony pepperoni ($11). For more heft, spice and texture, try the cut-into-shareable-strips, thick and crackly shelled Buffalo Chicken Calzone ($11.40; big breaded poultry clumps, bacon, provolone, onions galore and a fiery sauce). The solid Italian sub is also popular.

How It Worked: Since there’s no “waiter” service in this charming old-schooler, show up early (say 20 minutes) and order food at the counter when purchasing tickets and drinks. Then grab a seat in one of the back three rows — they’re equipped with tables and are extra-roomy. After 20 minutes (it’s up to you to monitor time), go back to the counter, retrieve your grub and ferry it to your table-seats. It’s dark in there, so aim to get “situated” and complete this task while the previews are still playing so you can relax when your movie’s on.

Second Run: Movie Tavern 12

Ticket Prices: Weekday $7/ Weekend $7/ Matinees $5

Setting: Movie Tavern 12, like the others on this list, shows first-run flicks. I’m only calling it “second run” because, since pioneering cinema waiter-service in Columbus in 2007, this Dallas-based operation suddenly feels refreshed. So though Tavern’s screening areas are well-worn-in, you now step into what looks like a modern and fully equipped suburban restaurant with a large, TV sports-beaming bar.

To Drink: Tavern’s minor renaissance extends to its beer list, whose eight taps are currently half-occupied by Ohioans, like the amber ale from Cincinnati’s Mount Carmel and CBC’s stellar IPA ($6). These get poured into frosty pint glasses — or liter steins for serious imbibers. Other beverages include predictable wines and a few better-than-they-sound “schlock-tails” (e.g. a surprisingly tart and spicy “Blackberry Kicker,” $8.50).

To Eat: From easy-to-share appetizer platters to pita sandwiches to pizzas with a revamped crust style, many of Tavern’s eats have goofy, movie-inspired monikers. And they overachieved the night I dined there. Though the rice was marginally clumpy, the Island Skewers kebab-a-thon ($11) — lemony shrimp, tangy chicken and zingy beef — was flavorful and tender. Similarly, the Cuban Sandwich ($10, with crispy and ungreasy fries) outperformed most Cuban Sandwiches from local restaurants. Slider pilots should fly Tavern’s “Kobe” (Akaushi) beefers ($12), served with soft and herby purple, sweet and Yukon roasted potatoes.

How It Worked: Theaters (all seating is general admission) are stocked with big, swiveling and detached desk chairs positioned either at two-tops or long and narrow communal tables with legroom galore and menus readable via unobtrusive desk-style lighting. There are “waiter-hailing” buttons, but they weren’t necessary during my off-hour (i.e. sparsely attended) movie because a just-like-in-a-restaurant server regularly checked in (not extra-distractingly so). Compared to newer places on this list, this loosey-goosey system might seem outdated, but it worked for me.

The Sequel: Studio Movie Grill

Ticket Prices: Weekday $7.50/ Weekend $10.25/ Matinee $5

Setting: Texas is the hotbed for the growing movie-eatery movement, and this successor to the former Arena Grand space is a chain link of Dallas-headquartered SMG (spearheaders of dine-in viewing since 1993). The new owners have implemented a slight makeover I’d describe as slate-gray, institutional and sensationally devoid of style. On the plus side, its bare-bones ambiance comes with good prices, daily specials and extra-friendly service.

To Drink: The small bar has genre-surpassing wines, featured cocktails ($7-$10; mostly ’90s-style, but a Buffalo Trace Manhattan too), $8 hooch milkshakes (spiked with stuff like “whipped cream vodka”), plus eight beers ($5.75/pint) starring a Great Lakes selection, i.e. the only Ohioan.

To Eat: From burgers to ribs to pastas, SMG offers plenty of stuff — my accomplice and I took advantage of the two large entrees plus appetizer for $25 bargain. Our chicken nachos were like something you’d get at a professional sporting event. I’d say the large, garlic-and-oregano-spiked, sweet-sauced, crispy-enough “Meat Trio” Pizza was better than national chain efforts. And the huge, junk-tastic (ranch dressing and gazillions of spice-crusted tortilla crunchies) Blackened Chicken Salad with corn and black beans superseded anything you’d get at Taco Bell.

How It Worked: Every purchasable-in-advance seat is reserved. And each car-like and numbered theater chair is comfortably wide-armed and equipped with menus (it’s only semi-dark in there, which isn’t as distracting as you’d think). Chairs also have cup holders, a swivel-into-place airplane-sized dining tray and “push for service” buttons. Whenever I pushed that button, a conscientiously crouched-down server quickly scuttled out and took my order. This included getting me another beer or just another huge plastic glass of water. Service was prompt, and the check was quietly presented about a half hour before the movie’s conclusion.

