After years waiting for approval to serve his devoted cinephiles beer or wine to accompany an art film, Dana Keith, Miami Beach Cinematheque's director, received some troubling news. He learned the multi-plex down the street can now serve alcohol, but his small boutique theater still cannot.
On Wednesday, Miami Beach commissioners approved a measure sponsored by Mayor Philip Levine to permit movie theaters with 300 permanent seats or more to serve alcohol. The Cinematheque only has 70 seats.
Keith, currently scouting films at the Cannes Film Festival in France, was taken aback. "I'm surprised we weren't informed about this before the decision was made, or when it would be made," he wrote via email.
Several other local art houses sell at least wine and beer to their patrons, including the two O Cinema theaters in the North Miami-Dade area, the Coral Gables Art Cinema, and the two Cinema Paradiso theaters in Broward County. It's something the sophisticated clientele of these movie houses have come to expect. Keith says he hopes to speak with the commissioners and the mayor to work out some sort of deal. "I'll be very interested in discussing it when I return from Cannes where I am working on bringing back films for adults who have been asking for years, almost daily, for a glass of wine or beer," he says.
This is just the latest frustration in over a decade. Keith has been asking for permission to serve alcohol to patrons since he opened the MBC 11 years ago. He says some commissioners have visited the theater, and he hopes Levine will make some time to check it out.
"Several of them have enjoyed events there," he says about the commissioners. "The new mayor has not yet, and I'm looking forward to inviting him."
Management of the Regal South Beach Stadium 18 Movie Theater, which is located just a little over a mile to the north of MBC, on Lincoln Road Mall, has not commented on its plans with the ordinance now in place. Besides the number of seats, the space has to be large (15,000 square feet) and located in "commercial high intensity districts." It also will have to have areas separate from the common concession stand to serve alcohol and will require a plan that would keep minors out of those areas.
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Such rules speak to an underlying fear that those who wish to enjoy libations with their cinema will be difficult to control. It's not something Keith worries about with his patrons. "The Cinematheque is a place that attracts people who enjoy cinema as an art form, exhibitions, retrospectives, panels and discussions," he says. "It is a cultural alternative to what a rowdy crowd is looking for. And the patrons would simply like to have a glass of wine."
Keith remains optimistic that he's not being left out or being treated like a second class citizen. "I'm sure something can be worked out when the mayor realizes the Cinematheque is an appropriate place for that license."
Follow Hans Morgenstern on Twitter @HansMorgenstern.