DINNER AND a movie is the quintessential date. Having a casual beer or cocktail before the show is a good idea. If you tell me I can have all three without leaving my seat, you've made me a very happy man.
Watching a movie while having dinner or a beer in a restaurant setting isn't a new concept. Locally, the Arlington Cinema and Drafthouse has been combining brews and flicks for years. The AMC Mazza Gallerie's Club Cinema does the same thing with style -- as well as a hefty price tag. But what's impressive about Sterling Cinema Draft (21800 Town Center Plaza, Sterling; 703-484-8400) is its sheer scope.
In its former incarnation as the Town Center Cinemas, the building had three theaters showing second-run films. When owner Darl Rinehart and his partners took over in July 2001, they knocked down the interior walls to create one huge space, while leaving the three screens and their projection booths intact. The changes gave the room two levels of terraced seating, with tables spaced to provide clear views, and a 40-foot bar along the rear wall. Now, on weekends, Sterling Cinema Draft shows the same second-run film on all three of the 16-by-25-foot screens, giving all patrons -- whether seated at a table, a couch or in the bar area -- a chance to watch without craning their necks. (During the week, smaller crowds mean the theater only uses the central screen.)
Sterling Cinema Draft's primary attraction, of course, is that food, a full bar and table service are available during the film. You order the food before the movie starts, and it arrives about 15 to 20 minutes into the movie (longer if it's crowded). Waitresses stop by at regular intervals -- as unobtrusively as possible -- to see if you need another frosty mug of Old Dominion's Black and Tan, a gin and tonic, glass of wine or a soft drink. The menu is full of your standard bar food, featuring burgers, Philly cheese steaks, personal pizzas and the like, although it includes more upscale items such as chicken marsala and strip steak.
If you arrive early (or want to hang out after the film), you can have appetizers and drinks in the mezzanine-level Hollywood Cafe, a drab little space with tables, couches, televisions and a bar. For something more fun, head down a flight of stairs to the theater level, where a game room is stocked with pool and air hockey tables and arcade machines. You'll find the usual driving and skiing simulators there, but my eyes were drawn to a series of classic video games: Donkey Kong, Asteroids, Defender and Dig Dug. Surprisingly -- or maybe not -- Rinehart says the vintage games have proved the most popular with customers.
This is also the only room where smoking is allowed, so audio from the film is usually piped in here (and the restrooms). "If someone gets up to have a cigarette or go to the bathroom, they don't want to miss what's going on in the movie," Rinehart explains.
The best time to visit is early in the week. All movies are free on Mondays, and on Tuesdays both admission (usually $3.50) and appetizers are two-for-one. Happy hour runs from 4 to 7 daily -- perfect for the afternoon feature, which generally starts between 6 and 6:45. No tickets are sold in advance, but, Rinehart says, "Groups of eight or more should call ahead, and we'll make sure we can put everyone together."
In the past couple of months, Sterling Cinema Draft has expanded beyond movies, hosting local bands such as Gonzo's Nose, a retro '80s dance party, comedians and a magician. When movies aren't being shown, the screens are used as TVs. For events with DJs or live music, tables and chairs are moved off the floor, and music videos are shown on the screens. "We'll try to do different things once a month, as long as they don't interfere with the movie schedule," Rinehart says.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Sterling Cinema Draft is throwing a huge football viewing party, with the game projected on all three movie screens as well as the building's other TVs. Doors open at noon, and the theater opens at 3, with the game starting at 6. The afternoon features a taping of Comcast Cable's "Just Another Sports Show" program, with trivia contests, games and more entertainment before kickoff. Seating is limited to 285, so early arrival is suggested.
MORE SUPER BOWL PARTIES
Another year, another Super Bowl without the Redskins. But there's no reason to stay home and mope, especially when so many area venues -- including movie theaters, a church and sports bars -- are throwing viewing parties for the biggest football game of the season.
Broadfording Bible Brethren Church -- For an alternative to sports bars, head for Hagerstown's Broadfording Bible Brethren Church, where you can watch the Super Bowl from a front-row pew. There's a pregame sermon, followed by a potluck buffet. Just before kickoff, a big-screen TV replaces the pulpit. No alcohol is allowed at this party, and commercials are subject to muting if they're objectionable. 13523 Broadfording Church Rd., Hagerstown. 301-797-8886.
Champps Americana Reston -- While the bar at Champps is open as usual, the real attraction will be the "VIP section" on the bar's glassed-in patio. Admission is $50, but it includes an all-you-can-eat buffet with prime rib and turkey in addition to the usual chicken fingers and mozzarella sticks. VIPs also have separate 62-inch TV screens. There's a door prize of a La-Z-Boy recliner -- perfect for any football fan -- and that's only part of it: The recliner is in a prime spot in front of Champps's TV. Also included is a $100 drink tab, a personal server for the game and home delivery of the chair that evening. Only 53 tickets are available for the VIP section, and reservations are required. 11694 Plaza America Dr., Reston. 703-318-7600.
Crystal City Sports Pub -- Crystal City Sports Pub has 50 TV screens, including four large flat-screen monitors. They're not offering any specials for the Super Bowl, but you still have to call ahead to reserve a table. This requires a $25 deposit per person, which is deducted from the tab. 529 S. 23rd St., Arlington. 703-521-8215.
Dr. Dremo's -- Dr. Dremo's is showing the game on its 9-foot-by-12-foot projection screen. There's no cover, and specials include discounted beers and two-for-one wings. (For example, order a dozen and get 24.) If your team is losing, there are multiple pool tables to take your mind off football. 2001 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 703-528-4660.
