To be fair, it’s not like Nitehawk Cinema, Williamsburg’s original movie and dining experience, wasn’t already a mainstay for good drinks and food. After all, this is the cinema that brought us heightened movie concessions (truffle popcorn, anyone?) and worthy-on-their-own burgers, cheese plates, and flatbreads. Now, with a revamp of the cinema’s downstairs bar, officially called Lo-Res, Nitehawk’s team hopes to become part of the evolving nightlife scene on Metropolitan Avenue. “We want this to really feel more like a local neighborhood bar,” said the founder of Nitehawk, Matthew Viragh.
But really, Lo-Res is just another excuse to show off the enviable film programming of Nitehawk–this time in the form of VHS. That’s right, the dusty VHS tapes your parents used to record Muppet Christmas specials and old Saturday Night Live episodes are on constant loop on the two old-school TVs hidden in Lo-Res’ corners (no modern flat-screens here). The inspiration came from John Woods, one of the three Nitehawk programmers, and his giant VHS collection, officially dubbed “the VHS Vault.” No one has quite the memory or prowess of VHS tapes more so than Woods; he was one of the owners of the Reel Life video store on Bedford Avenue, before it closed in 2008. Who better to curate the weird nostalgia of VHS tapes better than Woods?
And we’re not just talking just dusty VHS tapes of the Titanic (perhaps my most nostalgic VHS, because it came on two tapes!)–we’re talking thousands upon thousands of hours of TV clips, old recordings, and forgotten moves from the 80s and 90s that never quite made it to DVD. “There’s a lot of weird stuff, old TV recordings,” Woods said. “Like, old Jerry Springer specials, old C-Span specials. It’s stuff that would have never made it to DVD today.” (A particular favorite stands out for Viragh: a Jerry Springer special, before the height of Jerry Springer fame, of conjoined-at-the-heads twins wearing cowboy hats. That’s an image that won’t quite escape memory just yet.)
Woods and the rest of Nitehawk’s programmers, Max Cavanaugh and Caryn Coleman, went to work digitizing the collection of VHS tapes to play in Lo-Res, sure to make for more interesting conversation topics than your typical bar talk. And seriously, the “vault” is ginormous. Expect a running loop of Back To the Future, Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde, Hulk Hogan – The Missing Matches, and Sailor Moon episodes, interspersed with a running miscellaneous category of HBO specials, music videos, 90s NCAA basketball games, kung fu specials, and the classic Saturday morning cartoons. This is watching your childhood on repeat–just at bar, with a drink in hand.
While the full menu at the cinema won’t be offered in the bar downstairs, the same ideas carry over into Lo-Res collection of bar eats and drinks. Yes, that same addictive Nitehawk popcorn graces the tables in small wooden bowls (it goes too fast), and you can still get those cheese plates and tapas-style small plates at Lo-Res. But also, booze galore: a giant whiskey list (with special appearances from local breweries, like Hudson New York Corn and Breuckelen 77 New York Wheat) and digestif list make Lo-Res the perfect stopping point for a nitecap. Same goes for the cocktail list: stick around for the Audrey Two cocktail, made with lavender-infused Dorothy Parker Gin from New York Distilling Company, St. Germain, lemon juice, and honey syrup.
On a brisk night that’s just warm enough to sip on a beer on its outside patio, the bar was packed with a new crowd–fewer movie-goers, more beer drinkers. Not that that’s a bad thing: most patrons could agree that they didn’t even know that Nitehawk had a bar downstairs. Viragh and the rest of the Nitehawk team hopes to change that. “We want this to be a bar you’d come to before or after a movie, or just on another Saturday night,” said Viragh.
Nitehawk Cinema and Lo-Res, 136 Metropolitan Ave; Williamsburg