It seems like the stuff of the silver screen: in 1997, husband and wife Donzell and Alisa Starks realized their dream of bringing movies back to Chicago’s South and West sides. Luckily for film fans, this story is true—the Starks founded ICE Theaters, the first African-American-owned theater chain in the country. Today, the cinemas stand as hubs of community and culture in the neighborhoods they serve, entertaining audiences with new Hollywood releases screened alongside independent films highlighted in their Black World Cinema and Shortcutz series.
Abuzz with excitement, finely dressed patrons entered the lobby beneath chandeliers and vaulted, ornate ceilings rimmed in gold trim. Back then, such opulent theaters were called "movie palaces"—and a trip to one was a thrilling, elegant event. Patio Theater upholds those bygone traditions within its grandly restored theater, which first opened in 1927. Moviegoers today take their seats beneath a soaring, simulated sky awash with twinkling stars and moving clouds. And though the theater revives the majesty of yore, that doesn't mean the technology is antiquated: the theater is equipped with digital screens, movies, and surround sound. In addition to screening current feature films, the theater also shows cult classics such as Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom and Ferris Bueller's Day Off.
In 1915, a single movie screen flickered to life in Logan Square. The Paramount Theatre was a showcase for cinema's earliest years, and like the movie industry itself, the business transformed and evolved over the following decades. Known as The Logan Theatre since the 1920s, the space has come a long ways since its debut?the modernized venue now boasts multiple screens, digital projectors, 3D capabilities, and a DOLBY sound system.
But contemporary advancements don't mean that the building neglects nostalgia. A restored stained glass arch crowns the entrance, as does a classic marquee; inside, refurbished marble walls and Deco-influenced art hearken back to the dawn of Hollywood, when everything was super shiny. Likewise, the screens regularly show classic films alongside current releases. Aside from movies, The Logan Theatre hosts special events including comedy and trivia nights.
With its gargantuan ballroom space, the Congress Theater is just as much a feast for the eyes as it is for the ears. The former movie palace, which boasts a curved upper deck lined with red-velvet seats, beckons concertgoers to its lushly vintage confines for country-music shows, bluegrass festivals, and electronic-music performances. Regardless of the act, audience members revel beneath an ornately decorated domed ceiling that's perfect for jetpack escapes when the dance floor gets too crowded. The theater also is branching out into its surrounding neighborhood by filling attached storefronts with restaurants, small grocers, and other community partners.
The mission of The Sidebar Show is simple: host club-caliber comedians without the club. Inside Riverview Tavern's laid-back showroom, three Chicago standups produce sets featuring hand-picked talent from the local and national scenes. The relaxed atmosphere allows guests to kick back, sip on a beer, and watch the witty performers, free from worries such as drink minimums and bouncer-enforced laugh quotas.
A nonprofit theater helmed by passionate cinephiles, Facets Cinematheque instills a love of film in its youngest moviegoers through its groundbreaking children's programs. Since establishing their first children's film exhibition series in 1975, the theater's stewards have branched out into education and outreach, introducing students to positive films and the inspiring stories behind them through channels including family film events, in-school screenings, and the Facets Kids Film Camp. They also oversee the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, which presents hundreds of films from around the globe during its annual autumn run. Though the festival caters to its smallest attendees, its scope is impressively large; welcoming over 20,000 attendees each year, the festival often offers the first screenings of award-winning fare, such as recent Academy Award winner The Fantastic Flying Books Of Mr. Morris Lessmore.
In addition to their children's programming, the theater also lights up its silver screen with indie films, award winners, foreign flicks, and documentaries. Celluloid-caretakers curate a collection of reels that seldom see screenings elsewhere in Chicago, frequently enjoying their city debut within the intimate 125-seat theater. Occasionally, production-team members or film experts join audiences immediately following the show for Q&A sessions—known as film dialogues—taking questions, exploring themes, and providing tips for removing stubborn popcorn kernels from teeth. Upcoming films can be found on Facets’ website.
Eyeballs absorb moving pictures thanks to the dual capabilities of Facets’ projection system, which handles digital and 35 mm films with equal aplomb. While the ephemeral stories fill brains with new ideas, soda and popcorn—acquirable at the old-fashioned concession stand—fill mouths with flavors that have defined every classic moviegoing experience since Orson Welles first invented the snack.