Photo courtesy of the Blue Starlite Drive-In
Between SxSW, the Alamo Drafthouse and the Austin Film Festival, Austin is known for attracting lovers of the large screen, and there’s a thriving film schedule for anyone with a taste for obscure, foreign, classic, and indie varieties. As such, you’re increasingly likely to meet an attractive stranger with an impressive ability to rattle off Ernst Lubitsch or Thin Man trivia.
Though few things romance better than a great film, a great meal is one of them. For those with a romantic streak who love imagining life as Fellini, here are a few restaurants and theaters for dating in celluloid. Call ahead for Valentine’s Day, of course.
1. Justine’s Brasserie & Austin Film Society
This French eatery has the glamor and charm of a bygone Paris era. Their short but decadent menu is full of French classics, including the always popular steak frites, as well as seared scallops. Everything is lush and rich, but their fare is on the expensive side. Don’t get discouraged by that, though, as there are enough apps and salads to hold your attention. Their delicate crab salad is excellent and well worth the cost of your mid-century European fantasy.
Artist rendering of Austin Film Society’s future cinema by Michael Hsu Office of Architecture and Design
Get a reservation (which you’ll want, unless you don’t mind a wait) with your Truffaut- or Godard-loving honey and revel in the Breathless atmosphere before an Austin Film Society screening. In late spring, the space will be reopened as the two-screen AFS Cinema, which will feature a massive event space and WHM Hospitality’s small-batch heirloom popcorn, sustainably-raised pork hot dogs, cheese and charcuterie plates, rum and cokes with smoked gum syrup, and gin-and-Mexican tonics with fresh herbs.
2. Italic & 3 Theaters
Photo courtesy of Italic
Italic has some of the best Italian food in Central Texas, with offerings from shared plates like creamy burrata cheese and prosciutto di San Daniele (considered some of the world’s best), to standouts like their calamari, which is the best I’ve had outside my Sicilian zia’s kitchen, and their thick, rich lasagna.
Photo courtesy of Italic
The restaurant’s feel lands you right in sixties Italian design with all the clean mid-century composition you desire. Wear some sixties-style eyeliner and sit with your beau by the windows to feel like you’re in a real-life version of Jacques Tati’s Play Time or a de Sica film.
Plus, its location downtown is perfectly situated between the Paramount Theater, Violet Crown Cinema, and the Alamo Ritz, making it convenient to grab a bottle from their extensive wine selection and a meal before or after that Marcello Mastroianni or Sophia Loren film.
3. Violet Crown Cinema
If you prefer your foodstuffs and films in one place, Violet Crown Cinema offers an indie alternative to the more mainstream Alamo Drafthouse, and it has an excellent selection of food including high-end versions of classic Americana dishes as well as healthier options like their pear, bacon and bleu salad.
Photo courtesy of Violet Crown
Show up early to grab craft cocktails, pizza and shared apps with your cinematic siren, but don’t stress if you don’t finish your frites in time for the movie. You can take everything into the theater with you, even up to the cozy chaise lounges they have in each auditorium.
4. The Backspace & Alamo Drafthouse Ritz
Photo of margherita, bianca egg and pepperoni americano pizzas courtesy of The Backspace
This cozy Neapolitan pizza spot offers light wood-fired pizzas and an amazing array of freshly and locally-farmed appetizers given an Italian twist, like their stuffed butternut squash. The Backspace has a great happy hour if you’re catching an early movie, with their roasted beets app being my favorite. Make sure and split a dessert, because their salted caramel panna cotta is unreal. The restaurant is small, so make a reservation if you want a table, because walk-ins almost always have to sit at the (albeit lovely) bar.
Photo courtesy of the Alamo Drafthouse
The Backspace is located right off East 6th street close to the Alamo Drafthouse Ritz, so you can head there for the Alamo’s Signature Series and a chocolate milkshake afterward. When summer rolls around, head further east to the French Legation lawn and catch the popular outdoor indie film series, Cinema East.
5. Sawyer & Co. & Blue Starlite Drive-In
Opened in 2014, Sawyer & Co. serves New Orleans food in a gorgeous 1950s mid-century diner, restored from its original. Like any good diner, Sawyer & Co. serves breakfast all day, as well as gumbo and jambalaya for dinner, along with muffalettas done right and a wide selection of po’ boys. They have strong brunch representation as well, with a relatively inexpensive menu, and a beautiful patio. And they even offer King Cakes for your Mardi Gras prep.
Photo courtesy of Blue Starlite Drive-In
Sawyer & Co. is the perfect spot to start a night, paired with an outdoor movie at the Blue Starlite Drive-In, which shows classic films outdoors even in Austin’s relatively balmy winter and has a full February schedule.
6. Top Notch & Vulcan Video
Photo by Lars Plougmann CC BY
For a more low-key night, hop over to fifties-style vintage diner Top Notch. Featured in cult classic Austin-shot Dazed and Confused, Top Notch proudly touts tokens from the Linklater film on its walls, and it serves up a bevy of classic burger and fries options straight out of the American past with the prices to match.
Photo courtesy of Vulcan Video
Stay for one of Top Notch’s movie nights, or take a trip back to the recent past and support your local indie video store, Austin’s glorious still-standing Vulcan Video. Vulcan has a director’s wall, so you can grab that Chaplin or Buster Keaton silent film — most of which aren’t available to stream — and add to your Netflix and Chill menu with Blue Ray and Pantomime.
7. Jacoby’s Restaurant and Mercantile & the Paramount
Photo courtesy of Jacoby’s
Jacoby’s Restaurant feels like the plush expanse of a ranch, perfect for a dinner before a classic Western. A family-owned restaurant, this spot serves upscale classic American dishes with a large helping of premium beef options, thanks to Jacoby-brand steers. Jacoby’s offers excellent family-style options, including a gourmet level mac and cheese, sweet and crispy broccoli that will make you question how anyone could possibly dislike vegetables, and a cinematically beautiful strawberry cake with fresh whipped cream.
Photo by Charles Kim CC BY
From there, consider a western at the Paramount, like The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, or opt for an indie flick uptown at The Arbor, where they offer first-run independent cinema and you can always get a ticket.
Erica Lies is a writer and comedian in Austin, Texas. Her work has appeared inBitch, ScreenTV, The Hairpin and Rookie Mag, and her humor writing has run in Splitsider and The Huffington Post.