The Magnolia Theater Renovations: Are Cinemas For Watching Movies or Eating Empanadas?

Today the Magnolia movie theater at West Village opened its newly renovated theaters to audiences. Among the changes is that tickets to all of their shows are now purchased with reserved seating. Your ticket guarantees you a specific seat.

While I generally prefer the flexibility of beating the crowd to get myself my preferred seat at the theater, and to perhaps change my mind about my preferred seat at the last minute, I understand why the Magnolia made this move. On busy nights their upstairs lobby often became a madhouse due to patrons jockeying for position in lines that snaked around and down the stairs, or mobs that swarmed the ticket-taker all at once. There’s not a lot of space up there, and so the reserved seats should allow everyone to relax and not have to get to their seats until just before showtime.

The other part of what the Magnolia has done – converting two of its screens to “VIP experiences” – concerns me. Seats in theaters 2 and 3 (of the 5 screens at the Magnolia) now have “extra-large leather-style seats with tall, wide backs and armrests” and more leg room. That’s all fine, except that’s not all they’re doing. Those theaters also now will have in-seat bar and concessions service. Guessing that the Magnolia is preparing itself for the new rival coming to the area, the Alamo Drafthouse that will open in Richardson next year. Thankfully, though, unlike other theaters (like Studio Movie Grill) that do offer such service, the Magnolia is only going to deliver food and drinks to guests during seating and the trailers. Once the movie starts, the service stops. (Though I suspect the beginnings of movies will be disrupted, as staff finish fulfilling orders.)

I’ve always liked the Magnolia, especially in its earlier days when it was more of a true art-house theater. It’s still the cinema closest to my house, but one aspect of the experience has always detracted from going there: It’s about the bar. I know many of you like to have your cocktail, or your beer or wine with your movie. Its OK if you swing that way. But it’s made it impossible to see a movie at the Magnolia without, at least once during the film, hearing somebody knock over glass bottles, severely disrupting the experience. Now the Magnolia is going to make it even more convenient to enjoy an adult beverage, and so I fear even more noise. In the Magnolia’s small theaters the noise cannot be escaped. Not only that, but they’ve also expanded their concessions offerings, “to include Whoopie Pies from the local bakery Rockstar Bakeshop, plus hummus and naan, steak and cilantro empanadas and sweet potato tater tots.”

Look, I just want to see Denzel Washington play a flawed, alcoholic hero in Flight, not hear you spill your Shiner or have to smell your steak and cilantro empanada. Guess I’m headed to NorthPark.

I realize this sounds like the cranky complaints of a prematurely old man, but I consider movies man’s greatest artform. I wish more people cherished them. And any reminder that some people enjoy the concessions even more than what’s projected on-screen, it saddens me. I’m not saying people aren’t entitled to feel that way. I’m just saying, it’s a shame.


  • Drew

    Amen. Sadly, a night at the movies is akin to flying which is often like being trapped in a flying Greyhound bus. It’s all about the complete and total lack of manners exhibited by 95% of those sitting around you.

  • I don’t mind the idea of drinking in the theater, but the experience would be greatly enhanced if the bartender was required to pour the beer into a plastic cup, like a ballgame. Drinkers can drink, but there’s no clanking of the bottle when it hits the floor.

  • @Bradford: I can agree to that. Red Solo cups for all!

  • Avid Reader

    Jason, you are not cranky. You are considerate; unlike the majority of the movie going population.

  • BadGuyZero

    I haven’t been to The Magnolia in several years. The seats were hands down the most uncomfortable movie theater seats especially considering how new the theaters were. It was like someone at the ACC ordered too many seats for the nosebleed sections and they installed the surplus seats in The Magnolia. I’m guessing these new seats are like the ones installed in the upstairs theaters at Inwood Theater a few years ago. By the way, haven’t been to that one in a few years either. The “sofa kingdom” in the main theater only seemed to further convince filmgoers that they were at home and could act like they were.

  • mike

    I’m a big fan of the Studio Movie Grill concept. Though, I would only choose that option for certain types of movies. My enjoyment of Talledaga Nights and Superbad for example was greatly enhanced by beers. I wouldn’t go see Iron Fists or Batman at one. Nice to have choices though.

  • mynameisbill

    I agree with you, Bradford, concerning the plastic cups. I’d also like to add that a crack dealer would be nice to have on hand, too. Sometimes I just wanna light up a rock and enjoy the show, but I forget to bring some(FYI, drugs are bad kids, mmkay?). So, i’ve gotta get up, go outside and find someone to buy from. Then, by the time I get back i’ve missed some important scenes from the movie and I end up playing catchup for the rest of the show. Total bummer.

  • Mom

    I’m more of a fan of the NorthPark concept. With the right purse, it’s BYOB. Just don’t knock over the empty wine bottle in the dark – and don’t forget the opener.

  • Maria B

    The “sofa kingdom” at the Inwood is a disaster. Kids bounce around wildly from sofa to sofa before the show. Do they do that at home? I guess so. During the movie, they lounge on the sofas, playing games and texting on their iPads and phones. It’s very distracting to be surrounded by lighted screens, and hear all the sound effects from so many electronic devices.

  • The Guy

    WORST IDEA EVER IN THE HISTORY OF EARTH!!! Just got back from seeing “The Sessions” (hubba hubba) at The Mag, and had to suffer through the guaranteed seating nonsense.

    Ticket people couldn’t get the system to work, having an usher escort you to the seat is disruptive and embarassing… and what if you wind up near a crying baby/person with torrential BO/habitual texter/a murmuring narrator of the movie you’re watching? Two of those choices were in my immediate hemisphere.

    I like seeing Helen Hunt naked as much as the next guy, but this is absurd. Last time I go to the Magnolia till this is fixed. At least give us the choice to decline the reserved seating.

  • John M.

    I’m very excited about this!!! Have you been to the iPic theater in Fairview? The place is awesome, and totally should be in Dallas and not the burbs… Only reason I went way out there was because I’d heard about their original location in Pasadena, Ca back when it was still Gold Class Cinema… Nice big reclining seats, lots of space, and pretty decent food… Cant wait to go to Magnolia and see how they compare, its long over due for this concept to come to the city. I hate the Studio Movie Grill concept with crappy food and overall bad experience…

  • Really

    Can you request an aisle? This doesn’t sound like a good idea for non-peak hours like a Sun matinee.

  • @Really: Yes, you can request a specific seat when you purchase a ticket. When you buy online there’s a seating chart from which you can select.

  • Really

    What happens at the ticket counter? It seems like it might lead to long lines if people are asking about seat locations. I’m sure we’ll get used to it, just like everything else.

  • The Guy

    @Really I was the only person in line in the middle of the day, and it still took ten minutes. The ticket girl was new and confused, if you don’t know the theatre well you can’t tell how close/far you want to be from the screen, and like I said, you don’t know who’s sitting in that seat next to you when you reserve. Might be a screaming baby. If so, can you move or does that make you a terrorist?

  • gisella

    would think the “Progressives” would love such a progressive act