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Landmark Bethesda Row

May 12, 2013

Here’s something new: I’ll take a break from reviewing movies to instead review… a movie theater.

For the last month or so, one of the Landmark theaters in the Washington, DC area has been closed for a huge makeover. Last weekend they reopened and man, does it look great. I spent all Sunday there on opening weekend watching all three of their new-to-me films and I’m pretty happy about it, with one minor quibble that I’ll bring up later.

First up: Concessions

If you’ve been to the Landmark on E Street recently you pretty much know the story here: an expanded menu displayed on bright, clear overhead screens. There’s a lot more of those screens all around the lobby, though. For example, look next to the theaters. Here’s a closer look:
Theater display

Yep, the poster for the film showing inside is displayed on another screen. There’s a lot more space and they’re much more visible. And not that it was a huge problem, but if there are any emergency room changes to be made I’ll bet the management can do that without moving a physical sign around.

Some of the biggest changes are inside the screening rooms themselves:

The seats have all been replaced, and the replacements are much larger and softer than the old ones. The armrests are enormous — no more fighting for elbow-room — and as if the seats weren’t already deep enough they recline a bit now. The floor shape hasn’t changed, though, so the fronts of the seats are pretty close to the backs of the seats in front; I haven’t had anyone try to cross in front of me, but I’m told there haven’t been any significant problems. And a side-benefit of the reclining seats: decoupling the seat backs from each other means when someone kicks a chair down the row from you, your own chair doesn’t shake nearly as much.

Along with the change in seats comes a change in seating. All tickets are now sold for the particular seat, not for general admission. This is great if, like me, you’re particular about where you sit, since you can buy your preferred seat in advance and not worry about showing up half an hour early. You may still want to, though, to chat with the staff about film or something. Yes, this is a movie theater whose employees actually watch movies. Oh, and there is no increase in ticket price for the better seats or the reserved seating.

The drawback that affects a tiny minority of serious regulars is that Landmark still has no way of using their “Aficionado” passes — pre-purchased books of matinee-priced tickets — online. I don’t want to give up my discount in order to reserve my seat online, but I risk someone else snapping up the good seats, then rolling in ten minutes after the movie begins and walking in front of everyone to get to the seat I want. For the moment the workaround seems to be to buy the tickets in advance online, then to reverse the charge — except the dollar service charge — at the box office before repurchasing the same seats with Aficionado tickets.

What if you do show up early? Well, there’s now a huge seating area:

The chairs and sofas are similar to the theater seats, and allow for relaxed, face to face conversation with your friends before heading inside to take your (reserved) seats. And in case you’re worried about sitting in the comfy chairs and missing the film, there are more screens!
Countdown display

The upcoming shows are displayed on a constantly-updating monitor easily visible from the lounge area. The seating times count down to fifteen minutes before the movie nominally starts, but in practice the rooms are actually open up to half an hour before showtime so you can get in earlier if you want. Still, there’s probably no need for lining up or going in more than fifteen minutes in advance because of course your seat is already reserved.

And if you needed any more encouragement to show up early and take your seat late, there’s the brand new, fully-stocked bar:

A decent selection of beer, wine, and spirits are available here, including some specialty cocktails like the “Bethesda Row Fizz”, made with Bulleit bourbon, Cointreau, and ginger ale. They’ll gladly swap out the bourbon for Bulleit rye if you’d like; I’d suggest trying one of each to see how you like them. All drinks come in plastic cups so you can take them into the theaters and enjoy during the film.

It’s a little early to say how everything is working, especially the ticket workaround I mentioned. But things seem to be going pretty smoothly, and the combination of the bar and the reserved seating makes for a much different movie theater experience from the norm. E Street will probably continue to have even more of the movies I want to see earlier, but I think ties will start going to Bethesda Row.

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