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Friday, June 07, 2019

Dinner and a Movie, Maybe

From the Food Vault Dept.: Somehow I managed to experience a dinner-and-a-movie venue in Saratoga Springs without actually seeing the movie, and I was very kind about the food weendured. But this was in 1997, when the world was young. The place endured for at least a decade, but it succumbed to Saratoga’s upscale pretentions, and is now an Embassy Suites. Which was the only photo I could find of the complex.


“SPORTS BAR? I HATE SPORTS BARS,” I muttered as we pushed our way into the place. Too much football regalia. Too many TV screens. Too much – but then I spotted the baseball stuff. Baseball stuff is good. And I’m too much of an Anglophile to resist a dartboard, even if I don’t take a crack at it myself.

What's there now.
My wife and I were in the Broadway Joe’s half of Joe O’Hara’s sports and movie complex, in the former Grand Union at Congress Plaza, a half-block down East Congress Street from Broadway, across from Congress Park.

Our intention: to check out the dine-while-you-watch movie theater. Our problem: we weren’t really crazy about seeing any of the listed movies.

The politest way to get from the sports bar to the theater is to go outside: there are separate entrances. (You could squeeze by the ticket counter, but I hate dislodging service staff trying to get their work done.) “Here for Star Trek?” asked an usher/waiter.

“We wanted to see how it all works, first,” I said. He gave us a tour. The renovation is startlingly effective – you’d swear the two theaters had been showing movies for years. A good-sized screen is down front, while a state-of-the-art sound system rings the walls. Where you’d expect to find rows and aisles, however, are tiers of tables and comfortable chairs. I mean comfortable. A hell of a lot more pleasant than what’s in your standard mall movie box.

“This was a Grand Union?” I said incredulously.

Our guide nodded. “We’re standing in the produce department.” He advised us that seating would start in about fifteen minutes, “and you order from this menu.” A page of sandwiches and such. Turns out to be the same menu used next door, so we hit on a happy compromise: we’d have the dinner, enjoy the ambiance – then head elsewhere for a first-run film we were more anxious to see.

But we’re going back first opportunity we get to enjoy a movie at the Off-Broadway. There’s a $3.50 cover charge for the film, which is buying you not only a movie but a very comfortable setting. Sandwiches are in the $5-$7 range, with dinners in the $11 area. Ordinarily, I’m all for separating the dinner from the movie, what with the opportunity to talk during dinner (and to shut up during the movie. I’ll repeat that: to SHUT UP during the movie). On the other hand, my at-home video-watching routine includes a tray of comestibles (but you’re not allowed to talk in my video room when the movie is running).

The Off-Broadway Theatre & Grille may not be the finest place to take a first date if you plan to do any verbal getting-to-know you stuff, but if you’re pressed for time or comfortable with your companion, what a great destination. You can rent it, too, for a party or private screening.

Here’s the part that won me. As overhyped as I find the Super Bowl, I’m impressed with the parties you’ll find here Sunday. There’s a Mason & Sheehan-hosted event at Broadway Joe’s starting at 2:30 PM. Over in Theater A, you can see the game on the big screen with pre-game host Roger Wyland and a buffet dinner, for $25 per person, from 3-10. And if you’re stuck with a Super Bowl-brainwashed companion, you can dump the dope at that party and head for Theater B, for a $15 buffet-and-movie event that includes “First Wives Club” and “Waiting to Exhale.” Silly? Sure. Sexist? No worse than football itself. Good marketing? You bet.

So Susan and I headed next door again, this time making our way past a couple dozen of the 30 television screens to the Clubhouse, a slightly more formal dining area in the back where the adjoining bar is fashioned like a baseball dugout.

Here’s where we hit the one disappointment of the evening: the food. Even with a casual menu, we were expecting that some of the money that went into the renovation would have made it back to the kitchen. We ordered simply: Caesar salad to split at the start, a couple of sandwiches.

The salad was fine, if assembly-line. The sandwiches--Philly cheese steak for Susan, a meatball sub offered as a special for me--arrived on fat torpedo rolls and were dry as the dickens. “I’ll have that ketchup after all,” said Susan after signaling a server. We hardly plumbed the depths of the menu, but even pub food deserves a little more care.

An enlightened beer selection lets you stay far away from the bad Bud clones. I had a pint of North Country Brewery maple amber ale, which was light-bodied but tasty, while Susan daintily sipped tea.

Dinner for two, with tax and tip and the aforementioned beer, was $30. Metroland restaurant reviews are based on one unannounced visit; your experience may differ.

Off-Broadway Theatre & Grille; Broadway Joe’s, Congress Plaza, Saratoga Springs, 587-xxxx. Watch second-run movies in more comfort than your home, with table-service dinner. Or try the adjoining sports bar for a friendly dinner and good beer. Movie listings: 587-xxxx. Serving Mon-Wed 4-midnight or so, Thu-Sun 11-midnight or so at Broadway Joe’s; seating and service in the theater begins a half hour before showtimes.

Metroland Magazine, 23 January 1997

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