You may or may not remember that Nitehawk has a downstairs bar. I pretty much had to squeeze my brain as tight as I could to get those memory juices flowing enough to squirt out the tiniest drop of recalling getting a beer there once. And maybe that’s because it used to be about as bland as my date was that night. But Lo-Res has a whole new feel thanks to a new menu, an interior overhaul, and one super cool addition — a constantly streaming selection of rare and weird VHS’s from John Woods’s (the Williamsburg theater’s director of programming and acquisition) epic collection, curated by Kris King (Nitehawk’s blogger and social media manager), and made technically possible by Max Cavanaugh, the tech director and programmer.
The look of the interior is a little more grown up – instead of a cornucopia of brightly-colored VHS covers, the space sticks to blacks, reds, and browns, giving it a mid-century throwback vibe. Lo-Res now offers a cocktail menu, rare beers, as well as American whiskeys and amaros that can’t be found in the theater or the upstairs bar.
But the biggest draw is the forever-looping rare VHS collection the theater has digitized — the only one of its kind as far as Nitehawk’s manager knows. The archive comes mostly from John Woods’ stint as the co-owner of a now defunct video store chain, Reel Life.
“It’s nice to play the actual tape, but it made more sense for us to make what’s basically a TV channel,” Cavanaugh explained. “It’s like a 24/7 TV program running from our projection booth.”
The two said they like to think of the programming as “the vault” — it includes super rare VHS tapes and plenty of straight-to-VHS gems like Black Devil Doll from Hell. “There’s a whole generation of films that were straight to VHS.”
Best of all, the videos are a lot like the homemade ones you may have watched as a kid (or adult, whatever– are you old?), complete with commercials, static, blips, and tracking problems. “I used to make mix-VHS tapes, we called them pause tapes,” Woods recalled. “They included all kinds of stuff from TV, professional wrestling or public access cable– and I used to try and record stuff without the commercials.”
But at some point, Woods realized there was value in keeping the commercials, since they act as windows into the time period in which the tape was recorded and can spark all sorts of weird memories and nostalgia. “In Final Cut you can buy these visual effects: ghosting, static,” Cavanaugh said. “Now that aesthetic is precious, those are the kinds of things we crave.”
The pre-shows at Nitehawk, which the two created, as well as the VHS loop at Lo-Res “are filled with that texture,” Cavanaugh explained.
“VHS has a look,” Woods said, pointing to video of a DJ playing on the corner TV while we spoke. “That semi-night vision, it looked like shit at the time, but now you know that’s 1993.”
The programming is nothing if not diverse– cartoons, Japanese baseball games, K1 fighting, old commercials, music videos, less-than-B-horror movies are all on deck. And from open to close, “it goes from G rated, to PG, to R,” Cavanaugh explained.
“If you’re here when it closes it could get a little raw,” Woods laughed.
Lo-Res is located on the first floor of Nitehawk Cinema, 136 Metropolitan Avenue. Hours: Monday-Thursday, 4pm- 1am, Friday 4pm- 2am, Saturday 11am -2am, Sunday 11am- 1am. Happy Hour, Monday through Friday, 4pm-6 pm includes $4 drafts and well drinks.