Washington D.C.’s film community isn’t the most visible, but if you look hard, you’ll see signs of passionate local filmmakers and film buffs. Whatever your relationship to watching films is, everyone wants comfy seats, tasty snacks, big screens and drinks on tap.
Here are the best theater-going experiences in the area:
Landmark E Street Cinema, 555 11th St. NW, Washington DC (Metro Center)
This indie theater in the heart of D.C. is the prime spot for showings of the kind of under-the-radar films that pop up during awards season and beyond. With knowledgeable staff, occasional Q&As with the stars and custom-written guides on what’s playing, this is a great place for educated film-goers.
The highlight of their menu is the crab pretzels smothered in gooey cheese. The beer menu offers a rotating selection of domestic and international beers, so be sure to ask about specials. The E Street bar also offers a wine menu with full bottles available. There’s limited seating to chill out on the bottom floor before your movie. For those in the mood for a non-alcoholic drink, E Street also makes gourmet Italian sodas.
Landmark’s sister theaters include:
Landmark West End, 2301 M St. NW, Washington DC (Foggy Bottom) — A smaller three-theater multiplex with cozier theaters offering second-run films and an abbreviated menu.
Landmark Atlantic Plumbing, 807 V St. NW, Washington DC (U Street-Cardozo) — Smack-dab in the middle of the swanky U Street corridor, this place serves unusual theater snacks such as ramen and has a virtual juke box you can select use via an app.
Landmark Bethesda Row, 7235 Woodmont Ave., Bethesda (Bethesda) — More of a mainstream cinema venue, but the full-service bar area is good place to chill. Check out the Cinema Art Bethesda for a moderated discussion and breakfast on the third Sunday of each month.
Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse, 2903 Columbia Pike, Arlington (bus line off Pentagon City)
The Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse has been a fixture on the local scene since 1985, when the current management bought it from a traditional movie house (the building is 70 years old) and turned it into a combination movie and live performance venue with a restaurant. The theater’s showings are mostly second-run, which means films that are between theater and DVD. Thus, tickets are cheaper, but even more so on Mondays — discount night.
The is also one of the premiere stand-up comedy venues in the area. Big names from Saturday Night Live to Comedy Central all pass through here (and can sometimes be found getting drunk somewhere along Columbia Pike after their set).
Cinema and Drafthouse is one of the few places where you can order a full meal without ever leaving your seat. Simply hold up your card and a waiter will sneak by and quietly take your order mid-show. The menu includes a wide selection of drinks with a lot of specialty cocktails and martinis named after films including Pirates of the Caribbean (Malibu rum, pineapple juice and grenadine) or a Willy Wonka with chocolate liquor or a float made with Henry’s Hard Orange.
Angelika Film Center & Café at Mosaic, 2911 District Ave., Fairfax (Dunn Loring-Merrifield)
The Angelika shows indie films, blockbusters and has occasional screenings of old films and film festivals. The snack menu includes four types of gourmet hot dogs, three types of artisanal popcorn and a messy hodgepodge of salty and sweet treats.
Be sure to check out the upstairs café before your movie, where you’ll find a full bar (four kinds of drafts, in addition to stouts, ales and Potter’s Cranberry Orange Blossom) and a respectable menu. Play a board game while you hang out, and watch an old movie or sporting event. If you hit the cafe after the film, you get half off.
On Tuesdays, students get a ticket and bag of popcorn for $9 with ID.
The recently constructed surrounding Mosaic District, boasting art studios, restaurants, community events and boutique shops, has breathed a lot of life into what just five years ago was a sleepy corner of suburbia.
Angelika Pop-Up at Union Market, 500 Penn St. NE (NoMa-Galludet)
Located within a mile of the NoMa-Galludet Metro stop and behind Union Market, the Angelika Pop-Up has a bare-bones feel with the look of an abandoned warehouse. The menu is consistent with the Angelika in the Mosaic District, only the lounge is just a waiting area with a few tables. The theaters aren’t tiered, so fair warning, don’t sit behind a tall dude.
The Avalon Theatre, 5612 Connecticut Ave. NW (Friendship Heights)
The oldest movie theater in the area (circa 1923), the Avalon closed in 2001 and was resurrected two years later with community support. Today, it is D.C.’s only nonprofit theater. Some of their proceeds go to scholarships for filmmaking camp, so you know some of your film dollars are going to a good cause. The film’s two screens are pretty enormous, like the old days. They show a lot of indie and small-scale films with the occasional blockbuster.
AFI Silver Theater and Cultural Center, 8633 Colesville Rd., Silver Spring (Silver Spring)
If you’ve ever heard of the AFI Lifetime Achievement Award or the prestigious AFI filmmaking school or the AFI anything else, this is the same organization. The art deco building is an impressive feature and the three-theater complex is probably the most high-profile theater in DC as well as the top destination for directors and movie stars doing any audience Q&As. Even with just three theaters, AFI has nearly everything: mainstream, indie, foreign and the best of the obscure. They serve beer on tap, spirits and a full wine bar, but not too much in the food department beyond candy and popcorn.