Wednesday marked the opening of Williamsburg Cinemas, a new movie theater at 217 Grand Street (at the corner of Driggs Avenue). Everything here is professional grade: seven screens, each with stadium-style seating at 100 to 250 capacity, state-of-the-art 7.1 Dolby surround sound, and 3-D viewing technology.
“There is nothing better out there than what we have,” claims owner Harvey Elgart, a 45 year veteran of the movie theater business. Back in 1968, Elgart got his first job as a projectionist, and from there eventually took over an abandoned single-screen movie theater in 1977. Today he owns the Kew Gardens Cinemas and Cobble Hill Cinemas and is eager to see his new project take flight.
Whether or not there’s anything “better” is based, in part, on preference. In June 2011, Matthew Viragh introduced the neighborhood to Nitehawk Cinemas at 136 Metropolitan Ave (at the corner of Berry Street). And while both theaters show current Hollywood fare and are a mere five blocks from one another, they couldn’t be much different.
Williamsburg Cinemas is arguably the more professional endeavor by virtue of its qualities. The sound, the picture, and the size of the theaters all point to the kind of place you would want to go to see a major blockbuster like the Hobbit or Cloud Atlas. They’re also family-friendly, and Elgart has made it a point to prohibit alcohol as well as midnight screenings.
“Don’t get me wrong, there’s a high profit margin… but it’s just not worth the time, energy, and aggregation,” he says. “I feel that after midnight, things change. It’s not that they’re a bad person, but someone comes in and they’re a little inebriated and the good time becomes a bad time for everyone else.”
Instead, Elgart wants to bring a simple, no-frills, top-of-the-line traditional movie experience to people. “You come here…to be blown away by picture and sound.”
However, if the strength of Williamsburg Cinemas’ business model is in its top-notch mechanics and fun-for-the-whole-family appeal, Nitehawk’s power comes from its classy cool. That’s because the latter was never meant to be a traditional theatre;. and whereas Williamsburg Cinemas is dry and shuts down early, Nitehawk has a full bar, serves meals and alcoholic drinks at your seat, and stays open until 2 AM. As a result all weekday shows are 18+, and even the daytime showings on the weekend require minors to bring an adult with them.
Compared to Elgart, Viragh is more of an “idea man.” “I was always a film fan,” says Viragh. “But I also enjoy living in New York, with all the good food and drink. The idea of combining those two really appealed to me.” After successfully helping lobby Governor Cuomo into signing a law that permits patrons to drink at the theater, he first began serving alcohol to patrons in their seats for his October 2011 screenings of The Rum Diaries and hasn’t looked back since.
Elgart isn’t a fan of the Nitehawk model, and isn’t afraid to say so.
“I find it annoying to have someone eating next to me. That’s not the movie going experience I want to have.”
With the opening of Williamsbugh Cinemas, he doesn’t have to. And thanks to the combined efforts of both men, residents of North Brooklyn will have a choice between two distinctive movie theaters (and a total of ten screens) within walking distance of their homes.
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