Let’s Go Out to the Movies

People have loved going to the movies ever since silent movies premiered, at a time when Chicago was Hollywood…before there was a Hollywood.

Essanay studios dominated the industry, in part due to its relationship with actor Charlie Chaplin. It was located in the heart of Chicago’s Uptown neighborhood on Argyle Street, west of Broadway.

Once talkies entered the fray, ornate movie palaces sprouted up all over the city, many of them grand like the Uptown, the Tivoli, the Paradise, the Lawndale and the Ramova.

Some of these old classic movie houses still exist. Some have been modernized and renovated, some still show actual film (versus digital) movies and some show cult classics and do a variety of events and film festivals.

For our latest edition of The Local, we explored a few of these great movie houses: the Music Box in Lakeview, the Patio and its sister theater, the Portage, on the city’s Northwest Side, and the York in Elmhurst. Each theater opened in the 1920s and they all still hold charm and offer much character.

The Music Box, in Chicago’s Southport Corridor, is one of the most beloved theaters in the country, with its twinkling ceiling, always-fresh popcorn and collection of classic, foreign and art house movies. The Patio makes your jaw drop as you enter its beautiful Spanish-style lobby before walking into the expansive 1500-seat theater with its original pipe organ still holding court in front of the massive screen. These days, the Patio, on the western edge of Portage Park, hosts an array of independent movie premieres and cult film festivals. Down Irving Park Road, the Portage Theatre sits in the heart of the Six Corners area and mostly hosts various live events like hip-hop and electronic dance music shows. It also screens the occasional film, like the premiere of Finding Grace, the movie about chef Curtis Duffy opening his now-three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the West Loop.

Out in the well-to-do western suburb of Elmhurst, the York Theatre is a crown jewel in a bustling downtown business district. Originally, the York opened with one large theater designed in the Spanish style, but these days the completely renovated building — which still sports the original neon marquee — holds 10 screens that show first-run films with state-of-the-art sound and digital projection. Women’s clothing stores, restaurants, fudge and ice cream shops and boutique exercise studios surround it today, adding to the excitement of the town.

No matter what theater you visit, walking through those doors transports you back to a simpler time when going to the movies was truly an event and an escape from both the headiness and doldrums of everyday life. These classic palaces remind us how much they were — and still are — part of our communities.

Written by Ari Bendersky
Ari is a freelance lifestyle journalist covering food, wine, spirits and travel. When he isn't on the road, he’s at home in Uptown with his husband and their pooch, Eddie.