With construction contractors still running around getting the place ready for the opening-night screening, Diamond Lake neighborhood resident Chris Woodward was able to ramble into the newly renovated Parkway Theater unnoticed. He gave himself away, though, when he let out a “Wow!”
“My wife and I used to get a babysitter and walk up here to see whatever movie,” remembered Woodward, whose kids are now middle-aged adults. “It hasn’t looked this nice in a long time.”
In a relatively short time — about three months of planning and three more of construction — the Parkway Theater has been given a much-needed face-lift and some cool new features in an effort to make it a vibrant neighborhood theater again starting this weekend.
This time around, though, movies are just a part of the mix of babysitter-worthy programming.
“It’s all a little selfish: We’re offering the things here that I would want to walk up and enjoy on any given night, starting with a good margarita and ending with a great movie or live music,” said Ward Johnson, one of the two new co-owners, who also lives just a few blocks away.
At the intersection of 48th Street and Chicago Avenue in the “true south” part of south Minneapolis, the Parkway sits next to what used to be Pepitos restaurant and is now the home to an offshoot of another long-beloved Mexican eatery, El Burrito Mercado from St. Paul’s West Side — hence the margaritas in Johnson’s ideal scenario.
Pepitos and the Parkway ran concurrently for many decades, but owner Joe Minjares — who opened the restaurant with his family in 1971 — fell ill in recent years. Both businesses suffered as a result, and the property had to be sold last year.
Before that, the Parkway had shown movies daily for decades going back to its opening in 1931. It became more of a multifaceted, sporadically used 350-person-capacity performance and screening space in the 2000s. But the venue limped along of late amid disrepair and a sagging budget.
Johnson and his partner in the theater, Eddie Landenberger — both middle-age dads and entrepreneurs — thought a remade Parkway would be treasured as a vintage neighborhood theater, á la Riverview Theater in Minneapolis’ Longfellow area. Knowing that cinephiles have more ways than ever to watch movies nowadays, they also believed it had to be more than just a movie theater.
“We wanted to honor what was already special about the theater, but enhance and improve on it, too,” said Landenberger. “We also thought it could really fill a missing niche in this town as a nice listening room.”
The eclectic mix they envisioned is on display right away for opening weekend.
Following Thursday’s sold-out, opening-night 35-millimeter screening of the original “Jaws” — every Thursday will be classic movie night, by the way — and the premiere of the “episodic” indie film “Lights! Camera! Jackson!” on Friday, the Parkway will host an album-release party Saturday by local electro-rock band Halloween, Alaska.
First, though, the reportedly $1.3 million renovations had to be finished — or almost finished anyway, as was the business at hand on Thursday morning.
“I’m relieved we’re as far along as we are,” quipped Johnson, as workers installed the first of two gold-painted sheet-metal palm-tree sculptures new to the lobby.
‘Doing it the classic way’
The lobby, though small, is a showpiece for the theater again. They added a new bar to the right of the entryway where the concession stand used to be, and then moved the concession stand to the left side where the ticket booth was (tickets can now be bought in advance via theparkwaytheater.com or at the neighboring record and gift store Rock Paper Scissors Goods).
Most of the decor in the lobby — overseen by interior designer Anna Lundberg, who helmed restaurateur Kim Bartmann’s Book Club — harks back to the original art deco facade, including a new gold chandelier overhead and the flourishes around the wood and glass bar.
Offerings at the bar include Tattersall Distilling cocktails on draft next to beer taps from Pryes, Indeed, Bent Paddle and Castle Danger, plus movie-themed specialty cocktails ($12) and wine by the glass ($7-$11).
There’s also a newly installed ’80s vibe to the theater, from the velvety pink seats around the new cocktail tables at the back of the lobby to the small arcade room past the concession stand, with classic stand-up games including Centipede, Tempest and Ms. Pac-Man.
As for the heart of the Parkway, the theater space didn’t change so dramatically. The old, Mexican-themed murals were lost to needed fireproofing upgrades, so the walls are now just a plain (but clean!) gray. Much more work was done behind the walls upgrading air conditioning, heating and electrical.
