May 14, 2008 | New Orleans

by Shawn Plep

Last Friday, my wife and I went to the Prytania Theatre to see Iron Man. It was an exceptional movie: if you haven't seen this film yet, you simply must. There's hardly anything more satisfying than seeing Iron Man greet a group of terrorists by shooting thirty feet of fire at them. (The only thing that would've come close would have been replacing the terrorists with oil-company executives.) But this isn't meant to be a review of Iron Man. What I really want to talk about is the venue where I saw this movie.

The singular atmosphere of the Prytania Theatre itself is half of the experience. I go to a few different theaters, depending on what's playing when, but my first choice is always the Prytania. There are a few reasons for this:

  • Its patrons are cool. The people who show up at the Prytania can be an interesting lot. You'll see hipsters, elderly couples, teenagers on dates, a dreadlocked guy who looks like a poet, a big sister bringing her 12-year-old brother, young families…everyone. It's a pleasant group of people, even on a Friday night. The Prytania has a mellow, friendly vibe (largely due to the people in attendance).
  • It's old-school. I imagine movie theaters in the past had much of the same atmosphere as the Prytania: more welcoming and personal. The staff is more personable (could they actually be happy working there?) and they don't make me feel bad for bothering them when I want butter on my popcorn. I love the fact that the Prytania has some history behind it – it's been around since 1915! And the advertising trailers they show before the feature (“Let's all go to the lobby… to get ourselves a treat!“) are from the 1950's. That's why I think this place is the bees knees.
  • It's a local institution. Whenever I can help it, I make sure I stick it to The Man and I try to support the underdog. In this case, the Prytania is the little guy who I want to support (as opposed to the big corporate movie theater chains). Sure, the Prytania has only one screen and there's only one movie to pick from. Yeah, it might not have arena seating. I know – there's no video arcade. And I can't buy my tickets from a machine that swipes my credit card…or order tickets over the internet. But so what? The Prytania is a local business with some soul to it – and I want it to be here forever. I feel good about supporting New Orleans businesses (no, institutions) like this one. At what other theater in the city does the owner hang out in the lobby?

I've seen a few movies at the Prytania, and I always had fun. (Even when the movie was mediocre!) Maybe it was the people-watching. Maybe it was the person I was with. Maybe it was the fact that I was there on a pleasant New Orleans evening. I don't know for sure. But I'd like to think that at least part of the fun was that the theater itself had a lot of charm and old-time character – and seeing a movie there was an experience available no where else in New Orleans.