NYC: Nitehawk buys The Pavilion by Prospect Park, will open dine-in cinema fall 2017


The Nitehawk Cinema is an excellent dine-in movie theater, and one of the few reasons I still head to Williamsburg these days. With the Brooklyn Alamo Drafthouse currently in limbo, The Nitehawk is still my go-to destination if I would like a beer or cocktail while watching a cult or indie movie. With a second Nitehawk opening next year, I may not need to travel too far.

The Nitehawk has bought The Pavilion in Park Slope right next to Prospect Park, where it will open a second location. For a while it seemed as if The Pavilion would be torn down to make room for condos, but now it’ll be shut down for much-needed renovations and re-open as the Nitehawk Prospect Park in fall 2017.

According to a report in The New York Times, the new Nitehawk location will have seven screens, 650 seats, two bar areas, and an atrium overlooking Prospect Park. By comparison, The Pavilion currently has nine screens, lots of trash on the floor, a persistent urine smell, and probably lice, bed bugs, and rats.

Matthew Viragh, founder of the Nitehawk Cinema, told The Times, “We want to elevate the cinema experience, because that’s what it’s all about. How rare is it to save a theater in New York, and not make it into a Duane Reade or a Starbucks?”

Very rare. And yes, The Pavilion was in dire need of saving.

A Eulogy for The Pavilion

According to Cinema Treasures, The Pavilion first opened in 1908 as the Marathon Theater, where it looks to have housed vaudeville acts and stage shows. The space operated under the Marathon name until 1927. In 1928, the Marathon Theater reopened as the Sanders Theatre, which ran films until it closed in 1978. The Sanders building remained vacant for more than a decade. In 1996, The Sanders Theatre reopened under new management as The Pavilion, which has been in operation ever since.

As a 10-year New Yorker and someone who’s seen a few movies at The Pavilion, I can say with some confidence that it is one of the most awful movie theaters in Brooklyn. Nay, it may be one of the worst movie theaters in New York City.

The seats are ripped and stained. The theaters themselves are in awful states of disrepair. The second floor reeks from the unkempt restrooms. There’s trash all over the theater floors, usually popcorn or bags of chips, and the occasional greasy white bag and paper plates from a pizza place down the block. The staff never seemed to project movies properly on some of the screens–too dark, not centered, too large for the screen dimensions, and sometimes cropped at the top and bottom. One of the theaters is pitch black between films because the employees don’t replace the light bulbs.

Going to The Pavilion is like watching a movie in the world of The Warriors or Escape from New York; it’s like stepping into a Times Square grindhouse in the 1970s except it’s playing Zootopia. On the note of Zootopia, I saw it at The Pavilion, and I feared that at some point during the movie I would be attacked by a family of rabid raccoons that lived in the theater.

Yet it was a place in the neighborhood, and it holds memories, and there’s an odd comfort to it just like an old sweater. An old, bed bug-ridden, smelly, uncomfortable sweater.

I’m glad The Pavilion is dead and will be reborn as something better. Nitehawk Prospect Park will respect the films being shown and, more importantly, it will respect the space it’s occupying. There’s more than a century of history on that corner, and it’ll be preserved rather than torn down and forgotten. What a rare thing, and beautiful, too.

[via The New York Times]
Hubert Vigilla
Brooklyn-based fiction writer, film critic, and long-time editor and contributor for Flixist. A booster of all things passionate and idiosyncratic.