Behind Bars: Marlin's Pop-Up Bar at the Drexel Theatre

Erica Thompson
Marlin Hambrick

The movie bug first bit Marlin Hambrick when he was a child, visiting the theater inside Eastland Mall, where his older brother worked.

“There was an old projectionist there that used to sit me on a chair between the two projectors,” Hambrick said. “And I'd watch the same movie over and over.”

Those movies ranged from the PG-rated “Airport 1975” to the more violent “The Godfather.” After high school, Hambrick managed the Super Saver Cinema at Scarborough Mall. One day, the Dispatch’s then-restaurant reviewer, Doral Chenoweth, aka the Grumpy Gourmet, interviewed him about the movie theater popcorn.

Hambrick said the owner of the Drexel saw the article as he was considering candidates for a new manager. “I think that might've given me a leg up,” said Hambrick, who got the job. He’s been with the theater off and on in different capacities for 25 years.

About five years ago, he asked to set up a pop-up bar in the lobby. “They let me set up a folding table,” Hambrick said. “It started building up, and before you know it, they let me keep doing it every week. And they bought me a bar.”

Drexel patrons can find Hambrick at the roughly five-foot setup, which he jokingly calls a “Playskool My First Bar,” on Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to close.

“I can't carry a lot of variety, but I carry one of everything it takes to make 90 percent of all cocktails,” he said. That doesn’t mean he can’t get fancy, offering specialties like hot buttered rum during the holidays, and a new drink for the forthcoming Oscar Party on Feb. 24: tequila, Blue Curacao and blueberry syrup.

“I’m just going to call it Blue,” he said.

Hambrick’s margarita has earned high praise, which he modestly shrugs off. “Honestly, I don't do anything out of the ordinary other than I went to bartending school,” he said. “I use fresh ingredients. … I just do it right, I guess.”

Hambrick tried to work in a standard bar — “I lasted a week,” he said — but prefers the movie theater environment. Asked if it was the appeal of the shared social experience of laughing, crying or getting scared with other patrons, Hambrick elaborated.

“It's more than that,” he said. “[It’s] the smells. You smell that fresh popcorn. Most of our customers know the staff. And I have regular bar customers. We're a neighborhood theater. So I think that's why we have so many loyal customers, because they like being here.”