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Two Major Cinema Chains Want to Serve Alcohol in NYC Theaters

All they need to do is install tray tables, and then they can seek a liquor license.


It may soon be a whole lot easier to get a stiff drink at the movie theater in New York City. It has long been illegal for movie theaters to sell alcohol, but now, Crain's reports, at least two major cinema chains are working on getting around that ban through the same exception that allows Williamsburg's Nitehawk Cinema to serve cocktails at all its showings.

When Nitehawk opened in 2011, it served dinner (with table service) to guests inside its theaters, but was only allowed to serve drinks at its bar. But with the help of a lawyer and a lobbyist, owner Matthew Viragh petitioned New York State legislators to overturn the ban on alcohol in movie theaters. Eventually, Governor Cuomo signed off on a law allows movie theaters that are also restaurants to serve drinks.

In order to qualify as a restaurant as well as a movie theater and secure a liquor license, the theater has to be equipped with tables and serve actual food (popcorn and Junior Mints don't count). To that end, two unnamed cinema chains have hired David Pfeffer, the same lawyer who won the change for Nitehawk, and are looking into installing fold-out tables of some sort into their New York theaters. One is planning to put in tray tables similar to those found on airplanes, and to serve dishes like mac and cheese. Another is developing a tiny "table" that would fold out from the arm rest. Neither has submitted a liquor license application yet, but Pfeffer is optimistic that they'll be successful when they do.

All of this is very exciting, but let's not forget how much movie theaters already charge for a small soda. Given that these liquor license bids are part of an effort to boost sales, in a time when box office revenues are declining, don't expect your bottle of Bud Light to come cheap.

Meanwhile, the city is still waiting on its first outpost of Alamo Drafthouse, the beloved Austin restaurant/movie theater chain, which is opening in Downtown Brooklyn at some point this year. Plans for another outpost on the Upper West Side sadly fell through.