Film buffs with high hopes for Space City’s brand new outdoor movie theater won’t be disappointed, judging by last night’s sneak preview. Moviegoers took the high ground at Rooftop Cinema Club, the revolutionary open-air theater atop BLVD Place, for a sunset showing of Dirty Dancing.
Everyone came in expecting to see Reality Bites. But in this case, the new reality was just what the audience ordered.
“Are you crazy for some Swayze? Are you ready for the time of your life?” Rooftop Cinema Club owner and founder Gerry Cottle Jr. asked the crowd. Cheers erupted.
The sky-high Rooftop Cinema officially opens tonight with another showing of Patrick Swayze and his swaying hips. It’s sold out, as are almost all the screenings in October. But don’t worry. November is fairly wide open.
Rooftop Cinema Club isn’t just the first of its kind in the Bayou City. “It’s the first venue in Texas. I hear it’s good to beat Austin and Dallas. Happy to help,” Cottle laughs.
You may be used to seeing aerial shots in films, but it’s an all-new experience to see aerial shots from the theater itself. Who knew city life could be so scenic? Rooftop Cinema Club isn’t about making you forget you’re in the urban sprawl — it’s about making you feel like one with it.
“It’s what makes what we do so magical. Being outside but being in a built up area. We like the idea of being somewhere you wouldn’t expect. I think that’s what people really like socializing and looking at the view before they sit down and watch their favorite movie,” Cottle says.
The spacious, airy theater makes for a perfect set itself — and the setting for infinite snaps and Instas.
It’s not just the giant screen set against the skyscrapers. It’s everything you take in the moment you get to the fifth floor of the building and first see the decked out parking garage roof. This is not your typical movie theater. This isn’t even your typical drive-in.
When you first step onto the rooftop’s Astroturf — some your everyday green and some bright pink — you see a beat-up purple pickup truck. Its truck bed has been transformed into a flowerbed, bursting with cacti, succulents and wildflowers.
Then it’s on to the colorful concessions stand, built on turquoise-painted cinderblocks. It’s absent of ICEEs but heavy on the hotdogs — Good Dogs, to be exact. The Texas-made franks that have earned a cult following in the Lone Star State are treating the cinema club setup as an official third location.
With pink, orange and blue painted walls, this rooftop Good Dog even offers a special cinema dog. It’s everything you’d expect and more.
“It is social cinema. We call ourselves social cinema, we’ve coined that term and we’re very proud of it,” Cottle says.
That’s clear from the infinite spots for social media documenting. “You’re on a rooftop, not a dark box. I love cinema, but you’re not going there to take pictures. We encourage that here,” Cotte says.
He’s pulled up a stool at one of the low picnic tables. They’re spread around by the concessions stand and even by the screen itself, sprinkled with succulent plants, Jenga and giant decks of UNO.
“I began at the start of the Instagram generation. This is made for that,” Cottle says.
The movie bar brings a massive menu of Texas craft beers and ciders and a cocktail menu inspired by classic movies. Think Black Hawk Down The Hatch with hatch chile-infused tequila, Citizen Sugar Kane with rose and lemon vodka, and There Will Be Blood Orange with blood orange liquer and ginger beer.
There’s a bit of nostalgia with the unassuming Box Office, painted purple with an old-school popcorn maker front and center. And, you know, Sour Patch Kids and M&Ms.
It’s all built so that you don’t see the screen until you weave between the Box Office and the projector, which is cleverly hidden in a giant popcorn box.
Then, it hits you full force. The towering screen, the bright buildings reflecting the pink-tinged clouds as the sun goes down. The 200 seats are low-slung, casual and comfy, almost like mini hammocks.
A Circus Escapee
This high-flying social cinema spectacle comes courtesy of a former high flier. “I ran away from the circus, which is quite funny. My father’s a famous circus owner, a wonderful man. I was a clown, I was a fire-breather. I was a bungee trapeze artist,” Cottle says.
“I had a choice between the circus world or the normal world, they call it. Just wanted to do my own thing, really. When I started Rooftop Cinema Club, I wanted to combine my passion for events, growing up in the circus, and my passion for film.”
He has the DVD collection to prove it, he says. “DVDs aren’t even around anymore. I’m showing my age,” he laughs. Cottle has developed extensive, evolving programming when it comes to the feature films.
“We want a program that speaks to people. We like new releases — but it’s a nostalgia here that I think people really enjoy,” he says.
“Film is about escapism. We’re more like a film experience. I want this to be a place to socialize, have a lot of fun, see some of their favorite movies and switch off from everyday life.”
That means making sure to have something for everyone, from thematic weekends — women, Texas, LGBT — to classic movies like Top Gun, Casablanca and Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
You can enjoy them all thanks to a novelty-turned-necessity: headphones.
“It’s funny. When I first started this, we — I’m not joking — two weeks before we were about to open, I’d bought all the chairs, and I’d quit my job. The owners of the bar that I did it in originally told me ‘We can’t do the amplification, you’ll have to do something else. We’re worried about the neighbors,’ ” Cottle says.
Some savvy research led to silent disco headphones. The first night, Cottle had convinced himself movie lovers would hate it. But his anxiety was short-lived.
“I quickly realized that with crisis often comes opportunity,” Cotte says. “People said they loved them. ‘This is great, I couldn’t hear the ambulance going by or the person next to me rustling a sweets packet. I hate that in the cinema!’ It extinguished all those annoyances.”
The headsets make for an immersive experience, but one where you can chat with a friend without disturbing any other moviegoers. “I think that what’s magical with the headphones is people do pop the ear off and say something to their friend, like oh do you remember that scene? You can’t do that in a regular cinema. That’s a big no-no,” Cottle says.
There are some considerations Cottle has to take to heart because of the unusual locale. “I like to think I have a good relationship with rain. I’m British, right? I think Houstonians have a similar attitude, you just go on with it.”
If it’s a light drizzle, the movie must go on. Rooftop Cinema Club will even pass out free ponchos. If it’s a downpour, they’ll just reschedule.
On good days, you settle into your seat with your headset. It’s $17 for a lounge seat, $20 for a lounge seat and bottomless popcorn, and $24 for a lounge seat for two and bottomless popcorn.
Last night, as the sun set, the temperature grew breezy.
“I thought the experience was really great. The atmosphere, being outdoors — it’s familiar but still new to Houston. I think it’s something really exciting that Houstonians are going to love,” moviegoer Meghan Lewis says.
“The place is beautiful. It’s so nice to watch a movie under the stars,” Kim Lee says. “We loved the experience because I don’t think it’s something that was offered in Houston before,” Reesa Rei notes.
Some popcorn-crazy movie goers credit it with being an elevated experience — literally and figuratively.
“I like the idea of it being outdoors. It kind of gives you an old-time vibe like a drive-in, but not because you get the chairs and everything. Plus you have really good food and a bar. It’s on a different level,” Sylvia Marquez says.
That’s right — it’s on the fifth floor, and it may just leave you floored. Get ready. The show’s about to start.