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Parkway Theater revamps ‘dinner and a movie’

Dinner and a movie is a classic combination, but Oakland’s only “speakeasy theater,” the Parkway Theater, revamps the combination.

A speakeasy theater is a movie complex where visitors can have food delivered straight to their lounge chairs or loveseats and watch second run movies, said Will “The Thrill” Viharo, publicist and programmer for the Parkway Theater.

“It’s kind of like a big living room,” said Senior Evelyn Rodas. “You’re more likely to strike up a conversation there than you would with other moviegoers at a regular cinema.”

While the concession stand does offer the usual suspects of popcorn and snack food, the Parkway Menu also lists dinner items like pizza and salads and even features an open beer tap.

Described by the Speakeasy Theater’s Web site as being “the anti-multiplex,” the Parkway boasts two screening rooms offering a variety of movies that include recent blockbusters, cult classics and local films not shown anywhere else.

“Our playbill reflects the colorful nature of our loyal audience, whose tastes are wide and varied,” said Viharo.

Occasionally, the audience’s tastes for food are combined with their film tastes on theme nights, like spaghetti for Italian studio-made “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” and peanut butter sandwiches for Elvis Presley films because this was his favorite food, Viharo said.

Theme nights listed in the weekly Parkway film schedule include 2 For 1 Wednesdays, where two people gain admission for the price of one, and Baby Brigade Mondays, where adults with small children can watch a movie with other parents.

“Nobody will roll their eyes and throw popcorn at you when a kid ruins a critical scene by talking, laughing, [or] crying,” Rodas said about Baby Brigade.

But here at the Parkway, not every child counts. The Speakeasy Theaters Web site says, “If he or she can walk and talk, they must be 21 years of age to get in the door.”

Because of the open beer tap, all but Saturday Matinees, Sunday Family Nights and Saturday night showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show are closed to anyone under the age of 21.

“All I remember is seeing the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and the culture shock outweighed the theater,” said junior Miriam Sidney, who described her one and only visit to the Parkway Theater in the summer of 2002.

Sidney said she was surprised by the goth garb worn by the audience and the movie reenactments and jokes provided by theater employees and audience members alike as the movie played.

Most of the cult classic films are played on Thursday Nights during the Parkway’s Thrillville Program. Viharo, whose nickname comes from his hosting Thrillville, describes the evening as a “cult movie cabaret, celebrating vintage postwar pop culture, featuring drive-in/grindhouse flicks circa 1950s-1970s.” “The Thrill” hosts the evening with his wife, Monica “The Tiki Goddess” Cortes, so named for her husband’s fetish.

Viharo said that the Parkway is a popular date destination and place to meet available people.

“It’s also a fun place just to just kick back and let off some steam after a long week hitting the books,” he added.

General admission for the Parkway Theater is $5 or $3 for a matinee while special events like Thrillville or local film festivals begin at $6, and cash or movie passes (available for purchase at the theater) are the only accepted currency.

The Parkway Theater is located on 1834 Park Blvd. by Lake Merritt, and weekday shows begin at 6:30 p.m. and end with the 9:45 p.m. program. Shows on Saturday begin at 3 p.m., concluding with the Rocky Horror Picture Show at midnight. First shows on Sundays are at 2 p.m. with the last show at 8:45 p.m. For more information, visit