A sharp contrast to the walls, the seats are now an ultrabright red. They’re actually the original seats, too — just reupholstered and fixed up. The rows were also spread farther apart for easier in/out access, though there are actually more seats now (368 total) since the owners put a few rows back in that had been taken out at the front of the theater.
“We debated bringing in new seats, since the trend now is for big recliner seats,” Landenberger said. “But this seemed truer to the original theater.”
Having the permanent seats will dictate what kind of live music acts are brought to the theater: Singer/songwriters, jazz, neoclassical and low-key electronic acts obviously fare better in a seated space than high-adrenaline rock and hip-hop acts.
“More than anything, we want it to be a great-sounding room,” said Johnson, whose sister, Jessica Paxton — a known promoter and radio host in Northfield — will help bring in acts along with booking and marketing manager Patrick Marschke.
In the coming weeks, the theater will host more music gigs by the likes of taiko drumming troupe Enso Daiko (Sept. 22), Jeremy Messersmith (Sept. 29), the 55-member choir Kith & Kin (Sept. 30), Grayshot (Oct. 5) and the Pines’ David Huckfelt (Nov. 16).
The Parkway will also continue to host comedy events, including the Theater of Public Policy’s Civil Fest 2018: E Plurubus Funum (Sept. 28) and the 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival (Oct. 19-20). Other eclectic offerings will include appearances by New Yorker essayist Adam Gopnik (Oct. 16) and acclaimed dancer/choreographer Ashwini Ramaswamy (Feb. 11).
As for the movies, the upcoming Thursday night screenings include “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” (Sept. 27), “A Clockwork Orange” (Oct. 4), the October must-dos “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” (Oct. 18) and “Psycho” (Oct. 25), a Burt Reynolds tribute showing of “Smokey & the Bandit” (Nov. 8). Most of these will be screened using original 35mm prints.
“To a lot of movie people, it’s sort of the difference between vinyl and MP3s,” Johnson said, mentioning that the theater is also newly equipped with a modern digital projector.
“But we really appreciate doing it the classic way,” he added.
That could be said of what they’ve done with the place in general.
Here’s an overview of the Parkway calendar so far:
Friday: “Lights! Camera! Jackson!” screening with Dave King and Noah Hutton (7 p.m., $15)
Saturday: Halloween, Alaska album release with Andrew Broder and Dave King Duo (8 p.m., $15)
Monday: Subtle Degrees’ “A Dance That Empties” with saxophonist Travis LaPlante and drummer Gerald Cleaver (7:30 p.m., $18)
Wednesday: “Do the Right Thing” screening (8 p.m., $10)
Sept. 20: “Assault on Precinct 13” screening (1976 version, 8 p.m., $10)
Sept. 21: Jason Chaffe album release (8 p.m., $10)
Sept. 25: “Rock Rubber 45s” screening with KRSM Radio
Sept. 27: “Monty Python & the Holy Grail” screening
Sept. 28: Civil Fest 2018: E Plurubus Funum (Out of Many, Fun), hosted by Theater of Public Policy ($20)
Sept. 29: Jeremy Messersmith (sold out)
Sept. 30: Open Arms Minnesota fundraiser with “A Hard Day’s Night” and the 55-member choir Kith + Kin ($15)
Oct. 3: “Sweetness of the Wild” screening with Free Black Dirt
Oct. 4: “A Clockwork Orange” screening
Oct. 5: Grayshot album release (8 p.m., $12)
Oct. 11: “Saturday Night Fever” screening
Oct. 16: The Gates: An Evening of Stories With Adam Gopnik ($20)
Oct. 18: “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” screening (1974)
Oct. 19-20: 10,000 Laughs Comedy Festival
Oct. 21: “In Winter” screening, a Duluth-shot film by Alexander P. Gutterman and Aboubacar M. Camara
Nov. 17: David Huckfelt of the Pines album release
Feb. 11: Ashwini Ramaswamy