Thursday, March 19, 2009

Things I Hella Love About Oakland: The Parkway Speakeasy Theater

Update: I'm reposting this entry from last year in response to the sad news this morning that Oakland's Parkway Speakeasy is going dark as of Sunday, March 22. This is my ode to the beloved "picture pub pizza" joint. Goodbye, Parkway -- you will be dearly missed.

How do I love the Parkway? Let me count the ways ...

Aside from my own bed and London's bustling Portobello Road Market early on a Saturday morning, this second-run theater-cum-art-movie house near Oakland's Lake Merritt is pretty much my favorite spot on the planet.

It's not in a fancy neighborhood by any stretch. The theater itself, a faded 1920 movie palace that has a vaguely Phoenician theme and that's been restored on the cheap, isn't particularly plush. Truth be told, it's on the funky side -- but that's part of the charm. There's just something sort of magical about the place, which has dubbed itself "the anti-multiplex."

Instead of typical theater seats, the Parkway sports couches and easy chairs. Tickets are $6 ($4 for matinees), and Wednesdays are two-for-one. Can't beat that.

The theater's tag line is "Picture, Pub, and Pizza" because in addition two two large and comfy screening spaces, there's a restaurant counter with a selection of locally brewed suds on tap, decent wines by the glass, and tasty, made-to-order salads, sandwiches, and pizzas. (It doesn't hurt that Parkway co-owner Catherine Fischer is a graduate of the California Culinary Academy.)

You buy your ticket, place your food and drinks order, grab a couch and wait for dinner to be delivered, then happily munch your way through the flick while working on that pitcher of Sierra Nevada.

Lots of hip, young, cash-strapped creative types frequent the place, and because of the couch setup and cheap eats, groups of friends tend to meet up there, which gives the Parkway a convivial, neighborhood-hangout vibe. The place is so totally chill, I could happily curl up and take a nap on one of the couches -- and almost have on many occasions.

There are no commercials or previews before the movies start. Instead, co-owner Kyle Fischer and program director Will Viharo appear onscreen for an ad-libbed and humorous monthly update. (That's them, above. The sign behind them says something along the lines of "Keep America Fat: Watch More Movies.")

The programming ranges from popcorn-fare-with-an-edge -- like Grindhouse, Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino's ode to Seventies exploitation cinema -- to more serious art-house selections, such as Todd Haynes' I'm Not There. (You can find the complete monthly schedule here.)

The Parkway also hosts special screenings and other events, like free documentary showings, Superbowl and Oscar bashes, Afrocentric cinema, and the Thrillville cult-movie cabaret, including the upcoming "Geeky Greek Gay Go-Go Show" featuring Jason and the Argonauts. And, of course, The Rocky Horror Picture Show unspools at midnight every Saturday.

But it almost doesn't matter what the Parkways is playing. Given pretty much any excuse at all -- like our monthly "date night"/childcare swap with friends, which is (yay!) tomorrow -- we are so there. (Walk Hard at 7; come on down and say hi if you're in the neighborhood.)

The only thing that could make this place any more awesome would be a rational all-ages policy. Aside from the Monday night "Baby Brigade" -- where new parents can bring babes-in-arms to grown-up movies -- the Parkway is normally 21 and over. The exceptions are Saturday matinees and all day Sundays, when kids are supposedly welcome.

That's great -- the problem is, the management almost always endeavors to screen R-rated movies on those days. (Hmmm -- should we take the kids to see a tragically dysfunctional family kill each other in Before the Devil Knows You're Dead, or a hopeless and violently dystopian future in Blade Runner: The Final Cut this weekend?)

They also have the irksome tendency to slot the occasional kids' movie on 21-and-over days. I've seen parents with wee ones in tow turned away from showings of weekday Pixar flicks at the Parkway. Mom and Dad are understandably angered, and their tots are understandably reduced to tears.

So, Parkway powers-that-be, please get a clue and stop toying with us poor parents: Either schedule one family-friendly film on all-ages days, don't put animated kids' movies on the program on adults-only days, or just drop the all-ages charade and be 21-and-over all the time.

Still, despite this sort of stupid and pointless policy, my love for the Parkway remains undiminished.