The Blockbuster: AMC Easton 30

Ticket Prices: Fork and Screen: $13/ Matinee $10

Cinema Suites: $15.50/ Matinee $12

Setting: An upstairs multiplex in an upscale mall with a dramatic lobby and helpful “Guest Services” desk. Dine-in viewing — called “Fork and Screen” and “Cinema Suites” (the latter are 21 and over and come with recliner upgrades) — is assigned seating limited to the 13 screens located on the theater’s right side, where there’s also a you-will-be-carded bar.

To Drink: Decent hard stuff (starring Knob Creek), grocery store-style wines and eight fair-priced but play-it-safe taps, the best (and only Ohio representative) being Great Lakes Burning River. There’s also a full slate of touristy cocktails (e.g. Hurricanes, Long Island ice teas, sissy-tinis).

To Eat: Relatively ambitious selections with fresh-tasting quality similar to higher-end sports pubs. Smoky and spicy Loaded Chipotle Chicken Chips ($10) topped robust housemade “Ruffles”-type ridged potato crunchers with good nacho garnishes plus bacon and impressively tender grilled chicken. The garlicky mayo-ed and gently crisp BLT “pizzetta” flatbread ($11; with melted cheese and arugula) was also nice. Had the smoky and full-flavored beef been trimmed and sliced-thin-and-against-the-grain, the sliced-into-wedges Smoked Brisket Quesadilla ($11) would’ve been a cheesy and greasy big hit.

How It Worked: Easton easily has the swankiest set up: date-perfect, paired-up duos of new and big padded chairs with XXL-sized elbow rests. Like other state-of-the-art places, these sit in an it’s-not-an-issue semi-dark theater, and are each equipped with cupholders, swivel-into-place narrow-ish trays plus waiter-summoning buttons. While the staff was quite friendly, waits for service were longest here, and a couple drink requests needed to be repeated. Like others, the check was presented with about a half hour left in the feature.

Sci-Fi Fantasy: The Torpedo Room in the Gateway Film Center

Ticket Prices: Weekday $7.50/ Weekend $10/ Matinee $5.50

Setting: To the far left of the Gateway concession stand is another gateway — a door with a portal window leading to the battleship gray, Liz Lessner-launched Torpedo Room. Once transported there, you’d hardly know there was a spiffy 21st century theater nearby. Bare metal — decorative cogs and gears, light fixtures and a faux-rusty wall — looms large in the Torpedo Room. So do delightful woodcut-like depictions of sea monsters seen through other, submarine-like “portals.”

To Drink: A couple giggle-inducing house cocktails (e.g. the punch-like “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Breeze”) and five serious beer taps — all from Columbus breweries, natch — plus (likewise local) Rambling House’s terrific ginger beer.

To Eat: A huge menu with plenty of vegan and gluten-free options. Though I hit some still-early-in-its-voyage choppy waters execution-wise, these unequivocal winners were easy to love: a nicely seared, just-spicy and locally sourced Bratwurst Torpedo sub ($8); creamy, cheesy and comforting Betty’s-like Housemade Mac & Cheese; a meaty and simple chili (i.e. soup du jour, $3). Intrepid mates unafraid to veer off safer courses might try the unusual Black Garlic and Furikake Wings ($8) — which seem designed for lovers of soy saucy, oily and fish-funky things.

How It Worked: The logistics are still being hammered out. As of my last visit, though, the moviehouse and restaurant were functioning more as separate entities. BUT you could easily carry Torpedo’s great beers in with you (after decanting them into plastic glasses) and leftovers could be wrapped up for in-theater snacking.

The Auteurs: Heirloom Cafe in the Wexner center for the Arts

Regular Ticket Prices: $8

What do you get when you pair the only movie theater in town specifically catering to cinema connoisseurs with a fiercely scratch-cooking/grows-its-own cafe that makes flavorful, creative and healthy food? Well, you get a match made in eat-and-watch heaven. Unfortunately, you can only get ’em together on Thursdays and Fridays, when Heirloom (which usually closes at 4 p.m.) stays open until 8 p.m. (most movies begin at 7).

So show up early (carry-in is verboten), have a beer (a few Great Lakes bottles are offered for $3.50) and/or a glass of wine ($5) and power up for the flicks. Heirloom’s southwestern-inflected free range turkey meatloaf sandwich (Gila Monster, $9.75 with a side) is justifiably popular. And — heads up! — now that the Wex’s Via Brasil programming is in full swing, thematically consistent specials are being offered — like black-bean-and-meaty feijoada, Brazil’s stewy national dish.

Photos by Tim Johnson, Meghan Ralston and Will Shilling