Reporting Jonathon Sharp
Nothing says Uptown quite like the Uptown Theatre, which has been part of the lifeblood of Hennepin Avenue since the early years of last century.
Perhaps the main reason the theater signifies the area is because the letters U-P-T-O-W-N shine vertically on the building’s marquee. And now, after six months of renovation totaling some $2 million, that landmark marquee will be punctuated with a massive, luminous exclamation point.
The spotlight, which beamed from the top of the marquee 35 years ago, will shine again soon, according to Lauren Kleiman, of Landmark Theatres. Visible up to six miles in all directions, it will add a dash of light to the skyline, and perhaps signal a new era for the tattered and soda-sticky cinema of recent memory.
“The beacon will call you to the theater,” Kleiman said.
The renovations, which Mark Rosen previewed Wednesday, covered everything from concessions to toilets; but the most promising changes focused on the movie-going experience. It may seem counterintuitive, but the Uptown downsized considerably. From some 900 seats to 350 seats, the all-reserve theater puts priority on viewing pleasure. The main part of the theater holds 250 faux-leather seats ($10) with enough legroom to allow a 6-foot-tall moviegoer to stay comfortably seated as other moviegoers pass in front. On the VIP balcony, there are about 100 seats ($12), including sofas. The movie screen, which is still perched upon a stage, is 40 percent larger and holds images cast from a top-of-the-line Barco 4K digital projector. It’s worth seeing, really.
And although it’s unsettling to see the passing of the “film” medium, digital projection has its conveniences. Bobby Parry, Landmark’s chief engineer, said the Uptown’s Barco machine is the finest digital projector available and that its “pictures look like paintings.” Gone are the days of films coming in cans, now trailers come on USB sticks and features come in large rectangular cartridges resembling something one stuck into a Sega Genesis.
And for those who grew up on the Genesis – and are now probably older than 21 – alcohol is now an option. The Uptown features local beers (Grainbelt, Fulton, Summit), wines and cocktails, including a signature Uptown gin ricky, which was designed by Landmark’s bartending team. The theater has two bars and also offers regular movie snacks, among more interesting items – such as made-to-order pizzas, sweet potato tater tots and vegan cookies.
To offer such things, the Uptown had to grow its staff. According to Kleiman, the Uptown is going from a staff of 8 to one of 25. Bartenders, among others, account for the added workers.
To begin its revamped life, the Uptown is showing Sleepwalk with Me, which WCCO.com blogger Eric Henderson should review shortly. Ira Glass, who served as a co-producer and screenwriter on the film, will be at the movie’s screenings both Saturday and Sunday. Fans of “This American Life” shouldn’t miss it. On that note: tickets for the theater’s first week of showings are going quickly, Landmark says, but it is possible to still revere them online.
On Sept. 21, The Masters will play. It stars Joaquin Phoenix and is one of those award-season kickoff movies, just the kind to watch with a cocktail, or beer, after having a few hours cut out by lure of light over Hennepin Avenue.