Nearly six decades ago, the Drifters had a hit with the song “Up on the Roof,” a celebration of a cityscape as seen from a rooftop aerie. Of course, songwriters Gerry Goffin and Carole King were in a New York, not Houston, state of mind when they penned that classic but its spirit is evoked in the Rooftop Cinema Club, the London-based mini-chain of open-air movie theaters that opened its first Texas location this week atop the garage of the BLVD. Place development in Uptown.
The idea is pretty simple: Show classic films outdoors at night but, unlike a drive-in, you’re not cocooned in a metal container.
Yes, there are many other outdoor screenings in parks or on beaches but the Rooftop Cinema Club experience is meant to be an upscale, urban one. It’s a place, in the case of the Houston location, where you can savor the sparkling lights of the Post Oak Boulevard corridor while enjoying the film and then pop down to Whole Foods on the first floor to stock up on kale and coconut water on your way home.
Certainly, on that basic level, the fifth-floor Rooftop Cinema Club delivers what it promises. The views may not be Manhattan spectacular but they are impressive nonetheless.
For last Tuesday’s media-night opening, the film unspooling was “Dirty Dancing” — a bit of a disappointment for those of us who wanted to see the originally scheduled “Reality Bites,” which had the added benefit of being shot in Houston. (Granted, “Dirty Dancing” star Patrick Swayze is from Houston but still … .)
The 200 reclining deckchair-style seats are comfortable, though a bit low for those who might have trouble getting up and down. Also, as the roof is a flat surface, just pray that the person in front of you isn’t wearing tall headgear. Also be aware that restrooms are down on the third level so it’s advisable not to wait until the last minute.
The projection was clear with no issues while, and, in what will be a novelty for those who’ve never been to a silent disco, the audio is provided through individual wireless headsets. Though founder Gerry Cottle Jr. says such headphones weren’t part of his original plan — not long before opening the first venue in London in 2011, the landlord said Cottle couldn’t use amplification — they turned into a boon.
“The first night I thought, ‘People are going to hate this’,” he said in an interview during Tuesday’s opening. “People finished at the end of the night and said, ‘I love ’em … I couldn’t hear the ambulance going by or the person rustling the sweet packet.’… Also, it’s something different from a normal cinema.”
Though, truth be told, as Rooftop Cinema is what Cottle calls “social cinema,” people will be up and walking around, maybe even Instagramming themselves against the skyline or the popcorn-box-shaped projection booth. That means, during a movie’s quiet moments, you might hear some background chatter, even with headphones. So those who demand the pure, Alamo Drafthouse “talk or text and die” philosophy to moviegoing should adjust their expectations accordingly.
Rooftop Cinema Club
When: 7:30 p.m. screenings (check website for dates)
Where: 1700 Post Oak Blvd., located on top of the BLVD. Place development. Theater is on the fifth level of the parking garage.
Details: $17 for a lounge seat; $20 for a lounge seat, plus bottomless popcorn; $24 for a love seat, plus bottomless popcorn; $12 for a child lounge seat; $25 for a child plus adult double seat;
Here’s a partial list of films showing at Rooftop Cinema Club. For the full schedule, go to rooftopcinemaclub.com/houston.
Thursday: “Reality Bites”
Friday: “Dazed and Confused”
Oct. 27: “2001: A Space Odyssey”
Nov. 3: “Leon: The Professional”
Nov. 7: “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
“We’re more like a film experience,” Cottle said. “It’s a place for people to come, socialize, have lots of fun, see their favorite movies and switch off from everyday life.”
In other words, Rooftop Cinema is geared less for the solo cinephile and more for a group looking for a casual night out, which is why the schedule is filled with classics that everyone has heard of.
“We never get complaints about people talking,” Cottle said. “We get people singing along and that’s great. It is social cinema. And we encourage it. What’s magical with the headphones is people do pop the ear off and say something to their friend, ‘Remember that scene?,’ and it doesn’t disturb someone else.”
As for being Instagram ready, Cottle, who was born into a British circus family, is all about it. “I wanted to combine my passion for events, with growing up in a circus, with my passion for film. … This was at the start of the Instagram generation and this is made for that,” he said. “You’re on a rooftop. You’re not in a dark box. … The main thing is if people are sitting there, don’t disturb (them). … People are welcome to take pictures as long as they don’t get in someone’s way.”
So how much is this going to set me back?
In the song “Up on the Roof,” the Drifters sing “At night, the stars, they put on a show for free” and while the stars remain free, Rooftop Cinema Club most definitely isn’t. Basic admission is $17 — $12 for children — and the concessions can get pricey.
Though a basic box of popcorn is $5, other eats go up from there. Cocktails — with such names as There Will Be Blood Orange and The Hills Have Ryes — cost $12 while beers and ciders, ranging from Lone Star to König, run from $4 to $6.
The good news is that the food is provided by Good Dog, the Houston chain of gourmet hot-dog purveyors, with a build-your-own dog going for $8 and any of the Good Dog classics — like the Guac-A-Dog and Banh Mi Dog — costing $9. If you’ve just won the lottery, you can opt for Gulf Shrimp Roll for $16 or the Cinema Deli Club for $13.
On the flip side, parking — which is plentiful — is free.
It might seem odd that Cottle, who has branched out with locations in Los Angeles, San Diego and New York City, chose Houston for his first U.S. location in the middle of the country. Next on his radar may be Miami and Dubai. But Cottle, now based in Los Angeles, said he was encouraged to check out Houston thanks to his general manager who is from the city. He came and liked what he saw.
“I’m learning more and more that it’s a diversified community, people here like to travel, and the demographics are suitable for what we do,” he said. “And, to be perfectly frank as well, I look at a lot of rooftops every year and this BLVD. Place, this sweeping view here, is just the perfect venue for us. It just felt right.”
But there’s that nagging little thing called Texas weather. If it’s raining lightly, staff will pass out ponchos. If it’s heavy weather, screenings will be canceled. But Cottle doesn’t see it as a major drawback.
“I’ve got a good experience with rain because I’m British,” he said. “Houstonians have a similar attitude that you get on with things, with the inclement weather.”
Besides, he likes the idea of getting one up on Houston’s inter-state rivals by choosing it over them.
“I’ve heard it’s great to beat Dallas and Austin,” he said with a laugh. “I really do love the city.”