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June 24th, 2009 12:00 am Alex Peterson | Movie Reviews & Stories

Cafe Du Cinema

The other places you can get a drink with your movie. (A good movie, for once.)

IMAGE: vivianjohnson.com

Perhaps you’ve heard, but Portland is a pretty good place to drink a beer and watch a movie.

The city has at least a dozen theater pubs (listed each week in WW’s Brew Views), where audiences can add a plate of food and a drink to their movie-going experience. Just one problem: You probably saw half the stuff they’re showing at a multiplex a month earlier, and if not, you probably didn’t want to. Theater pubs can be fun, but it’s a rare one—beyond one screen the Laurelhurst devotes to classics and the Bagdad’s late-night shows—that has an interest in selling you interesting movies along with as many drinks as possible.

But a whole other culture of movie-watching is going on in this city, one that shows whatever the fuck it wants and makes no bones about being first and foremost a dispenser of intoxicating beverages (coffee counts) and throwing in free movies as a bonus. WW would like to be the first to give a name to this loose but irreplaceable little subculture. We’ll call it “cafe cinema.”

So what happens when bars turn on their projectors and put on a DVD of something dear to their hearts? Most cafe cinemas, I’ve found in my three weeks of visiting, have only the hope of keeping people around for an hour and a half and perhaps giving them a little education on the finer points of, say, modern French anarchist cinema. The question is: Do they have the quality of presentation that’s going to make it possible to experience a film while orders are being taken and small talk is carrying on? After a dozen movie nights in all sectors of the city, here’s what I found:

Mother’s Bistro/Velvet lounge

212 SW Stark St., 464-1122
This is the only movie night in Portland with its own film expert on hand to deliver some color and context before screening a hand-picked film. Mother’s Velvet Lounge is an elegant place with a full menu for drinks and food—definitely an incentive for all 12 of the diners who listened to local film-geek and -maker Paul Harrod’s speech before watching the entirety of Robert Wise’s standout 1959 noir Odds Against Tomorrow. Harrod and Mother’s co-owner Rob Sample have been programming spaghetti Westerns and noirs for over three years now; their dedication to good movies and presentation show.
SCREENING NIGHT: First Wednesdays, 7:30 pm.
TYPICAL FILMS: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, Odds Against Tomorrow


4759 NE Fremont St., 284-2795
This upscale wine bar in the French style is run by a husband-and-wife team, Dominique and Diane Vidal, French and American, respectively. Vinideus shows an immense amount of reverence for the quality of both the movie and its projection: The Vidals turn the lights down and have the seating arranged to orient everyone in the restaurant toward the movie. Leos Carax’s The Lovers on the Bridge was a ballsy choice, shown with an implicit understanding that wine bar patrons could handle Carax’s themes of sex, homelessness and nude fire-breathing.
SCREENING NIGHT: First and third Wednesdays, 7:30 pm.
TYPICAL FILMS: A Secret, Man on the Train

Red Black Cafe

400 SE 12th Ave., 231-3899
Red Black doesn’t specialize exclusively in “Anti-Imperialist” film screenings, though it is a worker-owned restaurant with a clientele pretty obviously geared toward that bent. (I wish I could say the same for Bill Maher, whose Religulous was the rather tendentious feature film.) The waitstaff, apprenticing for six months before they can become co-owners, was talkative and helpful. The organizers of the night’s Anti-Imperialist Film Screening, surly and black-clad, not so much. Regardless, the entire place gathered around and watched the movie from beginning to end, and nearly all of them stayed for a discussion afterward. Lenin might smirk, but Bill Maher is positively beaming.
SCREENING NIGHT: Tuesdays and third Thursdays, 7 pm.
TYPICAL FILMS: Milk, Bicycle Thieves

The Press Club

2621 SE Clinton St., 233-5656
Another wine bar, this one less formal than Vinideus, with equally informal screenings. The projector is top-of-the-line, the image clear and balanced, but the sound comes through as the speakers intended it to—as musical background. The waitress told me they don’t usually draw a large crowd; I saw a healthy 10 or so people gather close on nice couch-benches and really watch Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. The huge double doors remained open to let in both the cool air and the outside conversations, which didn’t do much to help the sound issues.
SCREENING NIGHT: Sundays, 9 pm.
TYPICAL FILMS: Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Swingers

Tin Shed Garden Cafe

1438 NE Alberta St., 288-6966
On the outdoor patio, partially enclosed in plastic and heated by overhead lamps, about a dozen Alberta Street types were having dinner when Legend, Ridley Scott’s 1986 unicorn fest starring baby-faced Tom Cruise, was finally thrown up. The staff was a good 45 minutes past the advertised start time, which they chalked up to being overworked. The movie began inauspiciously, with the projection spilling off the screen and the sound being drowned out by six or seven conversations. But 20 minutes in, heads started to turn, and not long after that, the movie—lame and uninspired as it is—had everyone’s attention.
SCREENING NIGHT: Mondays, 7:30 pm, Tuesdays 8 pm.
TYPICAL FILMS: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai, Down by Law.
BETTER THAN A THEATER? Yes, on a warm night.
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