Inside "New" Highland Park Village Theater

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I took the boy to the Highland Park Village Barber Shop this morning, following a particularly cruel trick played on him yesterday at Superchops. Afterward, we came downstairs and ran into original Fearing's manager Justin Beam, one of the Twomey Concepts-uals behind the cinema, which shuttered in August '09 for a $5-million-dollar rehab. Beam, who was busy putting letters on the marquee, invited us inside to poke around following the reopening 11 days ago.

For those who've forgotten what a groovy, frayed vestige the 75-year-old mutiplex had become, the theater's website still has plenty of old photos. Now it's shiny and warm -- retro, but classy rather than kitschy. And it has at present a long, wood-lined bar with another forthcoming by spring -- the long-planned patio perched on the marquee that was torn out and replaced during the closure.

The four auditoriums remain, though two are significantly smaller, as you can see from the photos above. One has 16 leather seats; the other, 12. Right now, they're being use mostly for rentals, but they'll be used as overflow theaters when screenings in the other larger theaters sell out. The other two theaters -- which are presently screening Tron: Legacy 3D and Little Fockers -- have been significantly upgraded. The biggest, which is the only 3D-capable auditorium at the moment, has 184 leather seats; the smaller, 96. And, as befitting so much spent on so few screens, it's all top-o-the-line tech.

"Fingers crossed," says Beam, Top Chef Tre Wilcox's long-ago-announced Marquee Grill will open March 11 -- that was the date set just today, matter of fact. At which point the patio bar will also open. And once the restaurant's open, Beam says, they'll cater gatherings in the small theaters. "And the concessions will change then too: They'll be making the pastries and cupcakes and desserts in-house," says Beam, "so it's super-fresh." (You'll be able to access the eatery from inside or outside the theater.)

Beam says the theater hasn't been jam-packed since its opening December 18; after all, he says, that was a "soft opening," and only this week has the place taken on the look of a finished product. But slowly, surely the moviegoers have returned -- especially the long-timers who've been anxously awaiting the Village Theater's reopening.

"This isn't our movie theater," says Beam ."This theater belongs to the people who live around here, who've always made this their movie theater. There are 60-, 70-year-old people who've been coming here since they were kids.

"We're a first-run theater. We'll do some art-house stuff, but we want the big box-office movies for sure. And we'll be a date-night place, especially once Marquee opens. That's a big draw. Let's be honest; We've invested in the fact there's a not a bar scene in Highland Park Village. We want to change that. And we'll cater to families too. I don't think we'll show a bunch of R-rated movies. We may do it in the smaller theater, but that won't work here."

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