Drinking at The Movies

Last night my wife and I went to see a movie in Downtown Brooklyn at the new Alamo Drafthouse. Give us a movie theater where we can also order dinner and dessert, and we’re in. Usually for this kind of night we go to Nighthawk in Williamsburg, another cinema with a menu. Would’ve ended up there last night if the movie we wanted to see wasn’t sold out. So, Alamo it was for a 9:30 show.

We found our seats and pretty much immediately decided we’d be coming here from now on. Mainly for the seats. They’re full on recliners that kick back at the touch of a button. A few minutes later we met our waitress, Kim. 

Since we said it was our first time there, Kim explained their ordering system in great detail. Basically, if we wanted to order something during the movie, we were asked to write it down and put the order card in a stand on the table. They respect the watching experience and they don’t want talking. We were familiar with this system already from Nighthawk, but we let her give us the rundown. She went as far as explaining that the room was currently in “Restaurant Mode” because the lights were up and they were playing weird vignettes on the screen that relate to the feature presentation. Then Kim took our orders.

Ross got the jerk chicken sandwich and a club soda.

My turn. “I’ll have the chocolate-peanut butter milkshake and a black coffee, please.” 

I hadn’t had ice cream (or any dairy or sugar) in 26 days, and I decided that last night I’d allow myself a cheat dessert.

“Do you want to make it an adult drink and add a shot of Black Seal Rum to that shake? It’s just three dollars extra and makes it a little more adventurous,” she said. “It’s really good that way, that’s how I drink that one.” 

Once she got a few words into her up-sell, I started to try to say “no thank you” but she powered through her pitch. I had to wait until she stopped talking to respond.

“No thanks, not tonight. But I will also take a glass of tap water.”

“Wow, three beverages,” Ross said, making fun of me. Well, I always did like to drink. 

I’m an alcoholic who can’t stop drinking when I start. After several years of struggling with it, I finally quit on August 23, 2008 when I was 27. It’s been almost nine years without the stuff. So when Kim asked if I’d like to make my shake “a little more adventurous,” I had to kind of chuckle while I declined. More “adventurous,” huh? Sure, Kim. Please do bring me a chocolate peanut butter milkshake infused with delicious rum. Sounds almost like what a Friendly’s take on a White Russian cocktail would be. Yeah give me one of those and go ahead and put a refill in right away. I will have drank the first one too fast to savor the sensation of the slight burn of the rum on my throat and in my nasal glands while enjoying the ice cream simultaneously cooling my esophagus. Hopefully I can take all that in while nursing the second one through the next seven minutes of the film or so. And man, dairy sure is an odd pairing for booze, so I’m going to need a pint of your lightest beer to wash it down. Oh, you only serve local craft beers? None of them are really “light”? Well gimme two of the lighter ones and I’ll test ‘em out.

By the start of Act II, I’d be four drinks in and heckling. We went to see It Comes at Night, a psychological thriller set in a creepy house in the middle of the creepy woods. So if I did decide to be “adventurous” and make it a cheat-night in more ways than one, I’d be the guy hollering, “Don’t go in there, ya fuckin idiot!” Or “that would never happen!” Or “Hey… what just happened?” Anyway, thankfully, I didn’t drink. Besides, even when I was still drinking, I’d made myself a “no more drinking at the movies” rule. 

It was late 2007 or very early 2008 and I was in Fort Worth, Texas. I was working as a camera operator / field producer on a story for MTV’s True Life. We were documenting a few days of this kid’s life who had just recently come to The US from Myanmar. We shot with him looking at a college, going to work at the pickle factory, meeting with his missionary counselor, and lots of footage of the apartment where he lived with several family members (one detail that always sticks out in my mind is that his mother was using cabinets to store cooked meat because she was skeptical of the refrigerator). I didn’t shoot his whole story, and I was only in Fort Worth for these few days, but it was a challenging shoot. I remember we only had access to him for an hour or two in the very early hours and then a little bit at night because he worked such long days at the factory, where they did not want us to come film. His new life in America was clearly very challenging and it was stressful trying to figure out how to capture enough material to tell his story. 

One night, to blow off some steam, myself and the producer who I was working for decided to go see a movie. I can’t remember whose idea that was, me or my new boss, a woman I had just met in the days prior at the airport right before the trip. Working on the road in TV production, it’s pretty common to socialize after hours as a way to process the job. We went to the Movie Tavern, a theater with a full bar and food menu, and ordered beers at the bar. Then, when our movie time came, we found our seats, and then ordered a plate of nachos and a pitcher of beer. It was my first time at a place like this where you could (legally) drink at the movies. 

We were there to see P.S. I Love You with Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank. If you haven’t seen it, it’s really, really sad. I don’t know who chose the film, me or her. I believe the basic plot is made obvious in the trailer, so I’ll briefly explain it. Basically, Hilary Swank’s character’s dead boyfriend (Gerard Butler) is sending her letters from the grave that all end, “P.S. I Love You.” She’s trying to move on with her life, but the grief is too strong. It was an emotional roller coaster, and by the end of the first pitcher of beer, I knew I’d need to order a second.

At that time, my own relationship was rocky. I was coming up on a year with a woman I met at work and everything was a challenge from the start. Working on the road I often had breaks from dealing with quarrels back home, but sometimes a movie like P.S. I Love You kicked up all my emotions. And that night, the more I drank from the second pitcher, the more emotional I got. The film’s twists and turns and performances felt so intense. Hilary Swank was incredible. The voice overs of Gerard Butler reading those letters broke my heart. Before I knew it, I had tears streaming down my face. I was drunk and sad and crying in Texas. 

The producer was also drunk, and we just kind of laughed it off. The movie was definitely an emotional hostage situation designed to be a tearjerker. I do wonder what it would be like to go on a work trip in any other field and drunkenly cry one’s eyes out in front of a new boss. 

Long story short: No thanks Kim, I’ll just have the chocolate peanut butter shake without the rum. I don’t drink at the movies.