Screen Test

We compare the full filmgoing experience at each of Baltimore's theaters

December 23, 2007|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,Sun Reporter

In terms of sheer size and number of screens, Baltimore's movie theaters may never compare with the huge, anonymous multiplexes of the suburbs.

But the city's theaters are known for their character, intimacy and smart film offerings.

The decor is clean but looks old and tired. But though it was built more than 65 years ago, the Senator is still one of the city's cinematic gems. From the paintings on display in the lobby to the sidewalk -- Baltimore's version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame -- you won't find that anywhere else. - Grade: A-

Before the show

The Charles: Parking is available in a garage across from the theater and sometimes on Charles Street, too. Tapas Teatro is connected to the theater, and you can get a drink before the movie and sit in the lobby with it. Grade: B

The Landmark: High-end boutiques and restaurants abound in the up-and-coming Harbor East neighborhood. Street parking is scarce, and though cheap, the garage parking is poorly marked. Grade: B-

The Rotunda: Though the shopping complex has some stores and galleries, many of the stalls are vacant. One plus: The theater is surrounded by free parking. Grade: C

The Senator: Nearby Belvedere Square has a number of restaurants and shops. Plenty of free parking is available at a Staples and an unpaved lot across the street from the theater. Grade: A

Food

The Charles: This is the only theater in the city where you can apply butter flavoring yourself. The Charles also has candy and ice cream bars, but little more in the way of snacks. Service is efficient and quick. Grade: B+

The Landmark: Though the service is a little lacking, the concession stand has a wide selection for a movie theater, including soft pretzels, personal pizzas, crab balls and standards such as popcorn and candy. All were tasty, and easy to eat in the seat. Grade: A-

The Rotunda: The popcorn is fresh-popped and the service is on-point. There is candy, but no nachos or other suburban theater staples. Stewart's sodas are also available at the stand. Grade: B+

The Senator: Here, the concession stand staff is sharp and friendly and can drizzle creamery butter on top of your popcorn to taste. Similar to the Rotunda, the menu is limited. Grade: B+

The in-theater experience

The Charles: A couple of movie previews play before the main attraction - and sometimes a hilarious vintage John Waters clip. The picture quality can be fuzzy, but the sound quality is solid. Though nonreclining, the seats are comfortable. All theaters except the main auditorium have stadium seating. Grade: B

The Landmark: Each auditorium has stadium seating with clean, cushy high-backed leather chairs and fold-up arm rests. The cup holders accommodate a soda or a martini glass. The picture quality was crisp, but the theater still has some lighting issues to work out. Expect about 15 minutes of commercials and previews before the film. Grade: A-

The Rotunda: A few previews run before the main flick. The auditorium seats are comfortable and the arm rests fold up. Picture and sound quality are decent. Grade: B

The Senator: Owner Tom Kiefaber usually gives a greeting before the show starts. The single huge screen bears a rich picture, and the speakers are loud enough to fill the large theater. The old seats are springy and squeaky but are not too uncomfortable. Grade: B+

Prices

The Charles: Two dollars for parking, $8 for an adult ticket, $4 for a medium popcorn and $3 for a medium soda. Does not accept credit cards, but the theater has an unusual in-house ATM that can be confusing for customers. Total for two: $28

The Landmark: Three dollars for parking, $9.50 for an adult ticket, $5 for a medium popcorn and $4.25 for a medium soda. Accepts credit cards and travelers checks. Total for two: $35.50

The Rotunda: Free parking, $8 for an adult ticket, $4.50 for a medium popcorn, $2.50 for a medium soda. Does not accept credit cards. Total for two: $25.50

The Senator: Free parking, $9 for an adult ticket, $5 for a medium popcorn and $4 for a medium soft drink. Does not accept credit cards. Total for two: $31

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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