At ArcLight, cinema with a chaser

Special to The Times

Stationed behind the brushed steel and crimson wood bar at Hollywood’s ArcLight Cinemas cafe -- one of only a handful of movie theater cocktail lounges in the country -- bartender Erik Contreras commands the intersection of two cherished pastimes for Americans over age 21: drinking and seeing films.

In addition to pouring drinks for ticket holders before and after showings, the barkeep keeps the libations flowing during what ArcLight calls its “21+” screenings.

To hear him tell it, business is booming. And despite the movie industry’s deep slump, in which ticket sales have come up short for 18 consecutive weeks compared to last year’s receipt tally -- the worst decline in four decades -- 2005 is shaping up as a banner year for ArcLight at the box office and the beer tap.


“People are staying home more, watching movies on their plasma screens,” said Contreras, 26, who has worked at ArcLight since it opened in 2002. “And at home you can drink your face off. Why go to a theater? Here, you have all the amenities of home in a beautiful environment.”

Still, movies and booze can make for strange bedfellows.

On “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith’s” first day in release, the bartender recalls a squadron of fans costumed as the film’s storm troopers crowding the bar.

The 501st Regiment, as they call themselves, spent May 19 herding fans who had lined up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theatre, in misguided anticipation of “Star Wars” opening there, over to the ArcLight, where it was showing.

When their work was done, and some 12,000 filmgoers had cycled through the theater complex, a cluster of storm troopers doffed helmets to tip back pints.

“They needed a beer,” Contreras said. “It was a hot day.”

The bar’s primary clientele, however, tends more toward plugged-in cineastes and showbiz denizens. For Contreras, an aspiring actor who sees almost every film the complex shows, their conversations serve as a kind of Hollywood master class.

“You hear people talking about the usual stuff, but mostly it’s just about the movies,” he said. “Scripts in development, things coming out.


“And people want advice. ‘Have you seen “Crash”? Is it any good?’ ”

Typical summer fare hasn’t translated into big bar tabs. “Mr. & Mrs. Smith” prompted healthy vodka martini sales (fans “come out of the movie and want to feel sophisticated,” he explained) and “Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants” has hardly moved any alcoholic beverages. Turns out that horror flicks like “Shaun of the Dead” -- and an indie film about a heavy metal band -- have yielded the hardest-drinking fans.

“ ‘Metallica: Some Kind of Monster’ -- that was a real shots-and-beers kind of crowd,” said Robert Brugeman, a marketing manager at the ArcLight.

“Chick flicks” are also a surprise revenue generator for the bar. “We have a lot of people -- let’s say their fiancee-girlfriend-wife is dragging them to see a movie,” said Contreras. “They’ll come out, do a shot and go back in.”

Despite the ready availability of “adult beverages,” movies remain the theater complex’s escapist fare of choice.

And to fans potentially put off by the idea of stadiums reeking of beer and bourbon, he points out that moviegoers who drink in the theater seldom spill their drinks.

“This is Hollywood,” Contreras said. “It’s a pretty civilized crowd.”