Uptown Theatre, reawakened

COLIN COVERT | Updated 9/21/2012

Sofas! Booze! The Uptown institution is back and better than ever.

Constuction workers start the final touches in the lobby of the Uptown Theater.

The long-dormant beacon atop the Uptown Theater marquee soon will light the skies over Minneapolis for the first time since the 1980s. The iconic movie house is about to shake off its mantle of construction dust and reopen Sept. 14.
 
Gone are the seaweed-green walls, bedraggled concessions stand and seedy, cramped lavatories. In a $2 million, six-month renovation, the theater has been reconfigured, removing 800 decrepit seats and installing 342 generously sized single seats and two-person sofas. A new screen is almost 50 percent larger, and the vintage 35-millimeter projector was upgraded to state-of-the-art digital gear.
 
In place of paper posters in the entryway, tall video screens will scroll through current and upcoming attractions. The Uptown tradition of theatergoers lining up around the block for exclusive screenings is expected to become a thing of the past, thanks to reserved ticketing and online sales. Wheelchair users will have access through a special elevator.
 
The menu will push beyond popcorn and Twizzlers to include gourmet candied nuts and made-to-order pizzas. Two bars on the main floor and mezzanine will serve wine, beer and cocktails. In a nod to local tastes, refreshments will include Summit Extra Pale Ale, Fulton Lonely Blonde, Fulton Sweet Child of Vine, Grain Belt Nordeast and tater tots.
 
Landmark Theatres, the nation's largest art-house movie chain, has operated the theater since 1978. The Uptown was famed for often earning the highest per-screen returns nationwide for such independent hits as "The Crying Game" and "The Blair Witch Project."
 
Renovating the theater long had been a goal, Landmark officials said, but the company was unable to forge an agreement with the investor group that owned the building.
 
"It's always been such a beloved theater. Every year it's been, 'We need to do something,'" Bryan Linington, Landmark's vice president of technology, said Wednesday. "Our own film buyers look to how the Uptown could pull in record-breaking grosses even though people had springs coming up through the seats."
 
When Minneapolis property manager Swervo Development Corp. acquired the site in 2009, renovation became a priority, said Swervo's owner, Ned Abdul. With the improvements, Landmark committed to a 20-year lease.
 
The redo was designed to be sensitive to the theater's historic character. Interior murals were preserved, and the 1939 marquee remains intact.
 
Another Uptown tradition -- the Saturday-midnight, audience-participation showings of "The Rocky Horror Picture Show" -- will go on, too.
 
"When we called to see if there was a digital print of 'Rocky Horror,' it didn't exist yet," Linington said. "Thankfully this month the distributor is releasing a digital print, so we'll continue to present that in even-better quality."
 
Until it arrives, the show will go on at the Uptown's nearby sister theater, Lagoon Cinema.