Food and film have provided a great business model for independent theaters around the country, from Austin’s legendary Alamo Drafthouse franchise to Brooklyn’s reRun Gastropub Theater. Now Williamsburg venture Nitehawk Cinema joins the trend with an assist from Saul Bolton, owner of Cobble Hill’s Michelin-starred Saul Restaurant.
Still, it would be a challenge for any chef: Create a menu, along with themed food and cocktail specials, that can be eaten comfortably while staring at a movie screen. Says Bolton: “You have to be able to eat it in the dark. That is key.”
For “Midnight in Paris,” it’s country pate and The French Connection (cognac, lemon, raspberry, Prosecco); for “The Trip” it’s scallop ceviche/The Alan Partridge (Pimms, lemon, cucumber) and for “Submarine” it’s bangers and mash/The Tiny Broken Heart (rum, lime, sugar cane). The regular menu includes items like Nitehawk Queso, fish tacos and spicy mushroom tamales.
By concession-stand standards prices aren’t bad, ranging from $4 for a small buttered popcorn (with real butter) to $15 for a choice of three small plates (say, fried calamari, cheese empanadas and sesame chicken wings).
As Bolton prepared for Nitehawk’s official opening this weekend, indieWIRE caught up with him to ask what exactly an indie moviegoer craves.
What was your first reaction to the idea?
It’s a really cool concept for someone like me who has always done fine dining, which has a particular format. But when this came along, it sounded really outside the box for me — an interesting departure from what I usually do. And everyone loves movies.
Have you been able to watch the films in order to plan the menu?
With the opening of the place, it has been so hectic that it’s been hard to watch them all, but with each film we do food specials that are relevant. Looking at films through this lens of ‘How can I create specials that would be interesting and go with this particular film” has actually been amazingly easy so far, with so much going on in each movie to draw ideas from.
But once things settle down here and I’m not washing dishes and hiring people, you better believe I’m going to take time out to watch the movies. I see movies whenever I can, but I have kids, and when you have kids, a good amount of the movies you see are children’s movies… so that’s another perk of being a part of the Nitehawk. This is now a part of my job.
And what’s your concept behind the palate of a moviegoer?
As I’ve learned very quickly, the food has to be easy to eat, like finger food. Another major concern is that the food has to be built for speed. It’s almost like a military operation to be able to maintain the quality of the food but also get it out quickly. That has been one of the most interesting challenges. But I’m having a lot of fun with it because it’s so different, like there’s no time to fuss over a plate.
And how often will the menu change?
As the films change, the specials change, but I think as we grow more confident, maybe a couple of months down the line, we’ll put regular specials in there or change the specials for a film if we get other ideas.
Another interesting thing, a problem in any restaurant, is printing the menus. We have to print 200 of them. So another thing to think about is the price of paper and toner, which are expensive, as I’m sure you know.
What’s been the most popular item so far?
Fish tacos. The puppy dogs sell like crazy. And surprisingly, the pickles.
What’s with the queso? Is that an homage to the Alamo Drafthouse?
It’s more of the homage to the owner, general manager and sous chef; they’re from Texas. Their tastebuds zone in on that stuff. They love that stuff, man.
What about you? What are your favorites?
I love the empanadas. I love the blueberry turnovers. Watermelon salad makes me happy. I love the tamales. All the stuff that’s the stoner food — as long as it’s made correctly, I love it.