ESPN Zone -- With more than 230 TVs -- including a video wall that has a 16-foot screen and six 36-inch screens -- ESPN Zone is always a great place to watch a game. The main bar area may be closed to the public on the day of the game (a decision is pending), but the restaurant level and the basement, which has dozens of interactive sports games, will be open on a first-come, first-served basis. You must spend $8 per person per hour in order to keep your table. 555 12th St. NW. 202-783-3776.
Grand Slam Sports Bar -- All 200 seats at the Grand Hyatt Hotel's sports bar are first come, first served. There are 27 TVs, 3 large screens and 2 plasma screens scattered throughout the room to make viewing easy. Representatives from Budweiser and Miller Lite will be on hand to give out door prizes, and the bar will offer beer specials. Want to guess which brands? There's a $10 cover charge at the door. 1000 H St. NW. 202-637-4789.
Grevey's -- One of the finest sports bars in Northern Virginia, Grevey's has 60 TVs and is packed for most major sporting events. True to form, there's no cover for the Super Bowl, and a number of beer and food specials will be available all day. Reservations are being taken for tables, but the bar area will be first come, first served on Sunday. 8130 Arlington Blvd., Falls Church. 703-560-8530.
Hard Rock Cafe (Learning Escapes) -- Attention available football fans: The Learning Escapes group is hosting a "singles only" Super Bowl party at the Hard Rock Cafe. They'll have multiple buffet stations (including hot dogs, nachos, wings and veggies) and a number of TVs in a private party room. Tickets are $36. Call 301-299-0941 for more information. 999 E St. NW. 202-737-7625.
Joe Theismann's Restaurant -- Joe Theismann was 1-1 in the Super Bowl as a starting quarterback for the Redskins, but his bar has a great atmosphere every January. All seats are first come, first served. An appetizer buffet with roasted pulled pork sandwiches, chicken and other appetizers will be available from 5 p.m. until halftime, and costs $14.95 per person. 1800 Diagonal Rd., Alexandria. 703-739-0777.
Jokes on Us Comedy Club -- A movie theater before it was a comedy club, Jokes on Us still has a 25-foot screen that it uses for major sporting events. Their Super Bowl party features hip-hop by DJ Celo, drink specials and more. Doors open at 4 p.m. 312 Main St., Laurel. 301-490-1993.
Lewie's -- The D.C. Society of Young Professionals is hosting its annual party at Lewie's, with a large-screen TV and a variety of drink, appetizer and entree specials. As the name suggests, this event usually attracts a good number of people under 35. Tickets are $12 at the door, or $10 if you e-mail your name to firstname.lastname@example.org by 4 p.m. on the day of the Super Bowl. Doors open at 6 p.m. 6845 Reed St., Bethesda. 301-652-1600.
Mister Days -- There will be plenty of burgundy and gold at this party, as six Washington Redskins cheerleaders will perform at Mister Days before the game and at halftime. Other incentives include more than 60 TVs (including several big screens), a free pregame buffet, food specials during the game and a list of door prizes; the best include Redskins tickets and Dewey Beach vacations. Tickets are being presold for $20, and the bar's capacity is limited to 289. 3100 Clarendon Blvd., Arlington. 703-527-1600.
MVP's Sports Bar -- The cozy Chinatown sports bar is keeping things low-key, although they're offering a free appetizer buffet and beer specials without a cover charge. There are 13 TV screens showing the action, and pool tables for the halftime break. 615 I St. NW. 202-682-3300.
Orange Ball Billiards and Cafe -- Former Redskin Gary Clark is the guest of honor at this party, giving his views on the game and signing autographs. Orange Ball has 44 TVs and one big screen for viewing the game, and 31 pool tables for after the final whistle. There's a $10 cover, which includes a buffet, half-price pool, drink specials and more. Doors open at 4. 430 Hungerford Dr., Rockville. 301-309-6440.
Ortanique -- Ortanique's 12-foot projection screen usually gives diners an up-close view of the restaurant's massive fish tank. On Sunday, it will be showing the Super Bowl. Tickets are $50, which includes an open buffet and several of the bar's draft beers. Doors open at 5, and reservations are recommended. 730 11th St. NW. 202-393-0975.
The State Theatre -- Before it became one of Northern Virginia's best music venues, the State Theatre was a popular movie house. During the NFL season, the bar shows games on its 24-foot screen, serving up discounted food and drinks with no cover charge. That's the game plan for the Super Bowl, with half-price drinks, cheap appetizers and various $1 specials. Doors open at 4. 220 N. Washington St., Falls Church. 703-237-0300.
Stetson's -- Stetson's is showing the game on its giant 92-inch screen as well as four other TVs in the bar. There's no cover, and all drinks -- beer, cocktails and wine -- are $3.75 all day. 1610 U St. NW. 202-667-6295.
Strike Bethesda -- Strike Bethesda is throwing a tailgate party, with plenty of pregame specials. From 4 until kickoff, an appetizer buffet and open bar are available for a $25 cover. During the game, the action will be shown on the seven large video screens that hang over the 34 bowling lanes, and bowling costs $3 per person, per game. An appetizer buffet will be available until the final whistle. At halftime, five people will be chosen to bowl for a $250 cash prize -- they only need to bowl three strikes in a row. 5353 Westbard Ave., Bethesda. 301-652-0955.
Tom Tom -- Tom Tom has seven large TVs on its two levels, and game-day specials include $3 beers and a free buffet. Admission is free, and doors open at 11 a.m. 2335 18th St. NW. 202-518-6667.
Visions Cinema -- If you want to watch the big game on a big screen, head to Visions Cinema, where they'll be showing the Super Bowl in the movie theater as well as the Bistro Lounge. There's no cover, and they're offering beers for $2 per pint and $8 per pitcher, as well as serving popcorn and nachos. 1927 Florida Ave. NW. 202-667-0090.