As winter relinquishes its icy grip on Columbus, spring traditionally brings the revival of budding romances. But if the classic dinner-and-a-movie date starts to seem stale, there's a wildly simple alternative for local paramours: dinner during a movie.
"You can get a hot dog and a beer at any theater, but here, you can have drinks and a full, restaurant-quality meal," said Craig Freshour, general manager of Movie Tavern.
The Hilliard pub-theater hybrid resembles a typical cinema outside, but it greets guests with a spacious, fully stocked bar inside. Patrons can enjoy food and drinks there or inside the full-service auditoriums.
The first-run cinema has grown steadily in popularity since opening two years ago - a fact Freshour partially attributes to evening crowds that he estimates are 80 percent couples. The 11-screen theater also plans to install two digital projectors to show 3-D movies by the beginning of next month.
Hanging out at Movie Tavern's bar, you'll quickly notice people sipping novelty-sized drinks. The Tavern Tanker, a 38-ounce stein, is the weapon of choice for repeat visitors - it costs $10, but the $7 domestic refills make it a real value.
The other monster sip is the Big Blue Thing For Two ($16), a 40-ounce margarita tinged with blue Curacao.
Earthy-colored walls covered with classic movie posters surround the inviting dark wood bar. Movie-goers often arrive early, or linger afterwards, to grab a drink at the bar where there's a few flat-screen TVs, arcade games and a pool table. During the day, neighborhood workers stop by just for lunch.
"Our repeat clientele is huge," Freshour said. "People really come from far and away."
Cushy chairs line faintly lit tables inside the theaters. Servers clad in black begin table service a half-hour before showtime and there's a button to press if anything is needed during the film - they seem to be swift and discreet in responding.
Movie Tavern's small menu consists of popular American fare and is fresh, hearty and reasonably priced. Wings and Southwest Chicken Egg Rolls ($8) - rice, beans and roasted corn served with a Tex-Mex guacamole ranch dressing - are delectable starters.
Tex-Mex-style salads are no slouch, either - like the Three Amigos Fiesta Bowl ($8) with its cilantro lime buttermilk dressing - while most of the other offerings consist of share-worthy sandwiches and burgers.
Desserts are always big sellers, like the Brownie Bottom Pie ($3) or Milk Shake with Kahlua ($6), but you can also order old-fashioned popcorn and soda. Saturday mornings the tavern hosts Flapjacks and a Flick, $10 for a movie and all-you-can eat pancakes.
3773 Ridge Mill Dr., Hilliard