Actually, the only two things that could make the place any more awesome are a sane all-ages schedule and regular "shout-back screenings" of Napoleon Dynamite. ("But my lips hurt real BAD!")

Whadya say, guys?

17 comments:

adriane said...

i've never wanted to be in oakland more than i do at this very moment.

and as i am a young (eek, how young is "young" here?), hip, cash-strapped type...hahaha. yes. i think all theaters should have loungey seats and yummy foods.

Anonymous said...

Talk about a persuasive ad to travel to Oakland...the Parkway just got added to the itinerary of my next Bay-area vacation.

I'm just po'd that I can't make it in time for the "Blade Runner" screenings next week. And also that LA has nothing even remotely similar (sorry New Beverly).

MAds said...

You are starting to bother me. Every time I read your blog it reminds me of yet another thing I have canceled from my memory to put my homesickness to rest. And then you come along and dig all the great stuff back up again. Damn you. Damn Google Reader. Damn Oakland for being hella cool.

PS Good to see they changed the sofas. Last few times I went, things were getting a bit raunchy!

Betty said...

As a self-appointed Oakland booster, I love your features on Oakland's gems. (I work in the city and many city-dwellers get awkwardly quiet when you say you live in Oakland because they don't know how great it is.)

I'm also glad the Parkway replaced their grungy old seats a year (or two?) ago with Ikea sofas (slipcovers, YEAH) and chairs. No need to wear your crustiest coat to use as a sofa blankie anymore.

I second Napoleon Dynamite night.

Oh, I just realized you can win a year's free admission if you enter the Parkway's t-shirt design contest. Click on "Parkway Speakeasy Schwag" for info. I'm so going to enter.

Leah said...

MAds -- you'll get no sympathy from me. You live in ITALY, fer godsakes! Lucky girl.

Betty -- I KNOW! I used to work with some people in the City who would practically shudder and say "Ewww" when I mentioned that I lived in Oakland. It's their loss.

Leah

Kate of All Trades said...

I spent four glorious years in Oakland after LA and before Portland. The Parkway was always a good time. Fun to think about it again...

MAds said...

Fine. You win. I live in Italy. But that just goes to show how amazing Oakland is!

casacaudill said...

For all the years we've lived here, we've never made it to the Parkway. Must rectify that soon.

And don't even get me started on city peeps thinking Oakland is hell on the other side of the water. I overheard a girl say, "Ugh, I just *hate* Oakland." Someone at her table asked here where she'd been and she said ... wait for it ... she rode BART to a baseball game!

Katie said...

I hella love the Parkway (and I don't use 'hella' lightly). I see what you mean about the age policies, but I'm not a parent so it's never bothered me. Though, I totally agree that if they're going to have some all-ages showings, they should make them all-ages friendly movies. But I can't emphasize enough how great it is to watch a good movie, drink beer (legally), and NOT have a baby wailing or a bunch of 14 year olds yapping in the row behind me.

melissa davis said...

I am so embarassed to say I've lived here for 5 years and have NEVER gone! What a fool I am! I will go soon. ;)

Sarah said...

This makes me want to take a trip to Oakland ASAP!

Kate Alley said...

This totally sucks! There goes my reason to get my fat ass off of my couch and go down to the Parkway, park it on one of their couches and watch a great flick with some pizza and beer.

Sara Bonham said...

Let's start a "Save the Parkway" facebook group. Okay, maybe not, but this really does suck--bigtime.

Alex Stone said...

You joke Sara, but someone has already started a group: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=57726393239

Jen Zahigian said...

I can't believe it! The Parkway has been my favorite place to see a movie for so many years! Thanks for your post -- Hearing the news from you at least softens the blow. I guess I'll finally check out the El Cerrito location. Sigh.

Lauran said...

I am so so sad to hear about the Parkway. It is my favorite place to see a movie and we partook of Baby Brigade quite often when our little guy was, well, littler. Crap. All my favorite places are closing. Piedmont Stationers is gone too!

Liz! said...

This is totally depressing and it makes me want to cry. I've loved the parkway for years and will miss it greatly. At least they are not closing the El Cerrito one, but it just won't be the same...

 

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