Among the sweetest of the bourgeois forbidden fruits is the playing-hooky-from-work movie matinee. Let me paint the picture: While recovering from a “bad cold,” you’ve called into your job the night before (not that we would know anything about that) and set your out-of-office to Wednesday. After a leisurely 11 a.m. wake-up call, you’ve got the whole day spread out before you. What better way to waste it than with an afternoon film?
But—and stay with me here—what would happen if the sweet treat of midday movie watching collided with a Gymboree? That’s the conundrum I found myself facing as I stood at the door of Nitehawk Cinema, just outside Prospect Park, girding myself to watch an Oscar nominee amid an audience of infants.
I began to worry: Would I even be welcome if I didn’t BYOBaby?
Nitehawk was among the first and most successful of New York’s dine-in theaters. Started in 2011, its Williamsburg location became a hot spot for savvy and time-conscious New Yorkers (you can knock out a movie, dinner, and drinks at one sitting!). Its curation of repertory art films and thoughtful first-run dramas alongside big-screen blockbusters make it a space for movie lovers of all stripes. So I rejoiced when I heard that the theater was moving into a second location, just off the F/G Prospect Park West subway stop, supplanting the infamous (and perhaps unjustly so), run-down Pavilion Theater. Now I had the perfect sick-day excuse to visit, with the intent of catching the new work from Moonlight director Barry Jenkins, If Beale Street Could Talk. There was just one catch: the babies.
While you are in the neighborhood, grab a bite and a drink!
You see, Nitehawk knows and loves the busy, culture-hungry Park Slope residents who are its demographic audience, and it knows there’s nothing that those Brooklynites—especially the parents among them—treasure more than easy access to culture without judgment. That’s why the theater runs a weekly Hawks With Babies program every Tuesday afternoon at both locations, to invite patrons with children to appreciate top-notch cinema. Will there be crying? Almost certainly, but at least now parents won’t have to deal with the staunch evil eye of incensed filmgoers. That’s good news for those with youngsters and a need to get out of the house, but did I really want to expose myself to the risk of watching a film punctuated by children’s wails?
Except for the occasional bit of cooing or babbling, I could easily forget I was nestled inside a veritable nursery.
Curiosity having got the better of me, I began to worry: Would I even be welcome if I didn’t BYOBaby? As it happens, it was no problem at all. Sure, my ticket-taker, my waitress, my busboy, and my second waitress all made sure to remind me in the most friendly (and somewhat confused) way that I was going to be in a kid-friendly space, but otherwise I encountered no resistance.
Beale Street was showing in Nitehawk’s largest theater, which gave the many parents there opportunity to set up discrete bivouacs across the audience. Wide chairs provided room for car seats, and well-lit, broad aisles meant that if a bathroom break was needed, the parents could navigate their way out safely and easily. As the film started, I was immediately struck by how oddly quiet the room was; except for the occasional bit of cooing or babbling, I could easily forget I was nestled inside a veritable nursery.
Presumably as a nod to letting sleeping tykes lie, the theater’s soundtrack through both the previews and the film was muted, not so much as to make it difficult to hear, but notably quieter than the average booming multiplex. By the time my food and rum-spiked coffee milkshake arrived, I had already forgotten that this screening was something of a dare.
Yes, as the film ran on, there was the inevitable screaming jag or two as a youngster reached the end of his patience, but responsible parents tended to escort the noisemakers out of the theater fairly quickly. Truth be told, there was something deeply freeing about being at a public movie where you could check your phone for texts without worrying about being yelled at. No one is likely to shush you at the baby show.
In the end, though I’m surprised to say it, the screening was actually more comfortable, quieter, and more enjoyable than any number I’ve been to over the years. If you’re a parent, these weekly shows are a no-brainer, but even if the closest you’ve gotten to parenting is Pokémon Go, you’re likely to still have a great time among the diaper dandies at Nitehawk’s baby matinees.
Hawks With Babies Matinees
188 Prospect Park West, Prospect Park; 136 Metropolitan Avenue, Williamsburg
Every Tuesday afternoon
$13 for adults, free for babies (stroller parking available)