“I think in comparison to other theaters in the city, it's a treat to come into someplace like this,” says Emilia Stefancyzk.
Stefancyzk, a publicist for Landmark Theatres, is referring to Landmark's month-old Atlantic Plumbing Cinema, a venue that's hard to compare to other movie theaters — in D.C. and most elsewhere nationwide. It's something recognizable the moment you walk up to the complex, located next to the 9:30 Club in that rapidly revitalizing section of Shaw.
“It doesn't even look like a theater,” Stefancyzk says. “It's missing the posters even.” Instead, Atlantic Plumbing Cinema looks like D.C.'s hippest new bar. And ultimately, that's exactly what it is: A full-scale bar with a long countertop, looking out on an airy lounge area with handsome, tan leather-upholstered couches and chairs and framed on two sides in floor-to-ceiling windows. In addition to 12 taps for beer and a selection of wines and cava, Atlantic Plumbing also features a list of film-inspired specialty cocktails. They are the handiwork of bar manager Eric King, a mixologist who previously worked at Iron Gate — a restaurant known for its high-quality and adventurous cocktail menu.
“We're putting a bigger priority on the quality of your drinks,” says Stefancyzk. “And we actually serve them in glassware.” Naturally, you can take the drinks into the theater with you when seeing a movie, something that patrons of Landmark's E Street Cinema have long appreciated. It's now a growing trend at Landmark properties nationwide. “That's really added to the experience. It's way more relaxing,” says Cody Love, lead assistant manager at the theater.
The entire moviegoing experience is intended to be more relaxing at Atlantic Plumbing. Next to the bar, down a curvy walled hallway, are the complex's six small theaters. Each has a capacity of just 48 to 54 people and features roomy, reclining seats upholstered in plush leather and spaced out in wide aisles to minimize disruption. Even the front row is set back far enough that you can comfortably watch a film without straining your neck. “It feels really intimate but you're never going to feel claustrophobic,” Love says. The spacious feel is possible in large part because Atlantic Plumbing, like all Landmark properties in the area, is an all-digital theater, with projectors that drop down from the ceiling. There's no need for a projection room — much less a projectionist — taking up space in each screen. Also enhancing the experience: every seat at Atlantic Plumbing can be reserved in advance, via the website or the touchscreen kiosks just off the bar.
A month in, Atlantic Plumbing is still a work in progress. That's especially true with programming. The theater opened big, with Steve Jobs screening on all six screens. “In the first week, we were No. 20 in the whole country, even with only around 300-something seats,” Love says. “That's really big, to be able to compete against megaplexes.” But sales tapered off pretty dramatically by week three of the exclusive run of Steve Jobs. It's picked back up again now that they've diversified the offerings, with showings of Love The Coopers and Miss You Already.
Love, who got his start with Landmark three years ago at the E Street Cinema, expects Atlantic Plumbing to succeed with more “mainstream-ish films” than E Street — particularly those, like Jobs and the forthcoming Spotlight, that are generating lots of press and Oscar-buzz. Love anticipates Atlantic Plumbing will also eventually start its own regular programming series similar to E Street's Midnight Madness but perhaps with more of a focus on classics, or films that might attract film students at nearby Howard University.
Eventually, Atlantic Plumbing might allow patrons to bring food beyond basic concessions into the theater. For now though, all food prepared on site — including crab cake sliders, burgers, wings and mozzarella sticks — must be eaten in the lounge or as takeout. The venue also plans to make use of its front patio with outdoor seating in warmer weather.
The theater is “a new urban concept,” as Stefancyzk puts it — one premised on a level of social interaction and engagement well beyond the traditional movie house, or for that matter, the average bar. “We've seen a lot of people go to a movie, come out, have a drink and talk about the film with the people they saw the movie with — or with our bartenders,” Love says. “You don't get that at other theaters — you usually watch a movie and leave.”
The bar facilitates greater discussion about film, but the staff helps, too. “Here, you can talk to almost anybody on staff, truly, about film — there's a lot of knowledge,” Stefancyzk says. “This place wouldn't be half as fun for me,” Love adds, “if I wasn't surrounded by cinephiles, people that are really into this. We're working on making this the place to be, and the spot to come see movies.”
Landmark's Atlantic Plumbing Cinema is at 807 V ST. NW. Call 202-534-1965 or visit landmarktheatres.com.
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