My favorite nostalgic movie theater is the Beach Cinema. Located on Main Street in downtown Bradley Beach, its old-fashioned marquee juts out over the sidewalk, proudly displaying the title of whatever movie is “Now Playing.” That’s right: instead of ten or more screens, the Beach Cinema has one movie playing on one screen. If you don’t like it, go someplace else.
The throwback to the middle of the last century continues as you enter the tiny lobby, with the ticket window on the right and the snack stand on the left. The decor is dreary postwar – high ceilings, plaster walls, and framed movie posters, with an “updated” splash of groovy plastic signage for the snack stand.
There are old-time prices, too: $7.50 for an adult ticket, and a mere $3.50 for a large popcorn. Unlike today’s typical multiplex snack, the “jumbo” popcorn isn’t the size of a small trash barrel, and it doesn’t come with free refills. If you eat all the popcorn in your modest cardboard bucket before you run out of movie, you have to ante up again.
The seating is a sea of upholstered metal chairs straight out of your basic high school auditorium – functional, reasonably comfortable, but a far cry from the semi-reclining leather seats in today’s typical high-end theaters. They’re fine for sitting and watching a movie, but don’t expect to get too comfortable. On the walls flanking the screen are what look like two old-fashioned balconies, but there aren’t any seats up there – they’re just for show. One of these days the old codgers from the Muppet Show are going to pop up there and start their goofy banter.
The pre-show entertainment isn’t an endless trailer for new TV shows, slick cars and trucks, and this season’s iteration of Coke. In fact, there’s nothing on the screen at all before the movie, but a projection of the monogrammed initials “BC.” My wife says it stands for Beach Cinema, but I’m pretty sure it stands for “Before Christ,” in honor of the theater’s founding.
While you ponder that mystery you can enjoy piped-in elevator music from the 1940s, featuring cheesy orchestral arrangements of show tunes like “Some Enchanted Evening,” and “On The Street Where You Live.” If you don’t feel old when you walk in the door, you sure do after ten minutes of that. And the night’s entertainment consists of a single “Coming Attraction” – a preview of the next movie coming to the Beach Cinema, followed promptly by “Our Featured Presentation.”
But my favorite part of the Beach Cinema experience is the men’s room. Not only does it feature gigantic ceramic urinals that look like old-time bathtubs standing on end, it has the only commemorative bathroom plaque I’ve ever seen. That’s right – screwed to the wall just above eye level to the left of the urinals is a plastic sign that reads, “This Urinal is Dedicated to George H. Moffett, A Devoted User And Favorite Palace Theatre/Beach Cinema Patron Since 1935.”
How do you even qualify for the dubious honor of having a public urinal named after you? Does “devoted user” really mean “weak bladder?” (FYI, the toilet bowl and the second urinal remain unclaimed, so we all have something to aspire to.)
Because it’s a small-town movie theater, lots of people know each other, and there’s plenty of animated conversation before the show starts. I’ve also never seen anyone disrupt the film with loud talking or taking calls on their cell phone. And the audience routinely applauds at the end of the movie – if it’s a good one. If it’s a stinker, they just file quietly out.
Is it a great theater? Not by today’s standards – not by a long shot. But it’s clean, convenient, and cheap, and the people who work there, like their customers, are friendly and polite. And for a discount price, I get to go to the movies the way they used to be when I was a kid. Worth every penny.