The Lower East Side is one step closer to getting a new art-house movie theater. Locals hailing from all walks of life, from the director of the social services organization Henry Street Settlement to the director of Winter’s Bone, spoke up in support of the Metrograph at a Community Board 3 meeting last night. Fashion designer Alexander Olch and his partners shared new details about the two-theater cinema and restaurant, and persuaded CB 3’s SLA Committee to unanimously support an application for a liquor license.
Slated for construction at the site of a warehouse at 7 Ludlow Street, between Canal Street and Hester Street, Metrograph will have two floors with one 46-seat theater and a second, larger theater with a balcony that will seat a total of 166 people. Besides screening classics and new releases you might not find at your local cineplex, the theater will serve food and alcohol on both levels, at the casual lounge on the first floor and in the restaurant, The Commissary, on the second floor.
Olch told the board a little about the concept for the restaurant; it’s named after the commissaries found at the old studios of the 1920s, ‘30s and ‘40s, and much of the “art deco American cuisine” was pulled from menus found at the MGM and Warner Bros. studios during that era, he said.
The project’s food and beverage consultant, Jake Klein (Jake’s Handcrafted 559), said the vision for the complex was to “be evocative of movies and the studios of the golden years of film,” including the commissaries where studio types would gather for breakfast and lunch meetings.
The “all day writer’s menu,” which is to be “eaten with one hand while writing,” according to a menu given to the committee, consists of a “brain function smoothie,” crudité, apple slices with nut butter, vegan nori rolls, kale chips, a pickle plate and, of course, a flight of popcorn, each for $5-$8. There’s a selection of sandwiches and salads, and the lunch specials include what we assume is the first ever appearance of smoked beef tongue in a movie theater, served with sauce gribiche, caselvetrano olives and scallions ($12). For dinner there’s chicken potpie, baked trout, “Spaghetti a la Dan Dan,” salmon, and sirloin. Entrees average about $18.
The all-star team behind the project includes Olch, the project’s founder and chief creative, who will be designing all of Metrograph’s interiors. Jake Perlin, programmer for the Lincoln Center and founder of The Film Desk, will be the artistic and programming director, selecting the films to be screened along with Aliza Ma, film curator at the Museum of the Moving Image, who will be the theater’s head of programming. The CEO is Ethan Oberman, the CEO of startups SpiderOak and Omail.
The team’s credentials surely couldn’t have hurt, but the theater also won support from the committee in part because of its commitment to working with the community to foster appreciation for films and education about filmmaking. Granik said that as a New York City filmmaker she was excited to hear about these plans, since “a new non-corporate space for learning and the perpetuation of film exhibition is invaluable.”
David Garza, executive director of Henry Street Settlement, expressed his appreciation for the theater’s plans to offer free film screening for Henry Street clients in the spring, including one for seniors and one for youth, as well as a film mentoring program and screenings that tie in with the Abrons Arts Center. Emma Culbert, president of SPaCE, said that after she met with the Metrograph team three times the block association decided to support a closing time of 2 a.m., which she said is later than what SPaCE would ordinarily endorse. “On weekends, we made a gentlemen’s – not-so-gentle lady’s – agreement that if it starts to get out of control on the weekends they will reign it in,” she said. “We just didn’t want to curtail their flexibility to have the events they need to have to succeed.”
A petition with more than 90 signatures in support of the project was brought to the committee, and though one person had signed up as an opposer of the project he or she declined to speak. Committee chair Alexandra Militano expressed concerns about the effect the theater will have on pedestrian and vehicular traffic, but in a report submitted to the board Stonefield Engineering & Design found that it wound not have a significant impact on the adjacent roadways, sidewalks, and curbsides in the nearby vicinity. Stonefield determined that there would be about 12 additional private vehicle trips generated during the peak hour, which it said would have negligible impact on traffic and parking. The report also stated that taxis and Uber vehicles would have adequate curbside space to load and unload without obstructing traffic on Ludlow Street.
There aren’t a lot of things that would get us psyched about more traffic, pedestrian or otherwise, in the booze-soaked barland that has become the Lower East Side, but an independently owned art house cinema with strong backing and potential to succeed is one of them.